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Author Topic: Family members with eating disorders: how do you help them?  (Read 3078 times)
Sky Samuelle
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« Topic Start: December 21, 2010, 08:52:44 pm »

Hello,
I know it might sound unusual to discuss such a personal subject in here, but right now I'm just so shocked and ...I need advice, and I need a neutral audience to give it to me.

My little brother is 19 years old and gay - nothing strange in that, except the fact he had managed to convince me that his coming out to his circle of friends had given to him the greater inner peace he had ever known. I believed him despite seeing him thinner when I came back to home for the holidays, and his progressing attachment to this idea of 'being underweight is cool' hinted here and there in some conversations. Despite the fact he admits he doesn't feel like a night out is truly fun unless he is utterly smashed.I probably wanted to believe it.
Then tonight we went out for drinks and he told me he occasionally sticks his thoothbrush down his throath to induce vomit, when he feels he ate too much. As soon I tried to talk about this problem seriously with him he shut me off- litterally. I tried to catch his attention by staying cooltempered, but he kept going back to how 'I'm totally fine' 'I'm cool' and 'I love knowing I'm underweight' claiming that he wanted to forget whatever he ever told me and downplaying every concern to his health I brough up.
I just... could not reach him, so I stopped, knowing I needed to try again when I had some sort of plan and a cool head or information.

Our mother is going through her kind of mental breakdown this year, and i don't feel as comfortable as I would do in past in talking her about this problem. I don't know if talking to her would actually improve the situation or worsen it.

I feel guilty because I never saw this coming and I should have - and I'm angry because I was seriously sick and handling my crisis last year, and now I'm better and trying to rebuild my life up, I'm discovering I lost my hold  on the most important thing - my family.

But mostly importantly, I have no idea of how helping him, especially since after 5th January we'll be back to the very distant cities where we applied college to.

What can I do?

There's someone out of here who has expeerience -or just the will- to hand me a tip?
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live oak
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« Reply #1: December 21, 2010, 09:21:09 pm »

Hello,
I know it might sound unusual to discuss such a personal subject in here, but right now I'm just so shocked and ...I need advice, and I need a neutral audience to give it to me.

My little brother is 19 years old and gay - nothing strange in that, except the fact he had managed to convince me that his coming out to his circle of friends had given to him the greater inner peace he had ever known. I believed him despite seeing him thinner when I came back to home for the holidays, and his progressing attachment to this idea of 'being underweight is cool' hinted here and there in some conversations. Despite the fact he admits he doesn't feel like a night out is truly fun unless he is utterly smashed.I probably wanted to believe it.
Then tonight we went out for drinks and he told me he occasionally sticks his thoothbrush down his throath to induce vomit, when he feels he ate too much. As soon I tried to talk about this problem seriously with him he shut me off- litterally. I tried to catch his attention by staying cooltempered, but he kept going back to how 'I'm totally fine' 'I'm cool' and 'I love knowing I'm underweight' claiming that he wanted to forget whatever he ever told me and downplaying every concern to his health I brough up.
I just... could not reach him, so I stopped, knowing I needed to try again when I had some sort of plan and a cool head or information.

Our mother is going through her kind of mental breakdown this year, and i don't feel as comfortable as I would do in past in talking her about this problem. I don't know if talking to her would actually improve the situation or worsen it.

I feel guilty because I never saw this coming and I should have - and I'm angry because I was seriously sick and handling my crisis last year, and now I'm better and trying to rebuild my life up, I'm discovering I lost my hold  on the most important thing - my family.

But mostly importantly, I have no idea of how helping him, especially since after 5th January we'll be back to the very distant cities where we applied college to.

What can I do?

There's someone out of here who has expeerience -or just the will- to hand me a tip?

As someone who is recover(ed)(ing) from an eating disorder, I can say...it's difficult. To put it mildly.

First, realize, that there's nothing much you can do. Eating disorders are addictions as well as a societal and cultural problem. They're notoriously difficult to treat, and usually a systemic disease that reaches all aspects of the patient's psyche, family and culture(s) they operate in.

In the thick of it, I would shut off anyone who tried to talk to me about it. However, I also didn't want people to know I had an eating disorder. I kept it very secret, and when people approached me I became very defensive. If he's confided in you, he knows it's a problem, and probably wants attention some how. Coming out as gay, as well as your mother's mental breakdown, is a lot of pressure on a person. Eating disorders can be a valve for that kind of pressure.

Ah, I find I'm not making as much sense as I want to. I guess...my advice is to take care of yourself. You say you've had your own problems in the past year and it is healthy that you dealt with them. Even if it meant you had to push your family away for awhile. Your brother is on the cusp of adulthood and must take responsibility for his actions and his mental state. The best thing you can do for yourself, and him, really, is maintain a sense of balance and mental health. Codependency only hurts in a situation like this. Everyone gets entangled, and sick, and no one gets helped.

Remember: This is not your fault.

Be there for him. Ask him about it, but keep it low key. Help him build trust and confidence in you. Don't get defensive---these are his choices. Live a healthy life. I keep reiterating that, but it's important. One thing that helped me was to see friends who lived a healthy, balanced, sane life. I realized, eventually, I wanted that too.

Do you have a counselor? If you can find a skilled one they can help you deal with this, and any other pressures you might be under.

I'm sorry you're going through this. These are my opinions, based on my experience, and everyone's is different. It's a complicated and serious disease, but there is hope. I'm recovering and doing well. I know others who are, too.


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« Reply #2: December 22, 2010, 03:18:39 am »

There's someone out of here who has expeerience -or just the will- to hand me a tip?
I don't have personal experience, but I can point you at a few blogs by people who've been through it that I've found helpful in getting a better understanding of EDs (I'm involved with fat acceptance/body-positivity activism, and there are quite a few people there that have struggled with EDs):
ED Bites
Feed Me!
Laura's Soap Box

Sunflower
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« Reply #3: December 22, 2010, 07:00:14 am »

As someone who is recover(ed)(ing) from an eating disorder, I can say...it's difficult. To put it mildly.


As another, I agree. It was worst when I was in my mid-to-late teens. I'm 5'8" and naturally a pretty big girl--if I eat normally and exercise moderately, my body eventually ends up around the 200lb mark. At one point, my junior year in high school, I was 130lbs, . I was eating less than 600 calories a day, and about once a week or so I'd end up doing a really hard-core binge and then forcing myself to throw it all up. I've done laxatives, chemical vomiting agents, and what's known as "exercise bulimia," in which I'd work out till I literally couldn't move on my own. I'd swim laps till I was completely spent and had to be pulled from the pool.

One never quite gets over an eating disorder. Even now, when life seems out of control, it's tempting. This isn't a burden you can carry for him--it's something that he won't accept help with until he's ready. Be there for him if he needs you, but don't force the issue, because he WILL back away from you if you do.

Also, if there's one thing I can tell you that most family members of people with eating disorders usually don't get, it's that it isn't about the food or the weight. It's about having one thing in one's life that s/he can control. The eating habits, while they're unhealthy physically, are just a symptom of the feelings of being completely out of control of one's own life. You've talked about the issues your family has dealt with this year, and it sounds to me like between all of that plus coming out as gay, your brother just had more than he could handle. Live Oak's advice above is excellent, and all I can do is say: Yes. This.
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Sky Samuelle
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« Reply #4: December 22, 2010, 05:59:37 pm »


Thank you to everyone for your prompt and considerate advising.
It truly helped me A LOT and I did a lot of thinking and considering of our general situation after reading your posts. Especially yours Liveoak, because it got me realizing few uncomfortable truths. It's true that in my family there are many dysfunctional dynamics at play.
For one I and my brother grew up thinking that our parents were on the costant verge of divorcing, and we were used to lean on each other a lot, despite the age difference. It took years to realize that my parents co-depended on each other to justify the fact they were unhappy and that I my mother relied on us as 'emotional clutch'. I won't tell how fast our family dynamic went to the hell once we grew up each into 'his/her person', because it would be quite long and not very relevant, but I'll tell that at a point it was truly hard and painful for me to give up the idea of 'saving my mother from her depression'.
I had to let go of the deeper part of our connection in order to be healthy myself and she still refuses to accept that or stop resenting me for it.

You can see why the perspetive of history repeating with my brother is less than attractive.

If it was only bulimia, I would be more confident in waiting this out - the way I was when he told me about the time he smoked (weeds)so much than he felt sick, or the time he drank so much he couldn't remebeer the face of the guy he had a date with.

Sometimes I get the feeling he is selfdestructing  in every way he knows how to, and I keep standing by him waiting that he hits rock bottom and realizes he has a problem.

Every time I get the chance of talking about those things seriously, he clams up and snaps something about how i should not go 'moralistic' on his ass.

Yet, I suppose that if he keeps telling me about the times he walks the edge, he still trusts me. Maybe he wants me to remind him that there's an edge. I don't know.
But I know that I can't help him unless he helps himself first and can't sink in that very dark, oppressive place I was in when I was sure that fixing my mom was my place.
So I must guess that you are completely right and the best thing I can do for him stay close to him, be supportive and live an healthy, happy life at the best of my possibilities.

Stephyjh      - another extremely grateful thank you to you too. So many of his perceived certainities changed this year in his life, it makes sense that he would find some relief in controlling his body at least. He went from denying the gay lifestyle to embracing it completely very fast too, with no half measures to ease the transition. I think he is not as comfortable with it as he would wish to.

The big sister in me feels I should have the right answers to sweep his problems away, but as you said, I can't, and I can't describe how strange it is that I had this guilty need to hear someone to say it to me.

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~ Anatole France
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« Reply #5: December 29, 2010, 06:04:28 pm »


I'm sorry to hear that you're going through this.

I don't have much to say because I've only experienced eating disorders from the point of view of being the person with it, and mine was never severe enough to be diagnosed. But since learning more about them I think there is one important thing I should bring up, I learnt it in my first year studying my psychology degeree and when my lecturer pointed it out it was like a lightbulb and suddenly I realised why I acted like I did when people tried to help;

When you have an eating disorder often one overwhelming thought is this

"Being thin is the ONLY thing that makes me special/worthwhile"

It seems so obvious once it's written down, but I know I had never realised it quite so clearly. I can't speak for your brother, but it's incredibly common for people with eating disorders to think like this and and it sounds like it may well apply in this situation seeing as how he says he enjoys being underweight.
It won't help you help him necessarily, but it may help you feel less rejected if he pushes you away, but try to think about what you say to him  with that thought in mind. If you honestly thought that you had NO OTHER redeeming feature aside from being thin, and someone tried to tell you you should be eating more, or that you needed to put on weight, then it can feel like they're trying to take away the one thing that makes you special, they're trying to deny you of something that gives you meaning. This is why just forcing someone with an eating disorder to eat more so rarely works, and often in fact only causes more problems, because at that point you are essentially robbing them of their identity.
I've been there, and it was hard to identify until someone put words to it, but this was exactly how I felt, if someone said I looked underweight I was elated, if they said I needed to eat more, I felt deeply offended. And I wasn't even so concerned with my weight specifically, I didn't weigh myself during this time or anything.

I hope maybe giving you this little bit of insight into what might be going on in his head helps in some way (and as I hope I've made clear, I can only speak for what I've been taught and what I know was true for me, it may not be true for your brother), other than that I can only say keep trying to talk to him, try to get him to express his feelings, for me opening up to someone about what was really going on in my head was the first step to overcoming it. My thoughts are with your brother and your family.
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« Reply #6: December 29, 2010, 06:11:00 pm »



Just to add; I would also definitely echo the reccomendations for a professional counsellor, even if you do get your brother to open up yourself, it can be overwhelming to be someone's only output.
Also, although it seems contradictory almost, I do agree with live oak's point, it often isn't about weight, I know what I posted seems weight orientated, but if you look at it from the angle of identity rather than weight then you'll understand how much more deeply rooted it is.
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« Reply #7: December 29, 2010, 10:05:45 pm »


When you have an eating disorder often one overwhelming thought is this

"Being thin is the ONLY thing that makes me special/worthwhile"


I often thought this. Feline Wolf is right, it is tied into identity. I was so confused about who I was and had no real safe space to figure it out. So, I became "good" at being thin and getting thin. It was acceptable in society, felt good and gave me something to focus on (rather, obsess over). And, again, it was addictive.

Still thinking of your family. Hope everything is okay!
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