Carmel’s Sibling Story

My sister was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa about 15 years ago. We were both young teenagers, and I was a bit older than her. Our family knew nothing about eating disorders and treatment options available, and we lived in a regional area so she had even less access to professionals. 

Since then, my sister has been through many psychologists, dietitians, psychiatrists and other practitioners. She has bounced in and out of medical hospital wards and in-patient treatment centres in both public and private settings. Unfortunately, she is still living with her eating disorder.

Huge amounts of conflict

I still don’t fully understand the impact the eating disorder has had on our family. It caused huge amounts of conflict between all members of our family, and sometimes I didn’t want to be at home.

We did FBT for a while and as a sibling I found it really challenging. I felt like I was being told that everything our family did had to be focused on my sister’s recovery, but I didn’t have any agency and no one really asked me how I was feeling.

My sister was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa

People told me to ‘just be a sister’ but I didn’t really know what that meant. A lot of the information for siblings focused on younger siblings where the older sibling had the eating disorder, but that wasn’t my experience.

Our journey 

Looking back, I probably took on too much of a ‘carer’ role and jumped in to help when my parents were feeling overwhelmed or couldn’t be around at snack times. Those teenage years were really hard.

I remember having to physically bring my sister to the table because her anxiety was so high before meals, sitting with her for an hour and a half while she finished eating meals, trying to stop her from self-injuring, and lots more things that teenagers shouldn’t have to go through.

My memories of family holidays at that time are mostly about horrible dinners and fights around lunchtimes. Even though I shouldn’t have taken on that carer role, I think it helped me to feel some control in a situation that was so out of my control. I thought (and still sometimes do) that maybe if I said the right thing or was there at the right moment, that I could make her better. 

A few times my parents asked if I wanted to go and talk to someone about what was going on. I was fiercely against it, saying that I wasn’t the one that was sick. People weren’t as open about mental health when I was growing up, and so I didn’t understand how much it was affecting me. It also meant that I didn’t really talk to any of my friends about what was going on. There was so much stigma about eating disorders, I didn’t want them to think that my sister was just a silly girl who wanted to be skinny.

I wish I’d known

I finally went to go and see a psychologist when I was in my early 20s, and I desperately wish I had done it earlier. I’m a lot more open about my mental health now and am trying to be more honest with my family about the impact the eating disorder has had on me as a sibling.

I get support from..

I went to the very first EDFA Sibling Support Group. It was such a validating experience for me, to hear other siblings say things that I was also feeling. As one of the oldest in the group, it also made me so sad to see younger siblings going through what I went through at a similar age. I (and many other siblings) tend to put everyone else first and try to be the peacemaker in my family. It has been really special to have a space that’s free of judgement where we can relate to each other.

Helping others

My advice to other siblings is to prioritise your mental health and have activities that you do that have nothing to do with your sibling and eating disorders. I would encourage siblings to get a mental health care plan through their GP and get their own professional support through a counsellor or psychologist, no matter how young they might be or how early the family is on their eating disorder journey. 

I wish that I had sought help earlier and that I hadn’t felt such a responsibility to be the one who was ‘okay’, and instead shared what I was struggling with as well. Your feelings as a sibling are important and valid, and you deserve love and support as well.

 

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