Friday, 19 September 2008
Supporting: Meandering Words
It's not easy. Not by a long shot. You need to love the person suffering with an ED completely unconditionally. One of the aspects of an ED is low self esteem. If you are judgemental in your support, then all you will do is create a feeling of self-worthlessness in your loved one as they believe that they are failing you.
Find out all you can about what your loved one is going through. An ED is rarely about food, it is more about a feeling of lack of control. The underlying reasons for that lack of control are the nub of the problem. So whilst you can read books and check out websites (and blogs!) this is no substitute for actually talking to your loved one.
And when they talk, you need to actually listen. Some of the stories that Annie is retelling now almost beggar belief. And that is because I personally have never encountered anyone that has been through anything like this. It's so easy to get into Black Catting (my cat is blacker than yours) to try and garner empathy ("I know how you feel. When I was a kid this happened to me."). All you are doing with this is further enforcing the belief that their problem is lesser than yours. But really.. Ask yourself... Are you killing yourself because of your problems?
Often, the best course is just to listen. And when you listen, you will begin to hear "The Voice". And when you hear the voice, you have found your enemy. Yep. I know. It sounds like I'm talking psychobabble, but I believe it to be true. I read about it in a great book called Diet Of Despair. This is an excellent book for those of you that don't like long words. It's aimed at teenagers, so the writing style is very very easy to read. The chapters are well defined, and it will almost certainly tell you something you didn't know about an ED. One chapter is devoted to the "Voice".
One of the most shocking (in terms of being surprise-shocked) things I have seen so far, is Annie's reaction to her mother ringing up the house and asking to speak to me. The abject fear in Annie's eyes scared me to my boots. When a loved one shows such terrible fear of something, your only urge is to protect and comfort, but Annie was inconsolable and we had to lock up the house and go out for fear of her mother coming over. The "voice" was in control.
That irrational "voice" completely overrides rational thought, and is one of the hardest things to deal with. When the ED is talking, your ability to reason with your loved one drops through the floor. Any slight drop in your support at this, the most difficult of times, can do terrible damage to the trust and bond you have built up. To recognise the voice, you will hear those superlatives. "Always, Never, Everybody, Nobody". The voice spreads itself out to encompass everything and everyone.
I'm not an angry person generally. However, I do get angry at irrationality. I know, I know... I am far from perfect, remember? When that voice starts talking, I can feel my anger rising, and it has taken me literally months to condition myself to understand that these are not Annie's true feelings, rather it is the voice of someone else. Even now, I still find it hard. Once I accepted the fact that the ED was "separate" to Annie's personality, I could handle the difficult words and times much more. But this was not always the case...
As an example, Annie and I were talking one night about her weight loss. The bathroom scales play an important part in her life. Every day, she would weigh herself several times, and her mood would change dramatically depending on the readout. I began to hate those scales with an absolute passion. She remarked that her mother had taken them off her at some point in the past, and it had made things worse. At an early stage, I vowed that I would never try and impose controls on Annie, but my hatred for this plastic thing in the bathroom was growing. My Annie's health and well-being rested on those scales. That night, I snapped. I can't remember the actual words that did it, but the pain in my wife's eyes and her utter sadness and desperation, prompted a desperate measure for me. I wanted those scales battered. I pulled £20 out of my wallet and laid it on the table. I was angry, Annie could see I was angry, and she was also fearful of me. I went upstairs and grabbed the scales. I then went outside into the garden (it was the middle of the night). It was pitch black out there, so I took a candle from the table, and sat it on the grass next to the scales. I could see Annie watching me from the conservatory as I went into the garage and came back with a long handled axe - the sort you use for chopping wood. I sank the axe blade into the ground next to the scales, then went back in to the conservatory. I can't remember my exact words, but they were along the lines of "I will buy you a new set of scales, but I really need to do this."
Looking back now, it must have seemed so symbolic. The scales on the grass, illuminated by a single candle, reflecting its light off the axe blade. The fury inside me as I smashed the scales into tiny pieces evaporated instantly. And it wasn't the act of actually destroying the scales that did it. It was the image of Annie standing there, staring at me in horror and fear. I was so sure she would wrap her arms around me and tell me that she understood, and I got it so wrong. All she saw was violence and anger directed at something she believed she was responsible for. I can tell you now Annie. I know that this is not your fault. How many times have we said that if you kick a dog enough times it will eventually bite you? You have been kicked so many times.
Crikey. These things are painful to write. Annie and I sat down last night and she read this. I wasn't sure whether I was actually helping by writing like this, and co-authoring the blog. After all, this is more about Anorexia than the support thereof, and even I'm not sure that the words I am writing are helping, hindering, or just fogging up the painful missives that Annie is trying to get down. My words drift a little, and maybe there isn't much in the way of a point to what I'm rattling on about. I guess I want to show that I'm not some sort of hero (and I do believe that). I'm just "normal". And what is "normal"? Everyone has stuff going on in their lives. Everyone has bad things that have happened to them. It's all just a matter of perspective. Some of you reading this will no doubt be shocked, some of you will empathise, and some of you may think that I'm doing more harm than good, but as I said above, I am doing the best that I can and every single day is a new opportunity to make things better.
The comments I received for my last post have given me some confidence, but the fear and worry I go through as I hit the "post" button do not lessen, and if nothing else, it has given me insight into how hard it must be for Annie to get her words down. And for that, I have great respect.
So I'll close with my wedding vows. I said them in front of a small group of people when we were married back in April, and I'll say them again now because I want them to define me and my desires.
I promise that I will always love you,
Always care for you,
And always be there for you.
For as long as there is a light in my soul,
I will yearn to be close to you,
And never to be parted.
I love you.