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What I Need When Someone Asks to Help With My Eating Disorder Recovery

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Since I fell apart last year, people keep asking, “Are you OK? How can I help? If you need anything, just ask!” They are genuine offers but I never know how to respond, so just say I’m fine and don’t need anything. It’s not because I’m a martyr, but because I genuinely have no idea. When I’m socializing out and about, I do feel fine. It isn’t until I spend time alone reflecting that I can think about how I feel. I have precious little time to do that.

Since my grandmother died, a lot of my recent recovery work has slipped. I’m not going to throw the towel in and give up though — it’s just a bit of a blip. This is the major progress I’ve made — when things aren’t going well, I no longer beat myself up and consider it evidence I am beyond redemption and recovery is impossible. I am learning patience in this recovery gig. However, that doesn’t alter the fact I’m slipping and I’d like to start going back in the right direction.

I’d really like to learn how to respond when I’m asked if I’m OK. It is automatic to say “fine” so automatic I believe it myself — but I wonder if I’m not doing so well right now. My sleeplessness and anxiety levels would suggest perhaps that is the case. I believe I’ve learned nobody wants to hear I’m struggling — they want to know I’m getting better and doing well. People think they want to hear the truth — but then tell me feelings will improve or offer solutions I’ve tried endlessly. Which makes sense — when you care about someone, you don’t want them to be in pain. You want to help. Some problems aren’t easily solved though. So yes, it is easier to tell my friends — and myself — I’m doing fine.

So what do I actually need?

I need time alone. My life is full of caring for others, being with people, and running around helping out — and I love all those things! But then I need time alone. Ideally, I would sit and contemplate my navel. In reality, I use alone time to play on my computer.

I need to walk. My self-care goes out the window in a heartbeat. Any obstacle and I put my own care on the back burner. I love walking. I particularly love walking in nature and I’m unlikely to plan it myself. But if someone suggests a walk, I’ll always tag along.

I need you to reach out. I’m always organizing things for other people. Somehow I’ve ended up the bossy boots, organizational queen. It’s exhausting. I do it because nobody else wants to and I get impatient waiting for others to make plans. I get tired of having to make the phone call and stay in contact all the time. How exciting to receive a message saying, “Let’s do coffee, how’s 3 p.m.?”

I need a hug. I’ll never ask. Who asks for hugs? But unless you’re some random creepy person I don’t know, chances are a hug is very comforting and helps me feel connected to the people around me.

I need a rest. I’m physically exhausted from not sleeping. It’s highly unlikely I’ll sleep, but just curling up in the sun with a book on a nice comfy chair would be awesome.

I need you to ask questions. If I don’t want to answer I’ll say so. I’m very open with all my issues but unlikely to disclose without being pushed. I think my eating disorder, in particular, is boring and embarrassing. Most people have some level of experience and understanding with anxiety and depression — bulimia nervosa, not so much. Want to know why, or if, I do something? Just ask. I’d rather be understood than ignored.

I need to hear how I’m going. Have you noticed a difference in me? For better or worse? Say so! If you think I’m improving, tell me why and how. If I look like I’m struggling, ask me. Perhaps I am and I don’t know how to talk about it. But if you niggle me a bit, I’ll get there. I come from a background where talking about myself was not acceptable so it doesn’t come naturally. But if you probe I’ll open up.

I need to hear my purpose in life. Don’t we all? And particularly at the moment. Finding eating disorder freedom is dependent on me seeing a future with purpose. I don’t always know what it is. I’ve worked on this a lot — but sometimes external validation is helpful.

I need to laugh. Don’t we all? I’ve struggled so much with depression and anxiety, for so long. I’m doing well in this area at the moment, but still – I rarely laugh. Life is tough, busy and serious. Probably for all of us. But every now and then it would be awesome to roll around on the floor laughing. Maybe a chick flick, or a night out with a few wines, or a trip to a comedy club. But every now and then I could benefit from a good rollicking belly laugh.

I need to be accepted. Right here and right now. If I’m depressed, don’t try to cheer me up. If I’m feeling anxious, don’t tell me to calm down. If I’m stuck in a cycle of disordered eating, don’t try and control my behaviors. My problem is my problem. Ask if you can help. Ask what I need. But if I choose to starve or binge or purge, it is a choice I have made. The choice is not about food — it is about emotional distress. But wherever I’m at, just accept I’m doing the best I can on that day. Just like I accept you’re doing the best you can. We all have our issues — mine are just plastered all over my blog.

I may come across as guarded and reticent, but more often than not it’s because I don’t know what I need at that moment. I’m not good at understanding my emotions and needs on the run. It takes me time to sit and analyze and figure it all out. With a little touch of luck, this little list will help me understand my own needs a bit more!

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Catalina-Gabriela Molnar