To the Editor:
My name is Tara Nitardy, and I am recovering from an eating disorder. Next week is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. Do you have a loved one who is suffering? Everyone knows someone. The big question is, How do you help? What can you do?
I am not a professional. I have no medical or psychiatric credentials. I can, however, share my experiences and what has helped me progress through my recovery. I would not be where I am now without the help and support of my friends and family. Support is key, but I have found that there are some things that help, while others can hurt.
I created a list, because lists are my thing. There are Do’s, and there are Don’ts.
These are suggestions based on my own experience. Honestly, the best way to find out how you can help your loved one is to talk to them and formulate your own plan. Every individual is different. These are just some of my rules that my friends and family use to help support me.
Do not comment on my weight, body, or size. Just don’t. If you tell me I am too skinny I take it as a compliment, if you tell me I have gained weight I just might slip into a dark depression, and God forbid you tell me I “look great!” Believe it or not, that remark has sent me backward more times than I can count. Just leave it alone. Don’t comment on my appearance. I focus on it enough for all of us, trust me. Show me you love me as a person, not as a body.
Do not talk about your own body, weight, diet, or exercise, or anyone else’s, please. The thoughts in my brain spin all day about these things. Let me have time with you where I can be distracted from those and brought back into the real world, where happiness and love exist. There are plenty of other things to talk about and do. Let’s do those instead.
Do not tell me how much I should/shouldn’t eat or exercise. Help me find a nutritionist. Help me find a therapist. Help me find trained professionals I can trust who will be objective with my recovery. Part of my disorder is wanting control. If you think you are going to tell me what to do and I am just going to do it, you, my friend, are sadly mistaken. Nutritionists and therapists do an excellent job of helping me find ways to feel like I am doing it by my own free will (sneaky!).
Do not expect anything you say or do to “zap” fix me. This is a disease. This is a mental disorder. It is not the common cold. It isn’t the 24-hour flu. There are no home remedies. This is going to take some time. There are going to be big leaps, baby steps, and fallbacks. Please be patient with me.
Do not set expectations for me. Please. When I meet them I feel great, but there is so much pressure to uphold them. When I fail to meet them, I cannot tell you how hard I am on myself … which for me sends me into depression. Let me set my own expectations and goals for my recovery. With the help of my therapist and nutritionist, I can set attainable goals and really feel like I am getting somewhere.
Do tell me how much you love me (but not in a way that makes me feel like there is something so very wrong with me and oh-how-you-wish-you-could-fix-it). My disorder can mask how I really feel from the people I love. Please know that I love you, even when I have a hard time showing it.
Do understand that there are types of social situations that I am afraid of. Usually those are related to food or my body. Banquet dinners, a beach party — those are not going to be events I am likely to feel excited about. Just getting myself to go can be hard enough. Give me a support system I can trust while I am there so that I can succeed.
Do recognize the progress I am making, big or small. Things that seem small to you may be huge to me. I need support through all of it, not just the big stuff.
Do understand that recovery takes many forms and is a long process. There are forward steps and backward steps. Backward steps are scary, I know. They scare me too, but no matter how many steps back I take, the important thing is that I step forward again.
Do realize that you cannot fix me. Nothing you say or do is going to instantly make me better. I have to do that work on my own. I have to want it, and it may seem, sometimes, like I don’t, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about that.
Do not take responsibility for anything that happens along the path of my recovery. This one is so very important and probably the hardest for loved ones to grasp. When my family finally allowed me to take my recovery into my own hands, I felt empowered, and trusted. I believed they were confident in me. I know now that they were all scared to death. But when they let me go, I learned everything I was meant to learn, and found ways to pick myself up. Let me do that. Let me pick myself up.