I am grateful that while working with patients we use Brene Brown’s Connections Curriculum – A 12 Session Psycho-educational Shame Resilience Curriculum.
In her materials she offers a letter written by a woman dealing with infertility to share with her loved ones. I liked how the letter explained what she was going through. So I tweaked it, to make it what someone who is struggling with an eating disorder is going through. I tried to think about what it was like for me when I was struggling and what it is like for the ones I work with. This is a great way to understand what it is like in the mind of someone in the pit of an eating disorder, print this letter off and give it to a support person. Hope it helps!
Dear Loved one,
I want to share my feelings about my eating disorder with you because I want you to understand my struggle. I know that understanding an eating disorder is difficult; there are times when even I don’t understand. This struggle has provoked intense and unfamiliar feelings in me and I fear that my reactions to these feelings might be misunderstood. I hope my ability to cope and your ability to understand will improve as I share my feelings with you. I want you to understand.
You may describe me as this way: obsessed, moody, helpless, depressed, isolated, irritable, sneaky, and antagonistic. These aren’t very admirable traits; no wonder your understanding of my eating disorder is difficult. I prefer to describe me this way: confused, scared, afraid, alone, guilty, ashamed, angry, sad, hopeless and unsettled.
My eating disorder makes me confused. I always assumed I had things under control. I have spent years avoiding the truth and now it seems ironic that I can’t seem to let it go, even when I want to.
My eating disorder makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. My life plan is completely messed up and it is so hard to be with friends or go out to eat.
My eating disorder makes me feel afraid. Recovery if full of unknowns, and I am frightened by the out of controlness of life as well as wondering if I will ever be normal again.
My eating disorder makes me feel isolated and alone. Reminders of food everywhere and wondering if I am the only one enduring this invisible curse. I stay away from others because it seems like it is so easy for people to eat and love their bodies…what is wrong with ME that I can’t?
My eating disorder makes me feel guilty and ashamed. Frequently I forget that an eating disorder is a medical problem and a mental health problem and should be treated as one. My eating disorder destroys my self-esteem and I feel like a failure.
My eating disorder makes me angry. Everything makes me angry, and I know much of my anger is misdirected. I am angry at my body, angry at our society, angry at my mind. Angry how much my eating disorder has stolen from me.
My eating disorder makes me scared. My financial resources may also determine how much help I can get. My insurance company isn’t cooperative, and I must make so many sacrifices to pay the medical bills. I can’t miss any more work or I’ll lose my job. I can’t go to a treatment center, because insurance won’t pay for it. Everyone wants me to just eat. Everyone has easy solutions. Everyone seems to know too little and say too much.
My eating disorder makes me feel sad and hopeless. It feels like I have lost my future, and no one knows of my sadness. I feel hopeless; it robs me of my energy. I have never cried so much nor so easily. I am sad that my eating disorder places my marriage under so much strain.
My eating disorder makes me feel unsettled. My life is on hold. Making decisions about my immediate and my long-term future seems impossible. I can’t decide about education, career, purchasing a home, pursuing a hobby, and even vacations. How can I do any of this if I can’t even feed myself right?
Occasionally I feel my panic subside. I am learning some helpful ways to cope; I’m now convinced I am not crazy and believe I will survive. I am dealing with my trauma and past that I have buried so deep behind my mask. I am learning to listen to my body and listen to my hunger cues. I am learning to eat normally even though it scares me. I am learning to have a voice. I am trying to be more than a person with an eating disorder, and working towards gaining enthusiasm, joyfulness, and a zest for life. I want to be me. Not me with an eating disorder.
You can help me. I know you care about me and I know my eating disorder affects our relationship. My sadness causes you sadness; what hurts me hurts you too. You do help me when you say that you love me and hate my eating disorder. It helps me when you fight for me and help me fight the eating disorder.
I need you to be a listener. Talking about my struggle helps me to make decisions and not hold it inside. Let me know you are available for me. It is difficult for me to expose my private thoughts if you are rushed or have a deadline for the end of our conversation. Or when you try to fix me.
I need you to be supportive. Support me going to my appointments and staying in treatment. Support me not isolating and shutting down. Support my small successes as this is a long journey, not a quick fix.
I need you to be comfortable with me, and then I also will feel more comfortable. Talking about an eating disorder sometimes feels awkward. Are you worried you might say the wrong thing? Share those feelings with me. Ask me if I want to talk, Sometimes I will want to, and sometimes I won’t, but it will remind me you care.
I need you to be sensitive. Please don’t say things like, “but you look so healthy?” or “I wish I could have an eating disorder.” These statements don’t help.
I need you to be honest with me. Let me know that you may need time to adjust to me speaking up or me sharing so openly. I also need adjustment time. If there are things you don’t understand…say so.
I need you to be informed. Your advice and suggestions are only frustrating to me if they aren’t based on fact. Be well informed so you can educate others when they make remarks based on myths. Don’t let anyone tell you my eating disorder will be cured if I just ate. Or if I just stopped worrying so much. Don’t tell me to pray more, or trust God more. That doesn’t help me.
I need you to be patient. Remember that recovery from an eating disorder is a process. It takes time. There is no “quick fix”. This will take time.
Encourage me to maintain my sense of humor; guide me to find joys. Celebrate with me my successes, even ones as small as making it through a meal or a day. Remind me that I am more than a person with an eating disorder. Help me by sharing your strength.
Eventually I will be beyond this. I know my eating disorder will change me and change my life, but it will be for the better. I won’t be able to return to the person I was before the eating disorder because that person needed it to cope. The recovered me will have a voice and a strength that I didn’t have before. I will no longer be controlled by this struggles. I will leave the struggle behind me, and from that I will have improved my ability to cope with life in a healthy way. I will have improved my skills for empathy, patience, resilience, forgiveness, decision-making, and self-assessment. I feel so grateful that you are trying to ease my journey through this struggle by giving me your understanding.