National Eating Disorders Association

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Learning to not sprint at helping

I get long winded so I'm sure this will get lengthy, but will try to keep it brief and "readible." I am a husband of a wife with an eating disorder. She has had one for years that has gone virtually undetected as it was hidden under a veil of health activities. Exercise has become an absolute obsession, working off meals sometimes, and restricting are the norm now. It's really come to light when I realized her activity on a certain blogging platform had gone beyond "finding INSPIRATION and motivation and community" to full on using it as a means to cope with stress, reinforce negative behaviors, and basically wallow in everyone's misery. I believe I've read it described as " symptom-pooling."

Well, recently I confronted her about a post that was overly concerning, where she voiced to the internet how she used to care about having this for the sake of those looking up to her and that she knows this is a problem but that she doesn't care anymore. She's "most comfortable" in her eating disorder. When I confronted her about this post, she initially denied there was a problem, then felt shame for having a problem, and ultimately deleted the post (along with some semi-revealing photos that made me uncomfortable) and changed the blog name and address. She said she changed it so as to avoid having me obsess over it, and that it was sort of like her diary and that she wanted the privacy.

I found it again, and continued to see concerning posts where emaciation is glorified or negative behaviors are encouraged through post interaction. I again brought it up and she expressed frustration that I found it again, but didn't change it. We went on for a few days with her continuing to post, albeit a bit more "muted" because she knew I was reading.

To back track a bit, since the first "drag her out of the closet" moment, I've been reading up on everything relating to the disorder and how to help. I've expressed and genuinely want to be supportive and as helpful as I can. I am aware that I can't force recovery and that the best thing I can do is to just be there. Despite all of this, I still feel like I'm inadvertently "sprinting" for a resolution. I want to talk about things, how she's feeling, what her struggles are, celebrate little victories, lift her up when she's beating herself up over (perceived) failures. I want to "de-stigmatize" it so that it's more comfortable to talk about and open up. But I fear that my pushing for "I want to help" is getting overwhelming and she's withdrawing, wanting to "go back to normal." I worry that if I let it slip too far below the surface that it'll get lost down there again, and so I keep pulling it back up.

She has since removed her own access to the "blog that shall not be named" and appears to have stopped seeking out "inspiration" in such a way, which unfortunately leaves her feeling lonely and without her usual outlet when stressors creep in.

She's expressed recently that she feels bad that her burdens are burdening me. I'm trying to be as clear and gentle as I can be that her burdens are not a burden to me, and that I want nothing more than for her to come to me with burdens, certainly as opposed to suffering alone. I think she understands and gets that, but struggles to "walk the talk," of sorts. She's said she's open to discussing recovery, and I've reached out to a relatively local treatment center for support (for myself, really, while not sharing her information or scheduling anything on her behalf), but the conversation about it tends to go south when it's brought up. Recently she said that she feels she needs to "get her stuff together, or else you'll send me to the treatment place" (quick aside here; she's not in a life-threatening condition; she's never fainted and menses have been almost entirely normal; I presume treatment would be primarily outpatient). But this "it's not life threatening (yet)" had left her with the notion that she's "not sick enough" and thinking her condition won't be taken seriously (or sometimes believing it isn't serious), despite everything I've read being completely supportive of the notion that any sickness is "sick enough."

I guess to round up my not-so-brief rundown, the issue has been exposed and recovery is being explored, but it feels kinda three steps forward, one step back. All of this has been over the course of like two weeks or so, after years of habit establishment stemming from a decade of trust issues in our marriage and self-esteem blows, some of which were undoubtedly traumatic. I know it's going to take time and that sometimes the best thing I can do is to shut up and "wait well," but it's still hard. It's hard to hear how she wants to go back to the harmful patterns because of how "in control" she felt, despite them being harmful physically and emotionally / mentally.

To be completely honest, this whole thing is really just a venting session, knowing that there's virtually nothing I can do from here except encourage healthy habits, positivity, and gently push recovery. Nevertheless, anybody's comments that might be helpful are more than welcome. Thank you for reading this far down, it's hard to come by on the internet these days.

Just wanna

I'm glad you took the time to post this, and yes, it sounds like you have a really good handle on what so much of what this is about. I've worked on what may be the website that you are referring to for 9 years now, and if she's on the same one I'm on, I'm pretty sure that she knows what it's about too. There's a lot that's problematic about such sites, but in my experience, once things get down to the nitty gritty, "tribal wisdom" understands that they are in some kind of significant trouble, even if they mindfully continue to push forward with their behaviors.

One interesting thing I've heard discussed recently is how on the one hand, people know that their situation is dysfunctional, but on the other hand their life can feel more organized and less chaotic now that they have their ED "goals" to concentrate on. Which in one sense is understandable. What they put their energy into is all pretty spelled out in black-and white, and fairly regimented and disciplined too. So in that sense EDs can help a person feel focused and more mentally organized.

Particularly if they are not on death's door yet. Or if they haven't yet reached a point where they've been forced to acknowledge the extent to which this thing is now controlling them, rather than the other way around. Controlled in ways that really can start producing some negative consequences.

If a person hasn't yet reached that point, and are still in a stage where they feel benefitted, it's easy to understand why they might not feel ready to recover. And how the idea of recovery can feel unsafe to them.

How a partner is supposed to deal with a situation like that is hard to say. Just ignoring it might be one way to go about it, but as a caring companion, how could we feel good about taking that sort of stance ?

Whatever the case, it's good to see you here, and to hear your perspective.

Plus two weeks is not long at all, so I do hope you can keep posting.

Bob Reply

Thank you for taking the time to reply. What you've said about how it brings a sense of control appears to me to be exactly the case. A means of taking back control of the body image that has been so tarnished, both by others and by themselves over time as the they start to believe the lies spewing from the emotional wounds. I read an article a couple days ago that I really resonated with, and while it does seem to be a bit "generic" in saying "this is several of the issues we've heard about pushing people to issues," it does seem to be a good overview and I felt it touched on what my wife's struggle is. I thought they worded it quite well, as have you, that they develop this thing as a means of bringing control and stability to their lives, and it accomplishes that at first. But, over time, the control mechanism wrests control away from them and now they're under ITS control. They can't eat, because then they might gain weight and the ED tells them that's abhorrent. They can't STOP restricting, so they've lost control of that as well.

My struggle within the past day or so is accepting that I can only help as much as she's wanting help, but that my asking questions quite regularly is getting taxing on her. While I'm trying to understand her point of view, while sprinkling in positive responses and alternate viewpoints on situations she describes, she's beginning to feel overwhelmed to the point that she's said my "constant 'gauging' is getting to be insufferable," which throws me into the predicament of push for recovery and be found as "nagging" or don't and feel like I'm sitting here idly watching her sink away. Granted, that might be a bit more dramatic than my situation really appears.

Fact of the matter is, she's made it clear that she's been "doing this" for a couple years now, and nobody has really noticed it until now. But now that I have noticed it, I'm treating it like the serious condition that it is, and this much "treatment" or attention is getting to be overwhelming. She's expressed how grateful she is that I'm not judging or condemning, that I'm trying to be understanding and supportive, but that she's worried I'm obsessing over it. I no longer see "the real her" because all I see is "her with an eating disorder." I'm not sure how I feel about this.

On one hand, she's right. I now see her with her eating disorder and I struggle to look past it. Not because that's ALL I see, but because I do know the REAL her, the "her" that I met when we were dating 10 years ago, and I want to see that "her" uncaged and living free. And I struggle with how it sometimes feels like I want that more than she does. In fact, when I asked if you could just go back to how things were 3 weeks ago, would you?, and her reply was "honestly, yes." That hurts, but I get it. Things were comfortable back then. Things were "normal." And now things are "not normal" and I'm desperately wanting to see my wife take steps (at her own pace, of course) towards freedom. I understand that there will be stumbles, steps back, and the like. Where I get worried is when the "steps back" seem less like merely a backwards step and more like "I'm turning around and walking back there." And that's what terrifies me, what keeps me "nagging" is wanting to keep this in the forefront so as to ensure that it's not slipping away into darkness, while she silently "turns around" and walks back to the cozy place.

I sort of analogize it like a fire in the living room. She has this house, it got cold in the house, so she lit a fire in the middle of the living room. She feels better because now she feels warm, but this fire is slowly growing and if left unchecked will burn her house down. I've showed up and am frantically trying to get her to realize she's going to burn her house down, trying to get her away from the blaze, but every now and again it feels like she turns around to go back to the warm glow of the living room ablaze.

Good and bad days will come and go. Today wasn't such a great one. It doesn't help that my work schedule is quite "different" in that I work 7 days on, during 3rd shift, then 7 days off. So for my "on week" I sleep 4-11pm, work 12am-12pm, so I'm really only around for about 3.5 hours in the day. When she's home from work, I'm sleeping. When she goes to bed, I'm off to work. This leaves her taking care of our children alone, spending the evening between the kid's bedtime and her bedtime alone, and then she comes to bed just as I'm getting up. That "silent time" was when a lot of her time was spent scrolling on "the T word" and since abandoning that, I think she's been sort of left to float. Luckily, today is my last day of work for this cycle, so hopefully me being around more will help to keep her mind occupied.

On another good note, after our semi-collapsing back and forth this evening (where I expressed my concern of her "walking back towards everything" and her concern of "you want to help so much that it's getting insufferable"), she has agreed to discuss talking to the treatment facility to look into the assessment process after the turn of the year. I'm hoping that me "reigning it in" and focusing more on "the real her" and taking a "happy warrior" approach to things will help her to just enjoy the holidays and maybe give her a taste of what "her real self" has been missing for so long. She turns 31 on New Years Eve, so maybe this can be the annual reminder of when things all started heading for the better.

Didn't mean for this to get this long, but I'm as long-winded as usual. Thank you for reading. I hadn't realized that there's no email notifications or anything for the forums (that I have found, but haven't really looked), so I apologize if there's a long delay in replies, but since I can only reply when I get on and see, it might be a while, or perhaps not. Either way, I think I'll make a point to keep getting on and sharing, both for my own sake and perhaps to help another spouse going through the same thing.


Just Wanna,

You've certainly done a good job of laying out a bunch of the conundrums that surround situations like this. I often hear people with EDs complain about how no one notices that that they are in trouble. Here they are, wrapped up in this serious situation, and yet no one seems to notice. For them, it can be like a case of neglect on the part of those who are supposed to care about them. But then once people do begin to notice, then that comes with it's own set of problems and intrusions. Then they find themselves wishing that people didn't care so much.

On the forum, people will often ask of they sould tell their partners about their situation. Other members will commonly say that they should., and how honesty makes a real difference in relationships. But there's not doubt about it, if they have the sort of caring partner that everyone wishes they had (rather than one who choses to ignore important issues instead) then that partner is indeed going to be concerned. Which is going to usher in a different phase of things.

If you guys are committed to your marriage, then that gives you a leg up on things I think. When I worked on the site for partners that was really active, the very most common scenario that guys would show up to talk about was this one : Things would get intimate between them and their partner, and in one of those intimate moments, the woman would reveal that she had an eating disorder. For the guys, they would think that this signaled an increase in that intimacy, since the person had shared something so important and private with them. So imagine their surprise and confusion when, rather than things getting closer, the person they care about began to withdraw and push away from them instead.

I must have heard this exact same story several hundred times, and it was always the same. So yes, you'll want to watch out for the "withdrawal" thing, and do what you can to keep her emotionally connected instead. It's what I'll tell people on the other site : If you're going to tell your partner about your ED, you don't want to be dumping on them later.

So it can be a dilemma alright. It's unreasonable for you to want anything but recovery, and she probably knows that. But she may "not be ready" for recovery yet. A lot of the irritation you may see coming from her, and some of the things that may hear coming out of her mouth, can be a result of her wrestling with those two conflicting things. So try not to take what she says too literally. because I think it's fair to assume that she's got a lot of mental conflict going on.

But yes, the idea that she seems open to talking to the treatment people is encouraging. You may see some further reluctance when the time comes, but in the mean time I think it's fair to take her at her word.

And yep, no notifications or anything for messages here. I think some people expect that, or expect that someone will reply to them within the next minute or so after they post.

When really "it's just us chickens" who are here, and folks need to just keep checking back. ;)



Thank you for taking the time to reply, again. Nothing much to change over the holiday week. I'm back at work, so my 7 days off have come and gone. Multiple family gatherings have kept things distracted, but all the gatherings also included meals, drinks, etc., which has left my wife spinning with dealing with the "I've put on so much weight; I don't need anybody else to see it, I can just FEEL IT" and also trying to "eat more for your sake" (meaning me, of course). I've encouraged her to not do things "for me" but to do things "for her." She's been reading a book I got for her when all of this came out and even told me about how she felt encouraged by one of the "coping methods" regarding body image.

Point being, I've been busy enough that I haven't been as "nagging" with questions and such as of late, and the shift in behaviors is noticeable. Granted, she's still working out aggressively (although she's been forced to lighten up on it after she sprained her ankle stumbling down a few steps bringing down gifts on Christmas Eve; not serious, but enough that she can't do her typical 1+ hour of cardio or lift weights that puts too much pressure on her ankle) and her food intake is a bit more flexible although still "focused on the numbers," but things do seem to be taking a turn for the better.

One thing to note, she's mentioned how she's terrified that I am going to walk away if I (quote) "get tired of dealing with the crazy and decide to just leave." I have not said anything or signaled in any way that that is even remotely on the table. In fact, one morning she even asked if she has ruined our marriage forever with this. I reassured her that of course that is not the case. Certainly not any more than a spouse getting cancer would have ruined their marriage. She didn't choose to develop this thought process or behavior patterns. Choices were made for one reason or another and it evolved into this. I hold absolutely no animosity or resentment for it, and have absolutely no intention on going anywhere. We're in this together, as much as I can be at least.

Now that it's rounding the turn of the year, kids go back to school on Wednesday, I think I'll start nudging recovery again. Haven't mentioned it much over the week aside from things like "people at the recovery clinic would probably understand exactly where you are and have better advice than I ever could." I'll keep popping in to chronicle things as I can.

Thanks again for reading and any advice, tips, or even just comments are welcome and appreciated.

Dear JustWannaHelp, We would

Dear JustWannaHelp, We would like to inform you that we edited your post to remove the title of the book and the name of the blog since mentions of outside resources are not allowed on the forums. You can review our community guidelines here. Thanks for your understanding and please continue to post!  

Just wanna - Back at you

You mentioned :

"she's mentioned how she's terrified that I am going to walk away if I (quote) "get tired of dealing with the crazy and decide to just leave".

Yes, these sorts of self-esteem questionings are really common. People questioning their "worthiness". Why would anyone want to be with me, and etc. People can really begin to think that way. Their "mental health issues" make them less desirable as a person, and of course, if they find themselves gaining weight, that means giving up on this really important thing that they used to look to as confirmation that they were becoming "better".

So yeah, "better" and "worse" is often a very confusing issue. And "being confused" itself can been seen as a reflection of negativity too. When in the past, with ED, things were all pretty much black and white. And not very confusing at all.

But you are right; the fact that she is even daring to allow herself to look at recovery sites is a significantly positive sign. And means that she is willing to take risks regarding her old outlooks.

Which when you think about the sense of purpose and security they provided, is a pretty big deal I would say.

Also : " Haven't mentioned it much over the week, aside from things like "people at the recovery clinic would probably understand exactly where you are and have better advice than I ever could."

A good message too, I would say. Lots of men rely on sounding sure of themselves, which isn't always that helpful. Particularly when dealing with people who were once very sure of themselves as well. It's like those on both sides of the issue need bits of humility sometimes, in the face of matters so difficult.