National Eating Disorders Association

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scaredsis
Sister's ongoing eating disorder

I feel like my sister's eating disorder has derailed her life for the past twenty years. My sister, who is now 37, first developed an eating disorder when she was 18. I was in college at the time, so I didn't know until I found out she had been hospitalized after her purging had caused a serious throat infection which required surgery. Although I wanted to quit school immediately to go home to help her, my mother persuaded me there was nothing I could do for her at home, and that I should stay in school and graduate. My sister took a year off from college to recuperate, and started a year later than her peers. Fast forward several years, and although she seemed to be improving (although I always feared she had relapsed), she had serious depressive episodes and it seemed like could not graduate from school or find employment (or want to) until she almost hit 30. My mother and I tried as much as I could to help get her life started, but I watched her forgo opportunity after opportunity, which broke my heart to see happening.

I always thought she had such a promising future - she is beautiful and smart as a whip - but her life has not turned out so far the way we/she expected. Finally, parts of her work life seems to have stabilized over the past few years, but I noticed beginning several years ago that my sister is extremely skinny - emaciated, in fact. Because she lives in a different country, I only have a chance to see her once a year or so, but each time she looks more gaunt. Arguments about her eating disorder had poisoned our relationship in the past, so I have been hesitant to raise this issue, but I am getting increasingly worried. But I also feel a bit helpless, and suspect this is a struggle she will have for the rest of her life. The ongoing situation is very painful for me, and recently I have preferred not speaking with her, which I feel terrible about, especially because we used to be so close.

Would appreciate any advice from those who have a sibling who has been struggling with an eating disorder for a long time.

iwanttolive
scaredsis

Hi and welcome to the forum. I hear the fear in your voice through the post. I am not a sibling of someone who suffers from anorexia but one who has recovered or newly recovered from a variety of eating disorders. As well as serious self harm issues. I am from the other side. I was the one where my parents would look in on at night to make sure I was still breathing. The one who was shipped off to long term residential hospitalizations. The one who's parents never knew if I would wake up or ever make it to twenty. It took me from age sixteen to forty-eight to finally be ready to let go of the eating disorder and self harm. Twenty-five hospitals. I do not tell you this to discourage you but hopefully bring you hope that there is Hope for every one. If there was hope for me there is hope for your sister. I am new in recovery but these past five months have been on a scale of 1-10 a 10 in terms of stress and I haven't given in to my behaviors, maybe once, maybe. That is only possible because of God. Is God in the picture for you? I would never be alive if it weren't for God, for the prayers of my friends and my mom's friends. I can only imagine what you are going through as I saw what I put my parent's through the same thing. I didn't want to. I couldn't help it. At a certain point the malnourished brain takes over and cannot think correctly. The eating disorder takes on a personality of its own and your sister takes a back seat to the eating disorder. I am so sorry you are going through this. Have you considered getting some counselling for yourself

iwanttolive
continued

It is still me. I didn't want to lose all I wrote as has happened too many times. It may prove to be helpful. I want you to know that your sister's eating disorder is serving a purpose for her. It usually does. I don't want to guess what it might purpose it might be serving, that would be the work of a counselor. Please post again and know you are not alone. Recovery is possible. Many have recovered to live regular lives. For me, so many years of my life were spent in hospitals and day programs I am a bit behind my peers and I don't know how long it will take me to catch but one thing I do know is that I won't be going back into another hospital as I believe I am in recovery. Hold onto Hope and look to God for help.

iwanttolive

scaredsis
Thank you

Thanks so much for sharing your story. Your bravery and perseverance are inspiring.

karahope98
From One Scared Sis to Another!

Hi Scared Sis,
It is unbelievable how similar our stories are! I could have pasted your story into this comment box and it would have matched exactly. I sought out this forum because I am desperate to talk to someone who understands. I'm so sorry you and your family are going through this. I know first hand how horrific this disease is for everyone involved. A little backstory - I have 3 younger sisters. I am the oldest at 37, the next sister is 35, then 33 and the youngest is 27. Myself and the youngest sister are adopted. Sadly, the 2 middle sisters have suffered/are suffering from an eating disorder (genetic component perhaps). One sister started showing symptoms in 1999 at age 16 and battled anorexia for 15 years with numerous inpatient treatment stays in that time frame. She is 33 years old now. I would absolutely say she is recovered and is happily married with 2 kids. She will attest that she actively fights and wins the battle every single day. I'm so proud of her. Unfortunately, about 7 years ago my sister who is now 35 began showing symptoms of an eating disorder as well. But she lives in Asia and just as you stated with your sister, we only get to see her once a year. Her behaviors over the years have created a plethora of health problems and for the longest time we were only aware that she was dealing with what she called "medical conditions" in Asia. In the last 5 years it became apparent that she was in the midst of a full blown eating disorder- specifically anorexia and excessive exercise. We do not know what her trigger was and are essentially helpless to stop it as my family and I are on the other side of the globe and her husband did not/has not informed us of any of this once it started happening. Her body has not tolerated the abuse well at all, and over the years her health has been in a steady decline and she is very close to organ failure as I write this message. In Asia these disorders are not discussed and it is a culture that doesn't treat mental illness as it should be treated. She is so deep in the disorder that she is unable to recognize the issue even as she is in and out of the ER because her organs are shutting down. But she is an adult and we are all at a loss of how to help her. We tried an intervention when she was home last summer and it didn't work at all. She is very angry and threatens us that she will just leave if we even broach the subject with her. My family is very close and this is tearing us apart. She is home in the states right now and not in good shape at all. She is unable to walk without assistance. She left the hospital this morning after and ER admittance 2 days ago, assuming against doctors orders. I am trying not to lose hope as I have seen one sibling beat this! What I can tell you that you CAN do is take care of yourself. Encourage your mom to seek therapy and I would encourage you to do so as well. I completely understand feeling helpless and isolating yourself from your sister because it is so difficult to watch someone you love struggle with this. Especially if they are combative when you try to broach the topic. I am struggling with the same feelings. I try to tell my sister that I love her every chance I get. But I also know I cannot take on this recovery for her. I would if I could. She has to want to get better. My sister who is recovered will attest that she successfully battles the disease because she wants to. Based on what she and other recovered individuals have told me is that it is never completely gone. But they actively must choose to listen to their voice and not the voice of the ED. I pray something happens so that our sisters decide they want to live and so will fight what I can only imagine to be the hardest fight of their life. But it is possible. I have to believe that too. If you ever need someone to vent to who truly understands, I'm your girl! Reach out any time and my thoughts and prayers are with you and yours!

scaredsis
Thank you

Hi Karahope98 - You are right that our situations have uncanny similarities! I am also the elder sister in the family. My younger sister is also in Asia so I'm very familiar with how eating disorders are treated (or not, as the case is) in many Asian cultures. Reading your story broke my heart. I am so sorry. And you're right - you cannot take on the recovery for your sister. I would also take it on for my own sister if I could, too, a hundred times over. A therapist recommended that all I can do is plant the seed in my sister's mind that I'm here if she needs me. And that's it. Again, as her big sister (although we're now both full grown adults), and having grown up in a culture where the big sister is supposed to "take care" of the younger siblings, I find not being able to do anything extremely difficult.

I don't pray very often, but I will definitely pray for you and your family. Stay strong. My thoughts are with you as well!!

iwanttolive
scaredsis

Hi. I was wondering how things have been going. I have it the other way around. My sisters didn't not involve me in their lives because of my illness and many times away from home in hospitals. The one is a nurse and she doesn't not believe any of the reality that eating disorders are real. She believes I could have walked out of any of the hospitals I was in perfectly fine. The rest, a total of 4, never tried to understand or offer me help. I think it is wonderful that you want to help your sister. AND it is quite scary. I think that is one reasons my sisters don't want much to with me, even now as I am in recovery for six months. I realize how scared you must be for you with your sister. Refusing help. Sometimes recovery can be a long process, but when your sister is ready, she will need your support, if she will allow it. I know how much I scared my parents for a very long time. I know how scared you must be. You can't just stop thinking about her, but you also need to know that unless she is ready there isn't much you can do except pray, offer her your support, and perhaps get help for yourself in the meantime. It is so sad, I know that for myself. Decades stripped away from me because of the eating disorder. As I said in an earlier post, there is usually a reason people develop different destructive behaviors. Pain one can't express, fear of who they would be without the eating disorder, lots of reasons. It can become one's identity. They don't know who they are without the eating disorder. And with malnutrition, the mind doesn't think or act rationally.
I hope some of what I shared helped a little bit. I wish you the best and for you to take care of yourself. iwanttolive