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How It Feels to Lose Another Friend to an Eating Disorder

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The Facebook post read, “It’s with a heavy heart…”

I sank into the chair behind me, dropped my head into my hands and moaned, “No, no, no.”

I had just walked into the salon and was tempted to run out… and do what? I don’t know. But then my stylist appeared, and I got up and hugged her hard. I told her my friend died today. And then I explained.

I met R about two years ago in an inpatient unit for eating disorders. She left abruptly, against medical advice, about two weeks into my stay. We kept up through Facebook and Instagram and despite repeated attempts to get well, she just kept slipping further and further away. She wasn’t able to overcome her demons and passed away on her birthday.

The people we meet in treatment, whether or not they become “friends,” whether or not we even like them, become a part of our hearts. We are together 24/7, some of us just for a few days, some for several weeks or more. Length of time together doesn’t seem to make a difference on the impact patients can have on one another. New patients become part of the milieu so quickly it’s like they were always there. We pour our hearts out in group therapy together, laugh together, cry together, commiserate, argue with one another and even gossip about staff together. On an inpatient unit, it’s as though time stops. It is unlike any other environment in the world.

I’ve been through the experience of several other peers dying from the effects of this disorder over the years. And it does not get easier. In fact, it gets harder. It feels increasingly unfair and frustrating. I want to scream at the medical community for not doing enough, at the insurance companies for denying access to appropriate treatment, at the government for not allocating enough funds for research and then at R for “giving up.”

But as someone who struggles with an eating disorder myself, I know she didn’t give up. Not one person I know who has passed “gave up.” Their bodies gave up. We run out of time and the body betrays us before we are ready. We walk a blurry line, teetering between logic and illogic, eating disordered and not, every minute of every day. It’s hard to know when you’ve gone too far before it’s too late. Eating disorders (ED) are among the trickiest of all diseases in that respect.

My heart aches for every lost soul who has died from the effects of ED. But when that soul sat next you, chatted with you about yoga and offered hugs, it feels different — like a punch in the throat. And if it hurts me, I can only imagine how it hurts her family and closest friends.

It is truly a senseless tragedy and the cruelest part about it is that when we are in the thick of it and overwhelmed by the disorder, we don’t see that. We feel invincible.

“It won’t happen to me.”

But it can. I can list almost a dozen people I knew personally to prove it can happen to anyone.

So please be kind to yourself today and every day.

Getty image by Antonio Guillem

Originally published: September 12, 2019
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