National Eating Disorders Association

What Working for the NEDA Helpline Taught Me

Suzanne Brier

Ever since I was a child filling out my father's appointment cards in his home office, I too wanted to become a psychologist. Connecting and helping others always seemed extraordinarily enticing. As a child, I felt that I wanted to save the universe and specifically, I wanted to change just one person's world every day for the rest of my life.

Eating disorders have always been a subject that I was especially interested in. I wanted to eliminate the stigma surrounding the disease and help those affected know that they were not alone. To accomplish this goal, I applied to intern for the National Eating Disorder Association's (NEDA) Helpline and was accepted, which led to an absolutely incredible opportunity that helped me grow as a person in a variety of ways. Initially, my goal was to learn as much as I could about eating disorders and do my very best to be a supportive voice to individuals who suffered from this problem. While I was able to accomplish these aspirations, I wound up also achieving much more. In my effort to help others, NEDA actually helped me a great deal too.

At the start of the internship, NEDA offered many hours of education and training that included helping volunteers gain sensitivity and understanding to the many ways eating disorders pervade millions of lives. I was also offered a free class to become certified as a Body Project facilitator which is an early intervention and prevention program for adolescents.

Once I took my first few calls, I appreciated how this experience was more important than simply being a stepping stone to getting into graduate school. It was a way of helping to lessen the suffering of others by displaying compassion for all circumstances. In these calls, there was an actual human being who could leave the conversation either with treatment options or support in knowing that their problems were real and worthy of being further explored. In helping others regain their confidence; I too was helped in gaining more confidence in myself and felt more competent. By hearing a handful of individuals disclose intimate details of their suffering over and over, I learned to appreciate the power of human resilience. I felt an immense sense of fulfillment in witnessing a struggling person's voice shift from having a quality of despair and then, as you listen and empathize, hear the beginning of hope rise in their voice. The callers are frequently filled with gratitude and appreciation, and each individual teaches you something as well.

No matter how much a caller speaks of hitting rock bottom, most people call because they also have a desire to get better. In addition to people with eating disorders themselves, a significant portion of the calls received are from people worried about a loved one with an eating disorder. What I learned was that even though a sufferer may feel alone, the love of their friends and family often times do not waver.

Working at the NEDA Helpline taught me that nobody is ever too far gone, everybody has the capacity to grow, and that seeking help is a sign of strength. It also taught me that we all have the power to help others as well as ourselves. While there are no easy fixes, I found that often times, simply saying the words, I hear you and your experiences matter can leave a powerful impact and help someone move towards their recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder; you can call the toll-free, confidential NEDA Helpline, Monday-Thursday from 9:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. and Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. at 1-800-931-2237. Sometimes people feel ready to talk but are afraid of speaking on the phone; this is why there is also a click to chat option. Nobody is ever truly alone, and recovery is always possible.

This piece originally appeared on The Odyssey