I had a really good eating day yesterday. All three meals plus a couple of snacks and dessert after dinner. It was a rare day where I ate like a “normal” person. Trouble is, I am wide awake at 3 a.m. with severe anxiety and regret. As I went to bed late last night, I fought the urge to do a billion crunches and 20 push ups. I’m craving a hard and sweaty run the way an alcoholic craves a stiff drink–my body itches for the burn, my brain yearns for the high. If I give in, I know I’ll just keep going. I’ve already planned out how I can best restrict my calorie intake today to make up for my lack of self-control yesterday. The chastising and scolding of myself is intense this early dark morning–how could I have been so foolish to eat so much food? My brain is racing, certain I feel the weight of all that food sticking to my body–certain that I am losing control.
This is what I’d say if I felt safe enough to answer honestly to your question: How are you?
I’ve likely left you to flounder for a response and unsure if you want to walk down this road with me.
What do you say to someone who is in the throes of her mental disorder? You want to help, to say something soothing, yet you’re uncertain as to what might be appropriate without making it worse. It’d be easier if I had a broken bone– that’s easier to encourage because it’s easier to understand. The cast on my arm or the crutches holding me up would clearly explain why I am not functioning normally. A broken brain, however, is mysterious and unconventional. There’s no clear link between what’s broken and my abnormal behavior and anxious expressions. That makes you nervous. I understand. It’s weird.
Here’s something you might find helpful, and this goes for anyone you know who battles with a mental illness. The brokenness is something we live with–not the entirety of who we are, and sometimes we need help remembering that. Ask me what else I did yesterday. I can tell you, I:
- Mailed an author her romance novel with her first-round edits.
- Crafted an invitation letter for my pastor to send to his pastoral colleagues regarding our church’s upcoming mental health conference.
- Put the final touches on the press release for the same conference.
- Sent articles to my mental health conference leadership team.
- Edited a chapter of a client’s mental health book.
- Spent time in my Bible learning that best way to please God is to simply listen for his call and have the courage to obey; it yields great blessings.
- Prepared bone broth in my slow cooker.
- Encouraged a friend in her new writing and business venture.
- Discovered an Italian coffee shop in my town that’s been here for over 30 years.
- Watched my kids joyfully and randomly spatter Halloween decorations in our front yard.
- Wrote a message to another friend checking in on her health.
- Accepted the invitation to be a mentor at a writer’s conference next year.
So I ate a bunch of food, but I did a bunch of other stuff that define who I am at my core. You could zero in on any one of these and ask questions to help me remember I’m a lover of people and their stories; I’m in the midst of discovering and sharing my own story. I advocate for and encourage others in their lives. Despite the brokenness in my brain, I can and do serve a greater purpose–that’s encouraging. I struggle with anorexia, and the behaviors and effects that come with this disease are normal for me–but they don’t define me. The food I ate doesn’t matter and the distractions away from the anxiety can be found in any of one of those bullet points.
It’s taken me nearly two hours to craft this post because I’ve stopped to pray and wrestle with the thoughts expressed in this message for myself. The craving to go for a run has subsided; the self-scolding has stopped; although, I am still not sure how well I will eat today. It will be a fight to say the least.
In the meantime, I hope this has provided you with some insight on how to respond if someone you love is having a hard time. Acknowledge how they feel and let them know it’s okay to not feel okay because it’s normal given the circumstances of their illness. Then engage deeper and find something to encourage them in who they are at their heart. It may not solve the crisis, and it certainly won’t cure the illness, but your words of affirmation will be supportive and soothing.
If you are local to Portland, or even if you aren’t, you are invited to a mental health conference coming up on October 18th dedicated to opening up deeper conversation around mental health and learning how to love and serve better those who struggle. Click on the logo for more information or check out this powerful video:
Mental Health Promo V2 from Lake Grove Presbyterian Church on Vimeo.