Where to Begin?
We always hear about eating disorders, its victims and its challenges. However, we don't always get to hear how this flows into other areas of the victims' lives. Specifically relationships. Specifically, how often do we get to hear about the other side of a relationship? Well, let's go through my experience...
I met Melissa working at a music video over a year and a half ago. She was the choreographer and I was directing. It was pretty much a really fast connection, we both felt we already knew each other and we were just catching up on each other. As expected we started dating. Before we reallly proceeded with everything we of course had our first date, were we really tried to show ourselves to each other. She talked to me about her experience with eating disorders, which at this point she mentioned were healed...little did we know right?
As our relationship started to evolved I started noticing some behaviors which ultimately represented a challenge between both of us. Things could range from unexpected mood swings, jealousy scenes and some other stuff. These stuff surprised me since I thought we had made clear our principles and values before we started dating...no jealousy, independence and interdependence, etc. It soon started to come up in other moments. For instance, having food with my family. At this point, having food anywhere else other than her place, every meal started to become a serious problem. The issue on the meals could have a lot roots, either the food itself, the guilt after, or the purge (which could be vomit, laxatives, or binge eating). We were not able to enjoy anything together since the moment after we would spend our time together trying to make her feel better. This ultimately turned into a self-worth problem on her which of course tresspassed into our relationship and sure affected my own mood as well.
So we started to talk about how we could tackle this. Therapy and nutrition came into the conversation so for her birthday I got her a nutritionist who would teach her about food, I thought this would help change her perspective on a lot of things such as sugars and carbs. Btw, I also got her some coloring books that she wanted to distract herself. I started to inform myself deeply on the topic, the causes of eating disorders, success stories, the whole nature behind it, everything. I thought this was gonna make me a more comprehensive and supporting partner.
It was by having some uncomfortable and stressful conveersations (or discussions) when I started to realize how bad it was. The situations always had a common denominator, a voice in her head which told her all kinds of stuff. "You had a lot of food", "That girl is skinnier than you", "All you have now is thanks to me", "No one understands us, you need me". Some years earlier Melissa had read a book "Life without Ed" by Jenni Schaefer. So, we started calling her voice "Ed". The gravity of the situation was her deep relationship with Ed. She trully believed Ed was an ally in her life, that she needed him to accomplish everything. She even felt pride whenever everyone was eating and she restrained herself from doing so. I understood that this issue had to go deeper than caring for her appearance.
As I did my research on eating disorders, I learned that any eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, was only a symptom, not a disease itself. There was always an input, and vomiting or looking fat in the mirror was the output. Melissa has quite a story regarding her family and her teenage years which I won't really dive into. However, it is important for you to know that she is a ballerina and choreographer. Why should you know this? Well, the industry is flooded by superficiality, "only skinny dancers". These comments show up quite often and pretty early on a ballerina's life, sometimes even since age 10. Instructors try to impose diets on little girls, and make harsh comments about her appearance "you look fat", "you can't have fruits after 6pm", and many more. This whole toxic culture, paired with her rough teenage years and her family sure added up to this moment.
We learned together that the input for her behavior was anxiety. Any type of anxiety would trigger her eating disorders. Anxiety could come from work stress, or more deeply, from feeling less about herself. Problem was that her self-worth or self-love were at this point entirely dependent on Ed. Even deeper, we realized Ed had a power. Ed could distort everything upon her eyes. Literally everything. The way she looked in the mirror of course but what surprised me was the ablity Ed had to even manipulate facts and create stories. If I received a message I didn't want to check because I was having quality time with Melissa, Ed would tell Melissa it was another girl texting me, probably prettier than her. If one girl showed up on my Instagram feed, Ed would turn one girl into 10 girls and tell Melissa my whole Instagram was filled with girls. Of course, this got to the point of Melissa stalking my Instagram, checking who I followed, who I liked posts from, etc. It became more and more apparent that the issue came from her self-love.
What did I do?
As I had recently gone through my "rebirth" phase in life and had learned about my own self love and independence, I thought I was very familiar with the topic. I had put myself some lone times un purpose to learn about self love and sufficiency. Now, with all the discussions we were having, the fact that we could not share a food happily together, and that I learned the root cause was self love, it did cross my mind that MAYBE, it wasn't the right time for us. I thought I would just get in the way of her healing process, I could have some level of patience but sometimes I was gonna get mad at her. I was mainly worried that she would put herself through her healing process just for us, and for the relationship, and that would not represent a true change, since she wouldn't be doing it for HERSELF. We sure talked about it and it wasn't a fun conversation.
We decided to be patient. She would put herself through therapy and learn a lot of things. Turns out she has ADHD, OCD and Anxiety. Mix them all together with all her background and Voila, the perfect recipe for eating disorders. Months earlier she denied therapy because she said that therapy would make her fat. She started with small things, and ultimately healed her relationship with food. Ironically, she started eating more, without guilt, a wider range of foods and guess what... she got skinnier.
On My Side
I have to be honest, it required a lot of patience on my end of things. Not knowing how long it would take for Ed to go away. How long until we could have fried chicken happily together. And it really took a toll on me. Some people say sometimes, eating disorders affect more the people around you than they affect yourself. I never thought of that since I would put myself in her shoes and couldn't imagine everything she had been through. But, today I realise how big of an emotional toll it was.
As I mentioned, at a moment it felt like it was a little bit too much to handle. Today, I can say that patience paid off. Through this process we got to know each other deeply. I learned a lot about her life, her mental processes, and really learned to put myself in her place. The result was that I learned to admire her. I learned how help her and she learned how to help me. She became very grateful for my patience and I that way she learned to support me as well. It was thanks to this process that I learned to look up to her in a different way. I learned something important about relationships and that is that you can work on yourself WHILE being in a relationship. I thought that a relationship required two healthy individuals to work, and it's true BUT, it doesn't mean you cannot work on that together. I learned that we should not try to find someone who is already perfect for us, but that we have to work in order to make perfect together.