by Angela Morris
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of having a loved one with an eating disorder is watching them suffer the many mental and physical pains and afflictions both large and small that this cruel disease visits on a person. So in this season of hope and new beginnings a number of caregivers in the area created this list of items that provide some measure of what we are calling “comfort and joy.” These are the items that come out of our bag of tricks to help make things more bearable, to create distractions during times of anxiety, and to bring some comfort.
The first category of items are helpful for distraction. They include games like Uno, Bananagrams, Scategories, and Monopoly. In our home the game of choice was Bananagrams. We played it after mealtime as a distraction. Eventually no one wanted to play Bananagrams with my daughter because they knew she always won. Other helpful distractions include listening to music and watching television. A number of caregivers mentioned that coloring was a terrific distraction. All those “adult coloring books” on the market can serve as a distraction as well as a great calming activity. Artistic activities are a great ways to distract as well as express feelings. We bought our daughter a box of art supplies that she used for a variety of art projects. Suggestions for an art box include sharpie pens, playdough or modeling clay, paper, and collaging supplies. Another helpful activity is writing or journaling. Having a blank journal to write in is much appreciated, but there are also some nice books like The Ritteroo Journal for Eating Disorders Recovery that provide jumping off topics for journaling towards recovery.
Note that if you or a loved one has created a piece of art through their stages of recovery we would like to exhibit it during our upcoming Art Hop in February. For more information on exhibiting your art work click here.
Besides distraction there is the desire to provide some level of comfort for a loved one suffering from an eating disorder. Some of the big issues during recovery are discomfort during “re-feeding” and also the inability of the body to stay warm. Try extra warm and cuddly clothing as well as electric blankets and heating pads. Electric blankets and heating pads provide both warmth and can be soothing for the stomach pain during re-feeding. Massage is also very soothing.
The idea of massage brings me to what I would consider the next level of comfort or care. As a caregiver or loved one of someone who suffers from an eating disorder knows there can be a great deal of self-loathing and feelings of unworthiness. I have seen this translate into a hesitation to be touched or to allow anyone to show affection and a lack of caring for oneself. So I view the acceptance of a massage or other “self-care” activities as progress towards recovery and healing. Talking to my daughter, she found helpful activities during the early part of her recovery included taking the time to paint her nails, face masks and wearing small “trinkets” or pretty pieces of jewelry especially bracelets or rings. All of these were pretty pick-me-ups and reinforced that she deserved to do nice things for herself, but they had the secondary reinforcement of serving as physical reminders to resist eating disorder behaviors.
Finally, I want to touch on joy. I know that individuals struggling with an eating disorder, as well as their family and friends, probably can’t even imagine the concept of “joy” but I want to provide a small glimmer of hope that joy does exist and will continue to grow stronger every day. Two things my daughter said to me recently resonate as I think about finding joy. The first was that at her sickest moments, she said that she felt so diseased, loathsome and foul that she did not want anyone near her because she was afraid she would contaminate them somehow. I imagine that is a common thought and the result was desperate loneliness that was very hard to break through. As I think back over the things that brought some joy, there were things that could break through that tremendous isolation and suffering… one of those things was animals. I think that may have been because an animal never judges them and somehow does not conform to the “rules” of their disease. The other thing my daughter recently said was that she felt like much of her childhood was stolen by her eating disorder. So now here is my secret weapon: find something that allows your loved one to fully be a child or to be a child again. For us it was a trip to Disney. We found that you just cannot stress about what you are eating when Pooh is there to hug you. So much better than any treatment center we have been to!
So that is our list and we want to wish you and your family much comfort and joy this holiday season. If you do decide to make any purchases this holiday season please consider using the SMEDA Amazon Smiles link here for Amazon purchases. That way your purchases help support better treatment, outreach and education for eating disorders.
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