The courage it takes to share your story might be the very thing someone else needs to open their heart to hope
BY GILLIAN FORTIER
Love is weird. Love is powerful; love is life-changing. Love is fun and care-free and intense and patient and consuming. But mostly, it’s weird.
Think about it: there are over seven billion people meandering about our planet right now. How many others can anyone hope to meet in their lifetime? A few thousand? A fraction of a percentage. Of these, we will only get to know a few. Far too few, in my opinion. What are the chances we find someone with whom we click, who feels right, who we can know and knows us too? Yet it happens. We all have family and friends and lovers. And since an estimated 18-19% of college students are affected by eating disorders, we all love someone who is struggling.
We don’t chose who we love. We don’t always grow fond of people who ‘make sense’ or are easy to love. We don’t plan it out like we plan our classes, obsessively adding rows and columns to spreadsheets. If we did, a pro-con analysis, it might look something like this:
Pro: Has great taste in music
Con: Lives over 10 miles away
Pro: Loves to go on adventures outside
Con: Has an eating disorder
Fortunately, that’s not how (most of us) make our relationship choices. Just like numbers on a scale or calorie counts on a food wrapper, a list cannot put a measurement on a person’s worth. The can’t explain the warmth in your stomach, like hot chocolate on a frigid day that warms you from the inside out, or the way your arms reach out to hug, to hold, to touch, seemingly of their own accord. They can’t count the number of times you smile or put a value on the prayers you murmur as you fall asleep. A number does not define a person; a list does not explain love.
It’s not always easy loving someone with an eating disorder. It can be stressful and frustrating and utterly terrifying. I know. My best friend- my witty, musically talented, hardworking, poetic, sociable, strong best friend- struggles with an eating disorder. She has made miles of progress, of which I am indescribably proud, and though she isn’t fully recovered yet, that’s okay. Recovery takes time, and we are on the way there.
Note the pronoun: we. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot snap my fingers and make it better. There’s no pill to ‘cure’ an eating disorder; professional help from a team of therapists and doctors and support from family and friends is key to recovery, but it still takes time. And through every stage of recovery, the best thing to do is be there for someone. It’s hard to get through an eating disorder by yourself. It’s a little easier with someone by your side. Embrace the ‘we’.
Love them. Support them. Send ‘good morning sunshine’ text messages before school starts and ‘sleep well’ text messages when you climb into bed. Sit with them at lunch. Even if they stare at their food, don’t stare at them. Talk about classes and ask what to get your mom for her birthday and fangirl about the UNC vs. dook game and brag about how Kennedy Meeks almost stepped on you the other day. The usual things. Ask ‘How are things going?’ and ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ Don’t push them if they don’t want to talk. Do not partake in body shaming or fat talk. Drive them to appointments and marathon a season of New Girl together afterwards. Remember that they are not their eating disorder. Love them. Remember that you are neither parent nor doctor. Love yourself.
The love of my life struggles with an eating disorder. And I would not trade her for the world.
“Together we can face any challenges as deep as the ocean and as high as the sky.” –Sonia Gandhi