Helping a friend with eating disorders
Kelly's friend Jo has been battling with eating problems for years. Here she explains how she has supported her through the tough times.
Finding out about Jo's eating problems
For a long time I had no idea that Jo had any problems with eating. At first we only knew each other through work and she always seemed very confident in that respect. We weren't close friends at that stage because she was only working part time, and it wasn't an office environment, so we didn't have much of a chance to gossip about our lives.
I found out that Jo had eating problems almost two years after we first met. She had recently been through a particularly bad time and tried to commit suicide, and I think she just wanted to let her colleagues know what was going on. Even though I had no idea about her problems, I can't say that I was shocked. I generally don't have preconceived ideas about anyone, so I accepted it, just as I'd accept anything that any of my friends would tell me. She purposefully came to see me and tell me at home and it was one of those conversations that only just scratches the surface - it was like she wanted to let everything off her chest without going in to too much detail.
It took quite a long time for Jo to tell me all the details. She started off by telling me bits and pieces, now and then, and it happened slowly over a period of time rather than everything coming out at once. I was quite aware of not trying to push her to say more than she was comfortable with, and looking back, that was definitely a good way to deal with it. The more you push the less you're going to get and that's true of most aspects of life; you've just got to relax and wait until the person's ready to talk to you. Even though I knew what was going on, I am the sort of person who is happy to wait until the time's right.
How I help
I don't always feel that I've been a massive help to Jo. She tells me that I have been, but I don't really feel that I've done anything other than talk and listen. About two years ago the person that was living in my flat moved out and I asked Jo if she'd like to move in with me, so that allows me to be there at odd times of the day and night when she needs someone. I don't march her off to the doctor's as a general rule, but I have done that once in an extreme situation when Jo had been self harming and needed stitches. I would really like to help more, because then she obviously wouldn't suffer as much as she does at times now, but I try not to let it get to me, because otherwise I'd be continually worrying about it. It's one of those things that there's actually not much I can do about; I can only be here when she needs me to be here and when she's ready to talk. The one thing I have done is to attend a course about eating disorders. I didn't know much about the issues before I met Jo, and I wanted to know more for a number of reasons, but I wouldn't have done the course if it hadn't been for our friendship.
"It took a long time for Jo to tell me all the details. I was aware of not trying to push her, and looking back, that was definitely a good way to deal with it."
Jo is very good at 'covering up' her feelings when she wants to be, but generally I will pick up on her mood. I have got frustrated a couple of times and said to her "why didn't you say how you were feeling before because it would have been easier and we might have got something sorted out beforehand." One time when Jo had self harmed she phoned me to tell me what was going on as soon as she had done it. Had she phoned beforehand we may have been able to talk about what was troubling her. On a few occasions like this I've felt that I could have been able to stop her from harming herself, which would also ease the guilt she often feels afterwards. But she can never explain why she hasn't opened up earlier, so it's hard for me to understand at times.
How Jo helps me
Jo's one of those people that you can really count on; if anything was wrong I know that I could call her and she'd be there. Saying that, our friendship is quite a two-way understanding because if I have a problem, I usually don't want to talk about it, but I'm quite happy with that. Jo helps me as much as I let her without pushing me to talk too much. She does lots of little things like I was really upset one day and didn't really want to talk about it so she went out and bought me a box of tissues, which was really nice and made me cry even more!
My advice to others in the same situation
Overall, I don't think there's anything I would have done differently in this friendship. The only advice I'd give to someone who's worried about a friend's behaviour is to let them know that you are aware that something is wrong, and whatever it is you will stand by them because you're their friend. After that. it's really a matter of sitting back and playing the waiting game. What you really want to do when you're concerned about someone is storm in and say "come on, tell me what's going on," but you can't do that. For their sake, try to remain level headed and don't attempt to take too many of their problems on board yourself.