Emily Stamp recounts the experience of watching a friend develop an eating disorder from a distance, and explores what you can do to help in such a situation. Incredibly her friend, Ellie, has come forward to speak about her experience and help others living in a similar position.
When you leave school friends drift. This does not mean to say you will never see them again or check up on them on Facebook, but the physical distance is often a barrier to the natural, everyday friendship you grew used too in school, especially if you communicate less frequently. These barriers can mean that when mental or physical health issues arise it is difficult to know whether to even comment on them or ask questions.
After almost 2 years of watching, via the Internet, old school friends go about their new lives; I started to notice a few things about one in particular. Nothing bad, at first - Ellie had always mentioned wanting to row at university. However, it was difficult to see her growing thinner next to her team and friends. Even to the extent that she appeared to have passed the healthy stage. But what could I do from behind a screen? Especially as her family had moved to Singapore, so she was not even near my hometown during the holidays.
Sure, we had kept basic contact and I asked mutual friends about her, but nothing concrete. It didn’t hit me how worried I had become until one particular picture of her standing with a few friends raised a red flag. But, again, what could I say? Could I mention it to her? Did she feel like people were on her case about it? Had anyone mentioned it? I was unsure, and so, regrettably, didn’t.
As good as my intentions were, I had not seen her for a long time and wasn’t really up to date with her current life. For all I knew she was getting help and just wasn’t public about any issues she had. Luckily for me, an honest text post and the beginning of Ellie’s Wordspress soon answered my questions. The English major with a way with words had me sobbing at her first blog because, as much as it had looked troubling to me, there is nothing as heart-breaking as reading your friend’s struggle and knowing you did not do anything, despite the warning signs.
I cannot say I understood fully but I know, now, what she was and is going through. There was also relief - she was an outpatient, her family were supportive, she was standing up to her eating disorder, and being remarkably open about it. I have posted one article about my own issues and that was scary enough, so it was a relief to see the love pour in via Facebook likes and comments which, though small, make a huge difference to recovery (even if the individuals are, in Ellie’s words, “a million miles away”).
A few blogs on and with a growing passion for raising awareness, she was invited to speak at an event. When I told Ellie about wanting to write about her story she said she “would be honoured,” when, in fact, I am honoured that she is brave enough and willing to share her experiences so openly.
Whilst only getting a glimpse of what is really going on, not going through it personally, it is inspirational to see her tackling issues maturely and honestly, with pictures, fears and worries posted up for the world to see. That’s not to say everyone benefits from such writing therapy or publically posting their recovery, however, as a concerned friend sitting at her laptop miles away, it is nice to know that I can support Ellie, however small a Facebook like and a few hearts may seem.
(If the link doesn’t work it is: https://eatingforellie.wordpress.com/)
If you are, or think you are, suffering with an eating disorder or any other kind of food-related illness please find help using any of these services:
University of St Andrews Student Services : https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/studentservices/
B-eat, the UK’s eating disorder charity : https://www.b-eat.co.uk/
The Samaritans : http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us
University of St Andrews Nightline: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/nightline/