National Eating Disorders Association

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Can people truly understand?

I feel I've reached a breaking point in talking to friends about my sister's ED. But I also feel torn about my frustration with this - is it really fair to blame them for not understanding what I'm going through? Does anyone else feel this frustration?

My sister is on her 5th hospital admission now and has been struggling for the last 10 years with this illness. Early on I was met with all of the classic unhelpful remarks, which I would try to take lightly. But I feel like those around me are now just tired of this situation and don't want to talk to me about it anymore. I'm constantly met with "she's back in hospital again?" and "Is this still going on?" (sadly those quotes are not exaggerations). It's not only just a lack of understanding of the illness but I think people find it hard, in general, to talk about illnesses that seemingly have no end or cure in sight. There is no silver lining they can try and comfort you with so instead they'd rather not talk about it at all.

But I've got to the point where this frustration is causing me to end relationships and friendships as I find it so difficult to be around people that make these comments and have these misunderstandings. I know I should try and be more forgiving to them but in all honestly, I've run out of energy to do that. Part of me just thinks I should stop talking about this with friends all together and I am really lucky to have a great family support system who are so helpful. But not talking about it at all with people I am close to just seems impossible. This is part of my life, a very big part of my life and I just don't think I can just pretend it's not there and everything is fine. How can I move forwards with this?

It's hard when friends let

It's hard when friends let you down. I came to a situation in which my friends let me down some time ago & decided to write them a letter, telling them the problems & that I was struggling to continue the friendship. If your friends' disinterest continues, maybe they aren't the best friends for you & it might be best to move on. It's a sad reality to face but there are plenty of people who are willing to listen to your problems regarding your sister & sympathise with them. Those people would be great friends for you. This forum is proof that there are caring people in the world. I wish you & your family well & hope you find some new good friends soon!

Thank you so much for your

Thank you so much for your comment. It sounds strange, but in a way, it's comforting to know that others have had the same problems with their friends too. Having said that, I'm really sorry about your friends and I hope the letter helped the situation with them. I think it could be a good thing to try as I find talking to people quite intimidating sometimes. Thank you again for your kind and supportive words.

Hey Ditto

Ugh, it sucks to be alone with situations like this, but at the same time, if other people have not been through things like this themselves, it's a lot to expect them to understand it.

Of course they want to "say something" but as you've seen, coming up with words that are helpful or understanding can be difficult for a lot of people.

My recommendation would be to not expect too much from your friends. It's reasonable to want to talk about it with them, and hope that they'll be supportive, but on this particular topic, you've probably seen the extent to which they want to engage (not much) so letting that be OK is probably going to be your best bet.

If somehow they should find themselves involved in something like this in the future, you may see their tune change pretty quickly I think. , But yeah, I don't think you can expect much from people who don't really understand, which is a bummer, but probably just how things go, particularly if the folks you know aren't of the curious sort, or aren't naturally empathetic by nature.

Good that you stopped in here though. And I hope that you will in the future.

And bummer that your sis is back in the hospital again. It's good that she's safe of course, but it's gotta be wearing on her, as well as on the family I know.

Thank so much for your

Thank so much for your response and I think you are very right! It is a lot to expect of people to understand such a complex disorder - but also to understand the complex ways families and friends of people with ED suffer too... I do feel my own mood and thoughts about it all change a lot too, sometimes I'm really angry, other times I feel very low and other times I can't really express how I feel. I can see that that can be a lot for someone with no experience of mental health to deal with.
I think you're right about trying to find peace with it too, and I think it is important to see the difference in intention when people are not wanting to engage vs trying to engage but not really understanding.
Thank you for your support! I appreciate it very much


Hi there. First, welcome. I am sorry that you have been dealing with friends who just don't understand and your sister dealing with an eating disorder. I am sure it isn't easy on you either. I know my sister's had trouble dealing with me and my struggles. It does seem that mental health issues are frowned upon more than medical but that is because they are so misunderstood. And often it takes a long time to heal from. They are so multifaceted. I encourage you to take care of yourself while you support your sister. Do you two talk?
I am sorry they seem to be putting you in a position of choosing them over her. It is painful to watch someone we love suffer when it seems "enough" time has passed. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today. I wish I was completely in recovery. My roommate doesn't understand. She says things like, you have had enough therapy, you know what to do. I know she doesn't understand but it is still frustrating.

NEDA has information on their web site that may be helpful for your friend's if they are willing to read.
I am glad you reached out. It must be scary for you to see how sick and how long your sister has been struggling and how her illness has perhaps overshadowed some of your needs. Please post again.


Thank you for your comment!

Thank you for your comment! Yes, me and my sister are very close and we talk all the time which I am really grateful for.... but I do think that can make it hard for people to understand too... obviously this illness can make her a difficult person to deal with sometimes and if I talk to my friends about that side of it they will say things like "she's a nightmare" and "why do you do all this for her, she's not a good person". That really hurts because even though the things she has done and put my family thought have been pretty bad but she is still my sister and I still love her very much. I think that complex relationship is really difficult for people who don't have experience of mental health to understand and can lead to those hurtful remarks.
I will always put my family over any other relationship and I think sometimes when I feel like I can't be friends with people anymore it's as much to protect my sister as it is to protect myself in a strange way... I just don't want people who say things like that to be anywhere near her.