Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What not to say. . . to someone dealing with an eating disorder, infertility or pregnancy loss

I get many questions regarding what people should or should not say to someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, specifically anorexia. I also get the same question as it relates to someone who is experiencing infertility, fertility treatments and/or a miscarriage. These are tough questions for several reasons.

1 - everyone is different
2 - a statement or question that is triggering to me might not be triggering to someone else
3 - I have only experienced one miscarriage - loosing a twin while simultaneously pregnant with the other baby
4 - I am not a licensed therapist or specialist in any of these fields and thus can only answer based on my personal experiences with each topic




So with these in mind, here are a few things I would suggest you NOT say to someone who is struggling with anorexia, infertility and/or pregnancy loss: 


(And just b/c you are wondering - yes - many of these are statements people actually said to me)


Anorexia:

  • Just eat more - If only it were this easy. Newsflash - eating disorders are NOT about the food (maybe to some extent but there is usually, always, an underlying issue that needs to be addressed and the sufferer finds the only way to control the underlying issue is by controlling his/her food intake). 
  • You should probably be praying more often - Yes it is a good idea to pray. Prayer works wonders and even while I was suffering I knew this but honestly, I was not at a place where I wanted to pray or approach God at all for that matter. Making statements such as this will only push the sufferer farther away from finding God again. At least that was my experience. You MUST wait until THEY are ready. 
  • Wow. You need to go eat a pie. - Ironically, this statement was made to me at church. I recognize that the person was just uncomfortable and most likely, wanted to say something out of concern but did not know how so this was an easy out. But really? Please refrain from "funny" remarks like this one. 
  • How do you think God feels? Or. . . Do you not know your body is a temple? - Please refer to comments under the second bullet point. 
  • I know how you feel - Please, unless you have first hand experience with an eating disorder AND are willing to share said experience, refrain from making this remark. Being trapped by anorexia is awful and unless you have BEEN THERE, you really have no idea the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual battle one faces each and every day. 

Infertility and/or pregnancy loss:
  • It has only been x amount of months, it took us five years to get pregnant - Ok, while this comment is meant to be encouraging (translation = It's still early and we got there eventually!), telling me that it took 5 years to get pregnant is not really helping the situation when I am only so far into the process.
  • You can always adopt - I love adoption and I am a firm believer that it is a GREAT option for SOME people. I worked in the field for 6.5 years for goodness sake. That being said, adoption is not right for everyone and therefore it is not always an "easy solution" for those struggling to conceive. Adoption is a life long decision and couples who look to adoption (specifically due to infertility) have a lot of grief and loss they must work through prior to adopting. Adopting a child as a means of "replacing the biological child that never was" is never a good idea. 
  • At least you have the other baby and/or your other child - This is a true statement but it still hurts. Yes, I lost a baby at 8 weeks all the while I was still pregnant - a blessing indeed. But you know what? It still hurt. Bad. I still cried for that little heartbeat that I was no longer able to see on the ultrasound. I still had several weeks to wrap my mind around having twins, mothering twins, etc and then boom... that image was gone. So please refrain from trying to "encourage" someone in this way. A loss is a loss and it takes time to process and heal. This does not mean we are not thankful for the other baby inside or the child that already lives in our home. 
  • You didn't really want twins anyway - I was truly amazed at how many people said this to me. They would continue to explain why having twins would be SO hard and how life would be SO much more complicated, difficult, and overwhelming and why it was really a blessing in disguise that I will now only have one baby. Ok I agree - raising two babies at once would be extremely difficult but does that mean that I really didn't want baby #2 to survive? I think not. Far from the truth. 
  • At least you never knew your baby - This comment, in my opinion, just negates the loss a person feels when loosing an unborn child. Yes - I agree it would be much harder to loose a child that I have held in my arms or a child that has spent several years in my home. Agreed. BUT please don't tell me I shouldn't feel pain because my baby was "never real." While I never held my baby I saw that heartbeat for several weeks and, at that moment, I allowed myself to begin "knowing" that child. 
These are just a few examples of statements I would encourage people not to say. I am sure there are many more and for those of you who have dealt with any of these issues can, most likely, add your own list to mine above. 

While I sit here and caution you in what you do choose to say, I do encourage you to say something. Or just show that you care. Write an email. Send a text with a simple "I love you and I'm here for you." Make a phone call. Give a hug. Sit and listen. . . and I mean truly listen. Tell someone that while you have no clue what they are experiencing you indeed care deeply for them and their situation. Ask how best you can encourage and actually follow through with their response. Don't let the fear of what to say keep you silent. Just please take time to think about your words. 

If you have ever experienced an eating disorder, infertility and/or a miscarriage, what would you encourage people not to say? What comments were the most helpful in your healing process? Please share your thoughts. We all have unique experiences and can continue to learn from one another. 

29 comments :

  1. "I'm sorry you have to adopt". This was hard on me b/c it seemed to say that my future child was less of a blessing or valued person than a biological child. I know most comments are due to a lack of understanding and God places different things on each of our hearts. But I think comments like this could go without saying. :)

    The most helpful comments are simply those of friends sharing in our excitement. No matter what they are excited for us because they love us. Asking about the process or updates in our adoption means A LOT! :)

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    1. Very well said and yes I think sharing in the excitement of the situation out of love is always so helpful. :)

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  2. Great post- thank you! :)

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  3. Brittnie! Hi! I am not sure if you will remember me, but my family went to First Colony in elementary and junior high. I even had a couple of sleepovers at your house way back when, but it has been a really long time. Anyway, I was excited to find your blog. Congrats on your marriage and pregnancy! And thanks for all of your honesty in sharing your journey. I have walked similar paths. I struggled with an ED in my later high school and early college years, before I was shipped off to treatment (have you ever heard of Remuda Ranch?). Treatment was one of the GREATEST things to EVER happen to me! I learned so many lessons that apply much more than to "eating" and have impacted so many areas of my life. That was almost ten years ago. It is not something I talk about often. The comment I hate the most, when I do share, is 'wow, you don't look like you have/had an eating disorder. I thought you'd be skinnier!'. Ouch. Talk about actually wanting to restrict after that! I always hated that comment. Also, I can relate to miscarriage. My husband and I have three beautiful children who are our world, but I miscarried number four just last month. It has been one of the hardest things for me. Another case of looking fine and normal on the outside, but feeling so changed and different on the inside. Luckily I have not received any negative comments, and most everyone has been very supportive. The only thing at all that bothered me was that someone actually said I did not seem 'sad' enough. Not sure what they were expecting? Anyway, I just wanted to reach out and say that I have enjoyed reading through your pages here. Your honesty is very inspiring!

    Kendra (Ellis) Zickafoose

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    1. Hi Kendra! Yes oh my goodness I do remember you! I am so glad you commented here. I am so excited to check out your blog and follow you. :)

      I am so sorry to hear of your miscarriage. So hard. I hope and pray God will fill you with his peace and understanding. Miscarriage is hard, regardless of whether you have no children or a million children. Still hard.

      Have so much more to say but I will write more to you soon!
      Britt. :)

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  4. Great post!! Thank you for sharing this. I hope and pray that I never say anything to anyone struggling with anything, but I know I probably have in the past. I have never struggled with ED or infertility or miscarriage, but have experienced other struggles. While we were going through our stuff with Jayden, many times we heard the "I understand what you are going through" comment when they have never experienced an unhealthy child. I know they were trying to be sympathetic and didn't really know what to say. Their heart was in the right place.

    Thanks for sharing!! I love reading your posts!! As much as our hard life experiences suck, I believe God uses us through these experiences to help others if we allow him. I know you have impacted many people. You are amazing!! I love you and respect you in so many ways!!

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    1. I agree with you - people are trying to be compassionate and sympathetic and truly do not know what to say. You hit the nail on the head that their heart IS/WAS in the right place. Amen. :)

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  5. Hi Brittnie. Oh my...some of these comments made me gasp. I hope i haven't uttered them to you or anyone else but it's hard to know what might have come out of my mouth in a moment of discomfort or surprise. I am sorry if I am guilty...very sorry. When people say these kinds of things they are not really looking to your heart or needs they tend to be more concerned with just saying something/anything in order to make themselves a little more comfortable. It is sad but true. You are so precious. We are counting down the days to Clara's arrival with you.

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    1. Oh, Trisha. You are not guilty at all and honestly the main point of this post was not to point blame but to bring general awareness to some issues that SO many people go through. Thanks for all of your love and support!

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  6. Britt- what a great post that will be helpful for so many. I can relate to the last point about "saying something." When my college roommate died, I found myself hurt by people who, when seeing me for the first time after her death, never even mentioned it. I know that they likely had good intentions- possibly they thought they would make me sad. The truth was that I was already sad and would have been encouraged by simple words showing concern. A good rule of thumb is to quickly pray and ask God what He would have us say. He is so faithful and can give us the words to communicate in any given situation.

    Can't wait for Clara's shower!!

    K

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    1. Great rule of thumb. I need to edit this post and include this point b/c you are so right - we need to constantly be looking to Him for our words. He will provide the words we need, at the right moment, when we feel helpless to speak to someone.

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  7. wonderful post! I've been through all that you have mentioned. And I've heard all that you have mentioned as well. Sometimes church folk are the worst about it because there are always some cliche words like:
    ~God has a plan (because right then I really wanted to wonder why God's plan involved taking the child that had taken us so long to conceive?)
    ~Don't worry, God's in control(and He IS but sometimes those words are ill timed and bring hurt)
    ~God was saving your child from hardship here in this life

    There are so many hurtful things said. I've been told that I struggle with depression because I am not Godly enough, that my infertility years were because of sin, and that the eating disorder was just a means to get attention but not a legitimate illness.

    I'd add "I can't imagine" to your list of things not to say. It is easier to hear, "I can only imagine how much that hurt". While both are intended the same, the latter shows empathy. It shows that though you probably don't fully understand, you are still willing to be moved by emotion and hurt alongside of someone. Sometimes to just sit and hold someone or to cry with them and never say a word are the greatest comforting acts one may have.

    In dealing with anorexia, I found that people commenting on the food on my plate("Good to see you eating" or "Is that all you're having?") was really difficult and usually ended with me crying into my pillow as soon as I got home.

    One of the greatest things said to me when I relapsed with anorexia was when my dear friend called me and told me that she had no idea what I was going through or what to say or how to help but that she was going to be there to walk through it with me. She acknowledged she didn't understand and that she had no idea what words I needed to hear but that she would be there for whatever I needed. She has been and I could never thank her enough for it. Just knowing that when I needed to talk about food I could or when I needed to talk about anything but food that was ok too was huge to me.

    Sorry for the book of a comment. I just really liked this post and it very much so resounded with me!

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    1. Dawn, thank you for your comment. I love the way your friend reached out to you during your relapse with anorexia. What a sweet spirit. I am so thankful you had her to lean on during such a difficult time.

      I also really like your description of the comment "I can only imagine how much that hurt." Very true!

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  8. Having experienced both you are such a great resource for those who need to hear your words as many will benefit from it. My sister lost a child and many people just ignored her because they didn't know what to say. She really just appreciated love and kindness, you don't need to say anything profound, just "I am so sorry, I love you" goes a long way.

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  9. Hello! I found your blog through Sorta Crunchy's blog. Sounds like we might have a lot in common. I struggle with food addiction and I had infertility issues for 8 years. We now have a daughter who is two. I agree with most of the comments you have said. I think people so hard want to relate and calm the fears of others, but are unaware of what to do. Each person is different and we all have pasts that dictate how we take certain information. I think the best option is to pray about how to approach someone in a difficult situation before they say anything. It never hurts to have The Spirit guide your words. Also though we have a responsibility to give grace to others when they do say the wrong thing. Great post, following you now and I hope that you will follow me back.

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    1. Wow it does sound like we have been through some similar life challenges. So exciting that your daughter is almost 2 yrs. What a blessing!

      Also, it is so important to grace others when they say something "hurtful" or "wrong" as they are truly trying to do a bit of good. Thanks for that reminder.

      Thanks for the comment! :)

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  10. thank you very very much for this post. People really don't know what to say, and so say stupid things. And people have no idea what it is like to live in anyones shoes and so say stupid things! the comments i got when i was pregnant with my 8th baby were unbelievable...but ended up teaching me appreciation for other lives that i could know nothing about...so I stopped judging .
    i am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by... excited to check out your blog too!

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  11. the word is "lose" not "loose" The word "lose" is used when something is lost; the word "loose" is used when something is "not secure"
    sorry- pet peeve of mine to see words misused in writing. it negates the whole message.

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    1. Thanks for catching the typo. :) Have a great day!

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  12. I just had a second miscarriage, we lost our baby at 10 weeks. As we had told very few people, there were no hurtful comments. In fact, one friend has been a great comfort and blessing this week. We have five children, but were still deeply saddened by the loss of another blessing.

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    1. So thankful that your friends are blessing you during such a hard season of life. A miscarriage hurts regardless of whether you have 20 children or 0 children. Blessings to you!

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  13. This is a great post, as it offers concrete advice. Sometimes, in hard situations, I think people need that. They may not be thinking clearly, or may panic and rush to fill each emptiness, thereby something inappropriate of hurtful. I had an eating disorder in high school and remember some of the things you mention here so clearly. All the bet to you.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Tara. I checked out your blog! All the best to you as well!

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  14. Such a great post, Britt! Love you & love how you are sharing so many amazing things with so many!

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  15. This was a really interesting post. One thing I would NOT say to someone dealing with an eating disorder is "let's go grab a steak" or "can I make you some brownies?" This is SO uncomfortable, yet I can't count the number of people who said things like this to me!!

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    1. Totally agree with you.... very true.

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  16. Just found your blog and this post got me thinking...
    When are you close enough or when are you not close enough to someone to ask/to comment/...about their difficulties or their loss.
    Unless it's crystal clear to me, if the person themselve did not let me know about their difficulty or loss, I normally do not comment.
    And I don't know if I am acting correctly...
    I am a very reserved person and it really hurts me when people comment, even when they celebrate things for me if I don't feel them close. I don't like that they know and even less that they feel close enough to share with me.
    Am I a weirdo?...
    Could you share your experience on this topic? I would like to learn.
    Thank you :)

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    1. I am going to think on this and get back with you soon. Good questions to ponder!

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