The second victim
How I coped with my friend’s eating disorder
Eating disorders, with their widespread popularity are talked about quite a bit on school campuses, online and in the news. Their caregivers are not.
Pure knowledge of someone’s eating disorder is enough of a burden to create a second victim. I know because that was me.
Hearing the words “I have an eating disorder” from a 17-year-old girl to her best friend is not completely uncommon. And as that best friend, I can tell you the minute her mouth spoke those words, her problem was now mine.
She described to me in depth why she decided to tell me about her eating disorder now – the disappearance of her period, her fainting spells and being worried about her overall health. All things I would have never noticed yet in turn, made me feel like the worst best friend in the whole world.
When you receive that kind of information, without experience, how do you respond? Especially when your best friend begs you not to tell, it’s like asking a 17 year old – would you rather lose your best friend by choice or by chance?
I found myself eating less when I was around her because her thoughts were becoming mine. I started to lie for her, weakening my character and increasing my guilt. Her eating disorder was destroying her physically as well as emotionally, and bringing me along for the ride.
It has never been and never will be her fault. She cannot control that she has been overtaken by this disease and it’s important that she seek help from those she trusts the most. But as a caregiver, you can’t let the disease control you too. You have to stay healthy to give her the care she needs.
So what can you do? For me, asking for help, regardless of her asking me not to tell anyone, was the best decision I could’ve made. I talked to my mom, my own pediatrician and my school counselor about what next steps could be taken to get her well again. Bottom line, I could not cure her on my own.
They say ignorance is bliss. But I learned at a young age, ignorance, in this case, can kill.
About the author
Caroline Gayler volunteers in the public relations department at Cook Children’s Health Care System. She is a senior at TCU majoring in Strategic Communications.