Do you know how to cope with a sibling’s eating disorder? How can you also protect yourself?
I’ve never had the experience of being a bystander to this eating disorder. I’ve always been in the thick of it and fixated so much that I’ve forgotten how it must be affecting those around me. Anorexia entered my life when I was a young girl, barely thirteen years old. Ever since then food hasn’t tasted the same. Calories have become lodged in my frontal cortex and every meal, even the quasi-recovered ones, have morphed into a battlefield. It wasn’t until recently that I even considered the fact that it might be affecting my sibling’s wellbeing, as well as my own.
My sister is approximately eighteen months younger than me. She was only entering ‘tween-age’ hood when anorexia first emerged. When I asked her about it years later, she stated that it made her feel forgotten because everything suddenly became about Chloe and the eating disorder. We became estranged due to the barrier erected by anorexia. It’s only recently that our relationship has approached anything close to the ‘sisterhood’ I’ve coveted all my adult life.
It didn’t help that I was toxic to live with. I was aggressive, spiteful, and argumentative, all of which just isn’t my personality. I’m able to admit that the mental illness had full control over how I acted towards myself and others. Even as an adult, I can see some of these mean traits re-emerging and I hate every moment of it.
“I hated who I was with this eating disorder because I was, for lack of a better term, a stone-cold bitch.”
There was a lot of arguing around meal times and exercise when I was growing up. My mother and father did the best they could to keep me eating and away from walking the streets. Of course, I hated it. I was depressed, self-harming, and starving myself on a daily basis. At the time I honestly didn’t want to be here. I couldn’t care if I lived or died. To be my sister growing up in a house like that with me, the gremlin of joy, roaming the halls with a face like thunder. It couldn’t have been easy.
Before writing this post I took the time to text my sister and ask her how it made her feel. I apologised and explained to her that although it wasn’t ‘me’, it doesn’t justify what a bitch I was. It took me over ten years to apologise for it and I would never have done it if I wasn’t in recovery now, but it needed to be done. Let’s call it part of my twelve steps.
How eating disorders can affect another sibling’s wellbeing.
**For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume you are a person with a sibling suffering from an eating disorder.
It can leave you feeling forgotten because all the attention is suddenly on this one person with an awful disorder. You might not necessarily understand what’s going on. Maybe it’s not discussed openly or it might even be ignored entirely. Your sibling might even be in the hospital. Depending on your location this could mean that one or both of your parents are travelling in order to be there for your sibling’s appointments or visiting hours. For some families, parents might be overseas for treatment. Sadly, this means that they won’t be at home as often, and therefore not spend a lot of time with you.
Even if this isn’t the case, an eating disorder can eat up a lot of our parental figure’s attention. Meal times become largely focused on your sibling, and it might seem like everything is being done to appease them. And let’s not forget the arguments. Believe me, there are so many that it can become exhausting for everyone involved. To have to live in a hostile environment like that can be frustrating and no doubt terrifying.
You can even feel the impact if you don’t live at home anymore. While you may not feel the direct strain, the isolation is definitely there. It might feel like you’ve lost your sibling and that they’re actively pushing you away at times.
No matter what it feels like if you live with them or whether they’re inpatient or outpatient, you’re not alone. There are so many others dealing with a sibling’s eating disorder, and there is support available for you should you need it.
10 things you can do to cope with a sibling’s eating disorder.
1. Remind yourself that this isn’t your fault.
Nothing you said or did could have caused the eating disorder. All siblings fight and say things in the heat of the moment, especially things they don’t mean. Just because you called them that vicious name months ago does not result in the development of anorexia. At least not solely on its own.
The more you know about the eating disorder the more you will be able to understand what is going on. Of course, you won’t be able to understand completely unless you have been in your sibling’s shoes. But you will be able to grasp a basic concept of what’s going on, the irrational fear behind it, and, most importantly, that it is a serious illness and not one to be taken lightly.
3. Remind yourself that it’s the eating disorder and NOT your sibling when things start to get ugly.
4. Remind yourself that just because your sibling is acting like this it doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
Don’t keep everything bottled up inside. If you are feeling upset, and you will, please speak to a close friend who you trust. If you feel that you might benefit from therapy then, by all means, go for it. Just don’t keep it all pent up inside.
6. Try to continue normal life as much as possible.
7. Accept that it might be difficult to talk to your sibling about it.
They may not want to discuss it and may even find it very hard to get their thoughts and feelings. Trust me, as much as I talk about it online, I still find it difficult to speak to work colleagues, my parents, and even, sometimes, my therapist about the whole thing. Sometimes words just can’t describe what exactly is going on, and the words that do sound cheesy and overused. Although you may be curious and ready to talk about it out in the open your sibling may not be.
8. Spend time away from home.
Enjoy going out with your friends, or even take yourself on a quiet nature walk. Just make sure to get some space. This will give you time to recharge your own battery.
If you already live away from home then you’re pretty much set.
9. Consider getting a therapist.
I briefly touched on this earlier but if you feel that you could benefit from a therapist then, by all means, go for it. There is only so much you, your friends, or your guardians can discuss. A therapist will be trained to work with the thoughts and feelings you give to them and will help you work through these in an appropriate way. And there will be lots of feelings, thoughts, etc surrounding your sibling’s eating disorder – that’s normal!
10. Don’t become fixated on your own body and weight.
This can be difficult, especially for younger women in the house. Do not let the eating disorder infect you the way it has infected your sibling. If you are having concerns about your body image or you feel yourself getting pulled in, then it’s time to step back and speak to someone about it before it gets any worse.