In case you don’t know who I am, my name is Rachel. Amanda & I spent our whole lives living 45 minutes apart but actually met at CMU. She’s become one of my best friends and walking along side her in every step of this journey has been a joy. And a challenge, but primarily a joy. Walking so closely with her through this I got a lot of questions from my friends, her friends, my family and just bystanders who heard bits & pieces.
I’ll never forget the day that Amanda came to my room to tell me that she had began skipping meals. I’ll never forget the days following that I spent hours trying to think of what I could do, pleading with God to fix this, and scared beyond belief that I was going to lose one of my best friends. As Amanda became more open about what she was going through, I began getting a lot of questions as the friend of an individual with an Eating Disorder. The questions were often the same, and as the friend, they were sometimes hard to answer. Here are some of the most common questions and how I answered them.
How do you do it?
You just do. The perception was that I knew what I was doing. Spoiler alert… I didn’t. I will tell you that loving a friend with ED is very similar to loving any other friend. When your friend needs you, you show up. So that’s what I did. I showed up. Every day, every meal, every hour. Some days were harder than others, depending on how much Amanda wanted me there. There were days she didn’t want to respond, and it was clear I was bugging her. But it was important for me to show up for her on days she didn’t want to show up for herself. The simple answer to this question was that I just did it.
Other things I did to help show up for her daily included learning all I could about her ED, talking to other individuals I knew that struggled with ED to learn what helps/hurts, leaned on my own SMALL, trusted group of friends when it got harder, and asked Amanda what she needed from me often.
How do you make her eat?
This question, as sincere as it always was, made me laugh. You don’t. I never, ever could make her eat. She is an adult and her own person. I could encourage her (& believe me I did) to eat, but I could not make her eat. I could ask her how a certain meal went or if she was able to get lunch, but I could not make her eat. That wouldn’t be helpful to her, or our friendship. As you learn more about ED, you learn that it isn’t just about not eating. It goes so much deeper than that.
Plus if you know Amanda, you know she’s too stubborn to let anyone force her to do something she does not want to do. 😉
What is okay to say to her? When is it okay to ask about it?
Ask her. She knows the answer to this question better than I ever could, and it is not rude to ask an individual with ED what questions to ask and when it is okay to ask a question. This also varies from person to person. What worked and was good for Amanda may not be for your friend suffering from ED. For example, you may notice we always say ED (eating disorder) instead of a specific name of a disorder. This helped Amanda, so it’s what we do.
Most importantly, know that even if your friend isn’t responding well, she/he feels your love and sees how much you care. You asking about their ED from time to time is not going to send them into a down spiral. It’s going to make them feel loved, and that’s the ultimate goal for you as a friend.
How do you know she’s telling you the truth?
Oh the question that always lit a bit of a fire in me. I know that she is telling me the truth, because she is my friend. Because she is my friend, I trust her. I trust that she will be honest with me. And making her think that I didn’t trust her would only make things worse and damage our friendship. I encouraged honesty by reminding her that I would never be mad at her for skipping a meal or hiding something from me. If your friend is struggling to tell you the truth, remember that ED is a nasty, terrible, awful thing that makes your friend not be so much like her/himself and they need your love.
Trust. Your. Friend.
How is she?
This was the most common and the hardest question for me to answer. I leaned on Amanda for guidance on how to answer this. Ultimately this story is and always will be Amanda’s. It is not and never will be my job to tell it. Often I would ask Amanda how much was okay to tell and who was okay to tell it to. She understood that I needed to be able to tell a SMALL group of friends to be strong enough to continue to help her. Further than that, I often kept my responses simple. “She’s making it.” “Ya know, things are going, and things will be okay.” “She’s alright.” As time has gone past, Amanda has (clearly) become more and more open with her story, and she has given me permission to answer these questions more openly.
At the end of the day, remember this is your friend’s story and they get the power to tell it.
You will be asked so many questions and face so many situations being the friend of an individual with ED. If you’re anything like me, you will cry lots of tears for this person too. But I promise you, it’s worth it. Stick by their side. Show up for them everyday, and remember to take care of yourself too. You can’t help take care of them if you aren’t healthy yourself. On the extra hard days, remember they love you and you don’t want to look back on this situation wishing you had done more. From a friend to another friend, thank you for loving her/him. They couldn’t do this without you.
P.S. If your friend goes to a treatment facility, get in the car, train or plane and go see them. Gosh dang it, the distance and plans and money will figure itself out. They need you the most then.