I want to explore something often neglected. Carer self-care.
An eating disorder is mentally and physically draining, and it often takes away from caring for your own needs.
I am a person in recovery from an eating disorder and self-care is something I’ve been trying to implement more in my daily routine. In preparing this article, I wondered how my own circle of support practised self-care when they had to work so hard to prioritise my care?
A mutual feeling of guilt
At first my mum and sister were reluctant to open up. They both shared a mutual feeling of guilt and were somewhat apprehensive to talk about how they looked after their own mental and physical wellbeing at that time. After all, I was the one directly afflicted by the eating disorder, not them.
My sister said she valued distraction, saying it was important to make time for going out with her friends or spending an evening by herself. She would often order food and watch her favourite tv-show. My mum, on the other hand, tried to keep certain areas of her life normal, heading to the nail or hair salon, regularly calling her mum etc.
They both spoke about the mundane everyday activities they engaged in and said it helped them focus on something else – even if just for an hour or two. My sister said, “What good was I for you if I couldn’t be good to myself?” Mum felt that she had to stay positive for me. “If you can make yourself feel better by doing something you enjoy, even for just 30-minutes a day, you should do it”. Taking that time for themselves allowed my mum and my sister to recharge.
Looking back I am grateful my supports took and continue to take time for themselves when it would have been natural to put themselves last. Why? Because each little thing they did for themselves led them back to me with renewed energy, hopefulness, and resilience – something I needed but didn’t have the energy to give myself.
Self care requires self reflection.
It’s important that you start making a list of things you can do for you – because doing something you enjoy can bring release and relief.
But – as much as my support circle recognised the importance of taking care of themselves to take care of me, they felt it was inappropriate to do so at the beginning. You may too, but reading this article shows that you want to be there for your loved one. Perhaps you could think about watching your favourite movie, finishing that 500-piece puzzle that’s gathering dust in your closet, getting that haircut, going for a walk in nature, reading a chapter, phoning a friend, spending a night away. It can be something you do for 5-minutes or 5-hours.
Escape what’s going on together
If you feel you’re not ready to take time for yourself without the person you are caring for, try speaking directly to your loved one about things you can do to escape what’s going on together. Perhaps some gentle exercise, a trip to the shops, going out for coffee, playing a board game, painting together or learning phrases of a new language.
Your circumstance is unique, but prioritising positive distraction can empower you to take one step towards hopefulness, and one back from hopelessness. It can also make the cycle of recovery more realistic for your loved one and you.
If there’s anything you take from this article, let it be that the clarity my mum and sister gained as a result of taking time out for themselves enabled them to access the strength within that was previously weakened by so much focus on me, and little focus on themselves.
If you don’t know where to begin, say the first thing that comes to your mind as you fill in the following statement. “Something I want to do today for myself is _______.” Let this thought become a reality as you continue to support and care for your loved one.
An Alex Articulates Article