Why self-care must come first when caring for a person with an eating disorder – and how writing can help
by Bharati Lall
“You are depleted,” my therapist said “and you are no use to anyone in the condition you are in.”
I did not know whether to walk out of the therapy session right then or surrender to the realization that the therapist was speaking the truth and I desperately needed to find ways to nurture myself.
I am grateful I chose to submit to my therapist’s opinion. My child’s eating disorder was consuming me and I could barely function. I had clung to the belief that by washing dishes and doing laundry, somehow my life maintained some normality and I was still of use to others in my family. Oh how I needed to be of use! When I recognized and understood the reasons behind this compulsive behavior, I began to let go of the need to help others and began to help myself.
Helping myself involved facing the truth and answering questions
- Am I nurturing my needs for comfort?
During the most critical time of my child’s eating disorder, I did not believe or identify that I had any needs for comfort for myself. How could I find comfort when my child was suffering? Nurturing a need for comfort for myself felt selfish and foreign to me. Looking back, I am thankful for the seeds my therapist had planted through his words and compassion for my state of mind.
- Do I believe it is possible to find joy for myself and can I allow myself to experience this?
Upon reflection of this question, I realize how much my belief system was challenged during the time when my child’s eating disorder was most active. Logically, I believed others deserved to feel joy and peace despite painful circumstances and often I would be the friend or relative that would encourage them to take time for themselves so they could “center themselves” and replenish their energy. However, when it came to believing I deserved peace and joy, I found myself unable to believe I “deserved” the same for myself.
- Can I let go of worried thoughts about my loved one’s painful situation for a period of time so that I can replenish my energy level?
It was not easy for me to let go of my loved one’s painful situation. I could not just forget about it or stop the constant worry that accompanied my thoughts. When I finally came to realize that the suffering I was undergoing was not helpful for my child, my family or me, it became easier for me to accept my need to nurture myself.
- How am I finding peace in a situation that is not peaceful?
The healing I have experienced through writing down my feelings with gut wrenching honesty has also provided a platform of peace that I never imagined possible. The desire to connect with others who have experienced similar circumstances has been an amazing source of support for me.
- When was the last time I took a walk in nature, listened to music, called a friend, or made myself a cup of tea?
I have cultivated new healthy habits as ways to cope with pain, loss and anxiety. Now, I can allow myself to cry during a walk, play a song at a loud setting to drown out outside stimuli, call a friend and be silent or shout in rage and take the time to brew a cup of tea for myself. And sometimes, I am so present during these times that I can walk through nature with a heightened appreciation for the beauty of creation, sing a song that allows me to feel joy, laugh with a friend, and enjoy sipping a cup of tea experiencing its full flavor.
- Have I credited myself for taking care of myself?
It has been a long journey to see, understand and accept that taking care of myself is the most important thing I can do for myself, my family, my friends and for my loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder.
Over the years of conversations with parents and caregivers, Bharati has been inspired to create a workbook, a guided journal to allow her to share the sacred exchanges she has experienced, so that others may also find comfort, healing and understanding from them.
Bharati continues to find healing through writing about her own journey as well as the journey of others who have experienced similar situations in the struggle of caring for a loved one with an eating disorder. Bharati encourages you to find a quiet space, in which to sit down with pen and paper or keyboard, reflect, and write your answers to questions posed in this post. She invites you also to share your responses with her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please watch for further updates on the parent and caregiver workbook and guided journal in “Dear Diary.”