When we started this I intended to write more often. Really I have but none of it came together like the first post.
I have recently learned that people with Eating Disorders struggle with the concept of self. So please, bear with me for just a moment while I introduce myself. I apologize if it comes off arrogant or inconsiderate given the over arching topic of this blog. I promise that I will tie it back into the topic at hand and also the big picture 🙂
I am happy, optimistic, and hopeful. I’ve had some great mentors and role models in my life. I consider myself successful, I have a BS in Biomedical Engineering and work as a Quality Engineer for a Medical Device Manufacturer. I have two children and a wonderful wife. We love being together and going on adventures to the beach, the mountains, or even just to the park. I’ve never struggled with my personal identity. Im learning though that this is not the case for everyone. Especially for someone who struggles with an eating disorder.
Bree introduced me to a book she’s read “Life Without Ed“(I’ve just started reading) but I would like to share the concept with you, and as I read the book I would like to share what I/we learn. The book is written by Jenni Schaefer. In the beginning she describes an abusive relationship with Ed. She continues to describe the problems and effects of this horrible relationship, and then we realize that Ed is actually E.D. for Eating Disorder. Its the theory in the book that when someone struggling with an Eating Disorder can learn to detach the illness from themselves into Ed, they can begin the road to recovery. In order to change your relationship with Ed you have to learn to stand back and separate yourself from him. They can let go easier when they can find an identity completely separate from their Eating Disorder.
I’m learning from the book, and our own experience, that people with Eating Disorders struggle with the concept of self to the point that it’s hard to distinguish themselves from Ed. They struggle to determine their own thoughts verses Eating Disorder thoughts. My wife had highlighted this in the book:
“I always knew what Ed thought but had to really search to find out what was going on in Jenni’s mind. Oddly, I realized that I knew Ed very well but frequently felt as if I had never even met Jenni.” –Jenni Schaefer “Life Without Ed, Tenth Anniversary Edition.” McGraw-Hill Education, 2014. iBooks.
Often people ask general questions in order to get to know someone. Sometimes simple questions leave my wife anxious and at a loss for an answer. For example if someone asks her what she likes to do for fun, her mind goes blank. So much of her identity deals with her issues with food and she rarely gets to reflect on her own self. She has spent so many years with Ed’s thoughts in her head all the time, she struggles to find her own voice. Im also finding that Ed is so encompassing that often people lose the desire to recover all together, because they are afraid of what will be left once the disorder is no longer in control. Ed has been calling the shots for so long, and their worth gets so tied up in how well they are at keeping Ed happy, its overwhelming and scary to think of life without him. Meanwhile I’m overwhelmed thinking of her life with him.
Bree and I have recently had a few discussions about what causes Ed to manifest. Sometimes her struggles seem small and insignificant, and other times they are completely consuming. I have begun to realize how difficult it is for someone on the outside to distinguish Eating Disordered thoughts and therefore understand our loved one appropriately. We are all emotional creatures, we feel joy and love, sadness, anger, and frustration. Ed seems to live in the negative emotions. That is his domain but in the same way an addict feels release, or relief, Ed can make you feel better in the short term but long term you feel guilt and frustration. This is Ed, this is how he works.
Throughout our entire marriage I’ve had a hard time distinguishing between Ed and Bree’s emotions. Over the last few weeks I’ve made an effort to do so. Bree recently had an experience which has helped me see the way her emotions, and therefore eating disorder behaviors swing with her circumstances. She had a friend visit recently, this friend has been an amazing support for Bree and knows her eating disorder well. This particular weekend was planned months before as a sort of reward for following some challenging meal plans and taking some hard steps in her recovery. Bree said that during this weekend she felt more “normal” in regards to food than she has in a really long time. She was able to go to lunch with her friend and just have fun instead of having the overwhelming anxiety that usually goes with her. She was free from the normal pressures of motherhood and stress which allowed her to relax and feel safe and supported. Ed was still there that weekend, he never really leaves, but he was easier to ignore. After her friend left and she had reached the end of the “goal” they were working towards, Ed got louder.
Since that weekend Bree has been very homesick, which has made battling her eating disorder extremely hard. We moved 6 months ago to California for my work and consequentially moved away from both of our families. Her family has spent the summer in Bear Lake Utah since she was a child, and they are currently there right now. Bree has always been big on traditions especially surrounding holidays. We even met on the 4th of July which just adds to the memories and emotions. Homesickness is a normal emotion and it is Bree not Ed. However it makes the battle with Ed more difficult because its easier to use your Eating Disorder to numb unpleasant emotions than it is just to feel them and deal with them in a healthy way.
As I read “Life without Ed” I’m trying to learn how to assist her in her battle, but the part I’m struggling with the most is telling the difference between Ed and normal emotions. Sometimes it obvious, and sometimes it’s not.
I’m happy to be on the road with her as she finds herself. As she separates from Ed we’ve drawn closer. I can tell when she’s losing the daily battle because we aren’t as close. Likewise I can tell when she’s winning. I don’t know how to encourage winning using positive feedback. I do intend to find out!