Intro to Triggers

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week… Likely only those who are already familiar with the subject are aware of this. Which is kind of a sad statement given that an estimated 8 Million people (3% of the U.S. population) have an eating disorder. I also suspect that this number is low given how people react and think about the subject.

I can only imagine how many people this impacts indirectly. Friends, family, even acquaintances will see the effects. Today I wanted to broach a subject that will be more difficult and sensitive. I wanted to discuss triggering. Those things that cause recovering people to revert, or they might not even be headed in a positive direction and the trigger makes their behaviors worse.

**A quick note on triggers. Obviously triggers are real and can cause someone deep pain. In todays context there are jokes about people being “triggered” over things that others think are silly. I’ll admit that I find some of them ridiculous. I believe that we should be mindful of our fellow man and help each other where we can. I had a hard time expressing these thoughts because I don’t want to downplay triggers and I don’t want to turn people away who have a misconception about triggers. To be clear – we are talking about genuine psychological triggers not people who get easily offended. (see urban dictionary or your favorite internet search for common meanings of trigger, triggered, triggering)**

Some triggers we need to face head on and others we need to avoid until we are strong enough to face them, or face them in increments instead of all the time. I’ve observed that Bree does better with food when she doesn’t prepare it (However this observation falls apart when people are around, e.g. potlucks, extended family dinners, parties, etc.).

I’m assuming, and we’ve discussed at length, that when she is around food while preparing it she is triggered and won’t eat that meal as well. I’ve found that when I prepare a meal and she helps in other ways that things go a little smoother. She’s not around the food as much and is less triggered. Leading her to eat better. I haven’t discussed this with any professionals so I don’t know if this is good or bad BUT I’m happy to play this role.

I should probably also note that this doesn’t always work, I’m trying to keep this real but my optimism pokes through and as I reread things they always seem super successful. This is not the case. These last couple weeks and months have been rough on this front. While other things go better, this slides downward. We pick up and make progress but it’s a long hard road.

It’s interesting that what works for one person doesn’t work for another and what triggers one person won’t trigger another. Even with the same eating disorder. We are all unique and so are our behaviors and challenges.

The other discussion I want to have about triggers happened on Facebook.

Two quick notes: 1)  I won’t use names these are two great people and 2) in no way is this meant to make them look bad. In fact, I admire and respect the way this was handled and love that they were both looking out for my wife.

Bree posted a picture on Facebook, a friend mentioned something about Bree’s body. It was a nice compliment, something many women face and would love to hear. However, it COULD be triggering for someone with ED. One of my wife’s friends who has shared her own experiences with ED commented on the comment mentioning these triggers, and specifically what it could have triggered for Bree.

I thought to myself that I was about to see some fireworks. Everything was very polite but also blunt. So I thought that would cause a negative reaction. I was very wrong.

These two people don’t know each other, and I’ve observed too many misunderstandings on Facebook to be optimistic. But guess what, the first lady replied politely and asked a genuine question about what she could say that was different and less triggering. The whole thing was an insightful conversation that really touched my heart.

Having that be touching may sound weird because it seemed like an innocent conversation. They were respectful, thoughtful, and insightful about how we should treat one another and learn from each other. Needless to say, I was impressed with the quality of my wife’s friends. These people were truly trying to help and then truly trying to learn.

On this topic specifically, rather than focusing on physical body image in our talk/compliments we could focus on deeper more meaningful observations about those we know. I think that this is a positive change to our mindset and would help avoid many of the triggers that are out there. But not all triggers can be eliminated and we can’t expect others to know what they are. We need to be loving and forgiving to ourselves and others when we are triggered or cause someone to be triggered. We are all always on the road of self improvement, I know that I need mercy and grace as much or more than everyone else.

In searching for a way to conclude these thoughts my mind keeps turning to the general publics view on triggering. I mentioned it briefly up above implying that it might be an over used term. I keep reminding myself that just because it’s overused doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist and that it’s a real thing that impacts a lot of people.

I recommend checking out this post 5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder. The article has some practical tips on how to love those you know are struggling. Things not to say as the title implies and several suggestions to replace those triggering comments with.

I believe firmly in loving my neighbor and doing everything in my power on a personal level to not be someones trigger. This is what made the Facebook conversation beautiful. Both women were trying to be loving, choosing to be mindful of others and learn without forcing an opinion. We don’t know the internal struggles of those around us. They may have a darkness that is threatening to drown them and I want to be a life-preserver not a rock. I think when we show love and kindness, and enter into conversations with an open heart and mind we can never go wrong.


Book Report: Life Without Ed

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!


My Beautiful Wanderer

I choose to fight with her and sometimes I don’t know how. So by trial and error (many times lots of errors). We are climbing this mountain together and now we’ve decided to document the journey, our wanderings.

“They are a refreshing depart from the average Joe. They view life in another way, a way that enhances experiences and justifies randomness. They find beauty in the ugly and challenge traditional norms. They protest the typical and the rigid and demand a life that’s less stoic and more magic.
They dream of books that haven’t been written, cities yet to be discovered, and lives yet to be lived. They see the beauty in the unknown and the trivial. They find meaning in the mundane tasks of everyday life and inspire others to seek adventure and originality. They are the leaders of the pack, the revolutionaries and the inspiration for the rest of us.”

“You make plans until you’re ready to leave, then leave the plans behind.
You trust your gut more than any tour guide.
You’re fascinated by maps and oceans.
You find beauty in the ugly and ugly in the beautiful.
Your family is the only reason you ever return home.”
Excerpts from: Wanderlust is Real 22 Signs You Are a Wanderer by Laurin Martin

We all know the jokes about how men don’t understand women, especially husbands and wives. But there are those of us with additional unique circumstances that make understanding a necessity AND particularly difficult.

We all want and need love and affection in our own way, but how do we show that to someone who has difficulty believing it? I’m not talking about low self-esteem, that would be akin to calling someone with depression “sad”. I’m talking about Eating Disorders and how they are a true mental illness. Often those suffering from these conditions are all around us and we never know. My wife has struggled with eating disorders at various degrees since 7th grade (17 years now). We met when we were seniors in high school and were friends but didn’t date until 2 years after high school. I’ve known her for a long time, and never knew how deeply she was struggling. In many ways I still don’t, but I am trying. I didn’t know she had an eating disorder until our first year of marriage. Only recently, the last two years or so, have I been learning of the long and lasting impact of this disease.

About a year and half ago my wife reached a pivot point when her behaviors began showing physical symptoms. Her doctor drew labs and the abnormal results showed that her body was in real distress. Even this didn’t “scare” her enough to seek professional help (again). With the help of sincere and caring friends she realized that it was time to get serious about making changes that would help her. She had seen therapists in the past, but this time sought treatment from a therapist, a dietitian, and a recovery center. The professional help she received helped her in ways I never imagined. There were times at this point that I was selfish and self-conscious because I felt that she could get better if I just loved her enough or if she tried harder. I didn’t know that she was trying, but lacked the tools and support to overcome certain hurdles. I thought that we could do it on our own, but obviously I didn’t know what I didn’t know. At times I am still ignorant to her pain and/or don’t know how best to help. I will be forever grateful to the professionals who have been, and still are, helping her and the friends who got my beautiful wanderer started down that path.

So, I want to share my experiences of loving someone who is fighting this battle. I choose to fight with her and sometimes I don’t know how. So by trial and error (many times lots of errors), we are climbing this mountain together. Now we’ve decided to document the journey, our wanderings. Unfortunately, we are still near the beginning of the journey to recovery. The road is long and rocky and isn’t always marked. There will be highs, lows, and in-betweens. I’ll try to share it all. We’ll try new things as we learn about them and share old experiences that worked and that didn’t.

Maybe I can help someone who is trying to help and support someone they love as they fight their battle. We all give and receive love in different ways. Hopefully with some extra understanding we can love and support them well. If nothing else, I know that this will help me and my beautiful wanderer. I certainly hope we can help our families, friends, and everyone struggling in their journeys.

Quick note: This is written from the perspective of a husband. This is not indented to diminish the experiences of other relationships in our lives. Additional discussions can and should be had with relation to Brothers, Sisters, Fathers, Mothers, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Friends, etc. This is merely a starting point. This is not intended to ever be a comparison of who suffers more because the whole intent is to better understand how to love those close to us in a way that is best for them.