A few weeks ago my best friend came to visit me and although she knows about my eating disorder, I was still worried about seeing her. We have a long-distance friendship and I hadn’t seen her for over a year - so naturally my anxiety started to kick in as I just wanted the day to go perfectly.
I was worrying about everything, from what we were going to do, talk about, how long she would stay, what time she would arrive, would I get too tired, what if I can’t handle it…and most importantly I didn’t want things to dwell on my relapse.
The thing is, sometimes having an eating disorder can be all consuming. It can start to take over your life, your every thought and behaviour. You can become so entrenched by it that you find yourself feeling lost. You lose sight of your identity, the things you once loved, the things that made you smile suddenly become forgotten about, and you find yourself living in the shadows of the illness.
I was worried that when I saw my friend, she wouldn’t see me, she’d just see my illness. That the conversation would revolve around my relapse or she’d tread on eggshells to not worry or upset me. I was worried that my illness would be a barrier and try to break our friendship apart…
But I was so wrong! A few days before my friend came to visit, she messaged me about timings. This was so important for my anxiety and it helped ease my thoughts about the day. We arranged the approximate time that she would arrive and leave, meaning that gave me room to arrange my meals without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. Having a routine is vital for my mental health and my friend completely understood. On the day she arrived, she also sent me a little text to let me know she’d set off which massively helped too.
Once she got here, we decided to go for a walk together with my dog. This allowed us a little time to chat and catch up on what had been going on. We spoke a little about my relapse and what was going to be happening in terms of treatment. She never forced me to talk or asked for more information. She just listened and when I’d said what I was comfortable with, we moved on…she spoke about some of things she’d been going through and I felt really grateful that I could be the one to listen. It made me feel really happy that we could share the load and that she felt that she could still talk to me.
She saw me, not my illness and that’s so important!
After the walk we decided to go and grab a coffee but we got it to bring home. That might seem insignificant but my friend was lovely enough to understand that crowded coffee shops aren’t great for me at the moment and it would be easier to take the coffee home. She also wanted me to choose the coffee shop which was really thoughtful too. That way, I could pick the place I was most comfortable with and knew the menu so it wasn’t anxiety inducing.
For the rest of the day we sipped coffee, chatted about our silly college years, did some crafts and watched our favourite movie together. It was perfect! There was no pressure to feel or act a certain way. We didn’t dwell on my relapse. We spoke about things that I had almost forgotten about and we watched a film that she knows means so much to me. We had fun just being us and I got to spend the day with my best friend - no pressure, no eggshells, just lots of love, silliness and happy memories.
If I can leave one little bit of advice for friends it’s this: your friend is still there underneath the illness and it’s the little things like popping on their favourite movie or reminding them of funny stories that can help to remind them of who they are. It’s easy to forget ourselves when we are fighting with our head but it’s these little reminders and gestures that can make a world of difference. Above all else, be kind, be patient, and try to see beyond the illness.