Mental Health

Loving Someone with an Eating Disorder

When your partner doesn't understand your Eating Disorder | Libero Magazine

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If you ever feel discouraged, sometimes looking back to appreciate the progress you have made helps put your current situation in perspective.

When I look back at my time in high school, there are so many memories that make me cringe. Whether it was making someone the butt of a joke or ignore a friend in need, there were countless incidents when I let selfishness and ignorance determine my actions. I’m not saying high school was horrible, or that now I have it all together, but it’s healthy to recognize and appreciate when we change for the better (for example, when you no longer desire to make jokes at someone else’s expense). Loving my girlfriend through an Eating Disorder is one situation that stands out.

We are bound to make mistakes as we grow older, and I’m thankful that we can learn from them and seek forgiveness. Still, one situation, in particular, stands out when I think of high school, and it is because I made many mistakes.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered that my girlfriend was struggling with an eating disorder.

At first there was so much hidden from me and only so much she would share. I didn’t realize that she was (understandably) downplaying its seriousness, and by the time I had realized the full extent of what she was going through, I was deeply involved.

I felt like it was my responsibility to keep her accountable and support her (in spite of my complete ignorance of the nature of eating disorders), so I became distrustful of her when I realized she was only telling me what I wanted to hear.

When it finally reached the point where she had to tell someone, she came to me because I had taught her to depend on me for help I could not provide.

Like all of us, Lindsey was scared to admit she didn’t have it all together. She believed her struggle would go away if she got closer to God or if she had more discipline. She would try to convince herself that she could get better on her own. Everyone with a mental illness has told themselves that lie at some point.

We can try to ignore the nature of what we are going through, but it’s called an “illness” for a reason. It is beyond our control, and we need to recognize that it is not only okay to ask for help, it is essential.

I wanted to be needed, because I thought being needed was being loved.

My insecurity about wanting to be the source of her success made things worse. Even after Lindsey courageously went to a rehabilitation clinic, I would respond to the constant letters and phone calls because I liked being needed and I also didn’t know when to say “no.”

When anyone asks me for advice when either they or a loved one struggles with mental health, I say the same thing: “Tell your family, then I would urge you to see a licensed psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist.”

I wish I had told someone sooner about my depression, and if I could go back to high school I would have encouraged my girlfriend to see a professional. It would have saved both of us a lot of pain, and maybe I would have learned where to draw the line with my involvement.

There are many, many facets to recovery and everyone’s story is different, and we simply don’t know much beyond our own personal experiences.

But I do know that, ideally, the greatest sources of accountability when it comes to recovery are immediate family members. Everyone is bound to make mistakes in an accountability relationship, but typically, family members (especially parents) prioritize our well-being and have the greatest impact on our day-to-day lives.

It’s very important to be surrounded by people who are quick to forgive and refuse to give up on us, and to expect such selfless behavior out of a high school relationship or romance is simply unfair. And that is a good thing!

Recognizing the limitations set in place by the nature of our relationships allows us to love more effectively.

It means caring more about someone getting healthy than about who helps them get healthy. If you have a close friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend who needs help, the best way you can love them is by encouraging them to tell their family or trusted authority figure.

Mine and Lindsey’s relationship became more and more codependent and toxic, and our relationship ended in our first year of college.

I don’t hold anything against her or blame her for the way we she dealt with her eating disorder, and I greatly I respect the way she courageously sought help after keeping to herself for so long. As I prepare to marry the woman of my dreams, I can not help but be thankful for how this high school relationship prepared me for marriage. I am reminded to always put my wife’s needs over my desire to be needed.

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Josh Shook grew up near Houston, Texas but now calls Nashville, Tennessee home. He began his time in Nashville at Belmont University, graduating with a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Music Business and Production. He released an EP in 2013, then added author to his resumé when he published a book with his older brother in the same year. Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own was influenced by life growing up in church. In the book, Josh and his brother talk facing tough questions and letting go of “how things are supposed to be.” He hopes to continue to share from his life experience through writing about his journey through self-injury and depression. Day to day, you can most often find Josh making music and drinking black coffee (anytime, anywhere). He also may or may not proudly wear the title of labradoodle enthusiast. You can blame his hilariously adorable family dogs, Tumnus and Aslan. What’s more important than music, dogs, and coffee? Not much. But Josh’s wife-to-be, Kelli, takes precedence. They are busy planning their upcoming nuptials and learning how to avoid burning dinner while cooking together.

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