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Author Topic: Anorexia in the Family
Cian
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My little sister, age 15, is showing alarming symptoms of an eating disorder. I read online and realize I have done exactly the wrong thing with her- I comment on how she's looking rail thin, how she's eating too little and how she's always tired and ill because she isn't getting all her vitamins and minerals. And yes, I have committed the worst sin of all, I have told her "you are anorexic."

I'm trying so hard not to hate her, because it is not her I hate, it is the disease I hate. The disease that ripped away my old wonderful little sister from me and replaced it with a body fat obsessed, angry at everything, food hating person I don't know at all. I already lost my best friend to anorexia, the illness changed her so much that we no longer talk at all. We have nothing to talk about. I've tried meeting up with her for some fun outings and casual tea to reconnect, but it was all in vain. It makes me sad, she was a great girl.

I feel too weak to support or help my sister, I feel frustrated, angry and sad she'd do this to herself, like all I ever told her about self respect and how great a person she is didn't matter at all. I've told her I love her and I can't stand seeing her this unhappy.

I'm at a loss, I don't know what to do. I know I should be a good sister and I should support her and understand that it's her who's going through a hard time. But I'm so stressed out myself, I worry if she'll ever recover and be happy again, I worry if she'll get worse, I worry if she'll die, I worry if I'll end up with a sister whose company feels unpleasant and I'll have to be on eggshells with.
I also feel bad because instead of being supportive, I'm angry and frustrated and sad and stressed out.

I also feel a lot of guilt. I feel I started this by fretting about putting on a little weight and complaining about how fat I look in pictures.
Also because my former best friend, while in hospital, told me she always envied me because I was so thin. I felt like I caused her illness-- I never did anything to manage my weight, I didn't even think about it back then when I was really quite skinny.
My sister told me she worries she's making me feel bad because I weight more than her.

I just don't know how to cope.
I'm so sad to see my sister like this.
I already feel awkward when my sister visits me (I don't live at home), and I can see she's not eating.

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Heather
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Cian: with this and with your posts in the past, it sounds to me like poor body image may be an issue with your family as a whole. Control also sounds like a potential shared issue (especially since that tends to often have more to do with EDs than concerns about appearance). Do you feel like it/either is?

If so, perhaps one or both of these routes to talking could be good ones? Have you talked with your parents about this, perhaps even arranging to talk with them together?

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Cian
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Hey Heather.

I most thoroughly agree. All my family members express discontentment with their appearances, some more (myself) than others (my older sister). My father will constantly complain about his ugliness and how no woman will date him, my little sister will say horrible things about herself. My mother and older sister are the least vocal, but both have expressed unhappiness with their appearances in their unique ways. With us children, I think control is an issue, as we grew up in a turbulent environment where nothing felt in control or safe because of my parents' substance abuse.

I have talked with my parents about my sister mostly and how I don't feel like I can be strong enough to support her. My father doesn't feel he has the capacity either (my sister lives at dad's) and is at wit's end as to what to do. My little sister is seeing a psychiatrist, and my parents have gone with her. Unfortunately, thanks to a good 100 miles between us, I haven't been able to attend the sessions. My sister asked me to come and I feel awful for not having been able to make the time. At the same time I dread the situation, because in my weakness I might say or do things that are harmful rather than productive.

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Heather
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You know, I'd suggest you do try and make the time. You've asked how to help her, and showing up to a sessions she has asked you to is a very good start.

It's the counselor's job to help steer and moderate the conversation: it's only your job to participate and be as supportive as you can.

I do think you're strong enough, based on what I know of you...or rather, I think it's in you to be strong enough, even if you haven't discovered that yet. I also think it would probably really benefit both you and your sister to try.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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I will do my best, but what with school and not having a penny to my pocket pose a good few obstacles for now. My parents and I talked about making more family appointments at a time that'll be suitable for me (no exams and whatnot)

At the moment I feel there's too much on my plate. I have difficulty with my studies, my finances are so badly off kilter I can't afford food, I haven't slept for five weeks, I feel lost and confused and not in a place to support someone who will resist with every cell in their body.
All my trauma from my best friend's anorexia is haunting me. How she changed into everything I don't value, how we drifted apart, how it was and is hard to be around her without worrying about every word I let out of my mouth. (I'd beat myself up mentally for weeks if I let slip a weight or food comment of any kind) And how I feel like I'm failing my duties as a sister for not being able the summon the will in me to find the strength and for being angry rather than empathetic.

[ 11-25-2010, 03:53 PM: Message edited by: Cian ]

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Heather
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You posted here asking how to cope with what's going on with your sister. I'm not sure how to advise you around that save to start by visiting her therapist with her and talking about that.

Might your parents be willing to help you get there to do that?

In terms of you not sleeping for five weeks and not eating, what have you done for yourself to get your own help and support? You're in college, right? Have you gone to student services to seek help with these things?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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I just feel like I'm crumbling under the pressure. I couldn't support my friend properly. I can't find proper real genuine empathy in myself. I'm just angry and sad and I lash out.
I will make the time to go to the sessions.

I don't think my school can do anything about my current situation. I am taking out a student loan in January to save up for rent during the summer when I'm not getting government financial aid, not that it makes me less stressed. Employment is not a sure given and I don't know how I'll pay the loan and interest back. I have sent countless applications for part time jobs in the past year with no luck. (to be honest, I don't have the time or energy to work.)

Because of my psychologist's schedules we only meet once in two to three months.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me again, Heather. I know you're probably awfully busy.

[ 11-25-2010, 04:23 PM: Message edited by: Cian ]

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Heather
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Before you decide your school can't help, why don't you ask to see? In such dire straits, there's just never any room to make assumptions like that.

Sure, maybe they can't: but if they can, it doesn't make much sense to suffer when you don't have to.

I know the empathy has been an issue before. Are you still seeing your own therapist? If so, have the two of you talked about this yet?

(And you're very welcome. [Smile] )

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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I suppose, but as far as I know, universities can't do anything about anyone's financial state, and I'm calling about scheduling an appointment to the health services tomorrow.

I didn't even realize I've had a problem with empathy until you said that, wow. I won't be seeing my psychologist until December 20, our meetings remain very sparse. I haven't thought of bringing it up, we've mainly discussed depression and my sexual orientation and how I relate to myself in a negative way.

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Heather
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I wonder if, when it comes to supporting other people, other people being in a bad place, and how you feel with your position with both if it might not help to remember that:

a) no one's own spot they are in is a reflection of you or about you (like your best friend who you said because everything you didn't value), and
b) to support someone, a lot of the time, we just need to show up, seriously. We don't have to be amazing, we don't have to get it, we don't have to be everything, we just need to show up. [Smile]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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But it wasn't enough for my friend, and I worry it won't be enough for my sister. My sister will not just disappear from my life like my friend did if everything goes to pieces. I don't know what will I ever do if someone whose company I can't avoid (and don't want to avoid) becomes someone whose company makes me miserable.

I know what I have to do to support her.
I just don't know how I'll cope if/when she won't respond to help and keeps getting worse like my friend. (she almost died)

Thanks for your time again.
I don't know how to ask for the kind of help I need.

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Heather
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It's not on you to be "enough," though, Cian. It's just on you to be all you can. If what you can do isn't enough, that's not likely about you, but about someone needing more support than just you.

I'm sure that given how you often feel about yourself, it's hard not to internalize that and think "I'm just not enough," but I'd encourage you to try. because no one person is, I don't care what they do or how awesome they are. Really.

I'm sorry this is the second time you've had to deal with an ED with someone you care about. They absolutely are really scary, and I'd encourage you to voice your fears when you share the therapy session, okay?

quote:
I don't know what will I ever do if someone whose company I can't avoid (and don't want to avoid) becomes someone whose company makes me miserable.
Probably you'll do what any of us often have in that situation: you'll either work things out, or if things can't be, you'll create some distance so that you can take care of yourself. Sometimes that is just how it goes, even with family (sometimes especially with family).

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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I don't want irreversible damage being done by my lack of ability to support my sister or treat her the right way with her illness. My older sister would be happy to see her locked up in a hospital ward and force-fed but as with my friend, I worry that it'll do her more damage than it'll do her good. Ensuring someone's a healthy weight doesn't automatically make them healthy in the mind.

Tomorrow it'll be determined whether or not she's hospitalized.

Dad tried to give her a supportive but stern talk, but she didn't respond. I understand in a sense, I don't think I'd known what to say. In fact, I didn't know what to say, so I too sat in silence. We're all afraid what the hospital could do to her psyche. She hardly spends a night away from home.

I feel like there's nothing I can say or do.

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Heather
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Have any of you talked with her therapist yet to find out how THEY think you can best support her?

If not, I'd strongly suggest doing that ASAP and using what that person tells you to inform your choices.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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My parents have, I've read stuff online but I feel like nothing's the right thing. Ignore she's not eating and is losing weight and she might do it even more drastically because no one's paying her disordered eating attention. Mention about her portions or lack of eating and she might take it as encouragement; people are noticing her efforts. I've been ignoring it and trying not to talk about food or weight with her.

Today she told me it's just too easy. No one does anything if she doesn't eat. And even if someone does something or says something, she still won't eat.

I told her no one wins that way. I didn't know what else to say.

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Heather
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I think you need to accept that you probably are not going to find one right thing, nor does your sister's well-being somehow rest in your hands. No one person has that power.

So, your parents talked to her therapist: did they pass on what she or he said all of you could do? I'm hoping one thing they suggested is to make clear that it's likely none of this is really about eating or food, so talking to her about that is likely of limited use. Asking about how your sister is feeling, emotionally, and talking that way, asking what, if anything, she needs and wants for emotional support, is likely more helpful.

But before saying anything else, I'd want to know what the therapist suggested.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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I haven't managed to discuss with my parents much because of their behavior. My sister has been admitted to hospital.

We've reckoned her disordered behaviour has nothing to do with eating or food and not even necessarily thinness. My parents often fail to express their appreciation and succeed at expressing quite the obvious. (ie. my mother drinking excessively every time she has gone on a trip with my little sister, something my sister (and myself, and our elder sister) has asked her not to ever do in her company.) She was also bullied at beginning of secondary school before she transferred to another school.

I've tried talking to my sister, but her replies are generally curt and she's unwilling to chat about anything. (I usually discuss something more mundane or silly with her so she doesn't think I regard her differently.)

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Heather
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Have you and/or your family read any good information on EDs? Because as I think I already mentioned, they usually are NOT about food or thinness at their heart.

Rather, they more often tend to be about control, about food/eating/weight being something a person can have and take control over.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cian
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I know. We're taught this in school in Health Ed, I've seen a good few documentaries and read a dozen articles in the past four or five years. But I still feel at a loss when it's not just some distant someone, but my own little sister.
I still don't feel like there's anything I can do or say, the stress has had me sleepless which in turn is damaging every other aspect of my life, especially school.
I don't know. It all just feels very hopeless.

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Heather
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Have you ever read "Stick Figure" by Lori Gottlieb or "Wasted" by Marya Hornbacher? If not, I'd suggest both as good reads, particularly from a very first-person view.

Have you been able to talk to her therapist yet, who can not only help you better help her, but who can also give you some helps in taking care of yourself when someone close to you has an ED?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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