Wednesday, 12 August 2009

My Sister The Anorexic

If life were a little more 'Sound of Music', and a little less 'Final Destination', the beginning would indeed be a very good place to start.
However, I can't really say where it all began and so the 'beginning' is really just a blur of tangled threads running though the family loom. Threads which, over the years, have merged and fused, stretched and thinned, snapped and frayed.
For a long, long time, I didn't know where my sister ended and I began.

This is difficult to write.

My sister is anorexic. Severely.
Until recently, I always thought that there are 3 kinds of anorexic. Those who are 'reactive' anorexics, people who are responding to some kind of trauma, tragic life event, loss, abuse etc.
Then there's the second type, 'cultural' anorexics, those who are influenced by the media's disgusting portrayal of beauty... and now in particular, the younger generation's 'emo' population - 'beautiful is broken' image...
And then there is the third type, 'Pure' Anorexia. Anorexia that is not a reaction or a rebellion. Anorexia nervosa in it's purest (and most deadly) form. Up to 20% of anorexics die from their illness and I would argue that most of that 20% fall into the third category.

I preceeded that paragraph with 'until recently', because nowadays I am not as certain about this (or anything else) as I used to be.

My sister almost certainly seems to fall into the third category though.
She is quite undoubtedly mentally ill. Her anorexia is a personality, a pathology.

When I was 14, I lost my sister. Not because she died, but because this illness scooped out every part of her that I had known and loved, took command of her mind and infiltrated her cells. It's almost impossible for me to remember who my sister was but one thing is for certain, she no longer lives. Her fragile body is just a home for her disease.


  1. my sister is anorexic too :(

    1. My sister suffered from Anorexia Nervosa when she was 12 years old, in the years of her illness I lost her, Before we were think as theives, and during she dissapeared. The illness took over. And whilst it took time and so much effort and alot of pain. She one got better, and she slowly returned to us. Please don't loose hope. Try to be strong, and don't go through this alone.

  2. Anon - I'm so sorry to hear that.
    Having seen this curse from both sides, I can understand some of the agony you muse suffer.
    Having to watch is a hideous experience.
    Please feel free to write about it if it helps.

  3. to anonymous -- is she getting help? talk to someone, dont leave it to brew; it will only get harder for everyone.
    and, im so sorry, its so so sad to feel like a person is lost in such a monstrous condition, i feel very similar though my sister is now 'recovered',wonderingsoul i feel like a part of her has disappeared; she is very volatile, often gets herself in danger or trouble, and expects others to pick her up we all constantly worry.
    my sister was anorexic at 11 through 13, and hospitalised for a year, sometime spent on life-support, and tube-fed. it was the most horrible experience, not being able to see her for months, then shed appear so pale and thin, with a strange smell, and my parents often spending a week with her in the hospitable, waiting for her to die, my baby brothers and I, then 12 sat by a neighbour.
    My sister has since recovered, but at a great cost to my family as a whole; shortly after, we emigrated, and my mum had an affair with one of my new part time work colleagues (only two years older than me) and i was the only one to know, seeing them together. When I tried to speak to her about it, she blamed me for the eating disorder I had been trying to hide, and saying that it was my fault for "unnecessarily carrying the problem on". I couldn't tell my dad as I was scared to create more problems, I was being bullied at school by one of my only new "friends" and my sister, after all the support and biting-of-tongue during her illness had no qualms in putting me down, talking openly of my eating problems in front of her friends, and how disgusting I was.

    This all hurt so much, and is hurting still, and I was so reluctant to write this, as it feels like it just fuels self-pity.

    I thought it might be useful to anyone who suspects or knows of someone with a mental condition/eating disorder/generally toxic secret: that will spread poison through their/your life without addressing it. It is so hard not to hide behind excuses, but not meeting things head-on makes it worse.

    Also, being told to constantly not act openly over the problems with the sufferer in ear-shot I found really quite damaging -- i remember one xmas when she bit me out of the blue, and i couldnt do anything, because i was scared to hurt her -- she spent a lot of time out of it, and acting abnormally, as her mind was shut down.

    wonderingsoul; having to watch is a hideous experience; how is your sister? do you feel like she has replaced the anorexia with other disturbing behaviour/personality change? please talk about it, i don't know if I can help, ive never used an internet talk thing before, but would really love to help anyone out who needs an open ear, anonymous likewise.

    thanks for creating this page, and hope to hear from you soon

  4. Dear Rebecca

    I was so moved by your comments.

    Writing about your traumatic experiences is not 'self pity'. It's self expression.
    And even if you do feel a degree of self pity, don't run from it and hide in shame... Your suffering has been immense and it's OKAY to accept that.

    I'm so sorry I haven't responded sooner... I've been finding things very difficult and this blog sometimes becomes another 'thing' on my list of anxieties.

    I watched my sis for 17 years and like yours, she was tube fed, in a range of hospitals for long periods of time, generally very near to death.
    I can well understand how it has been for you. I know th distance it creates, the abyss, the pain and anger, the sadness of loss, the bitterness that she shows you...

    Would you consider starting a blog?
    It might be therapeutic... I for one would read it... or try to.

    Be gentle with yourself. You have been through some awful, AWFUL stuff.
    It needs to be processed and that takes a LONG time.

    Do you stil have the eating disorder?
    Are you getting help?


  5. My sister is anorexic too. Maybe not severe, but she exercises daily for hours, only eats a select few types of foods, has constant panic/anxiety attacks, doesn't sleep, screams in the middle of the night, cries and tells my parents and I that she hates herself. The slightest thing can set her off and my whole family walk on eggshells constantly.She dropped out of school in year 9 and is now 17. She abuses everyone, keeps my mum up all night which is very stressful as she needs work. I 'lost' my sister 4 years ago due to this disease.

  6. your last paragraph killed me. thats exactly what happened to my sister. its nice to know there is someone out there that is experiencing the same thing as me. its been 6 years since i mentally lost my sister and have yet to get her back. she is mentally messed up along with the anorexia. its torn our family apart. thanks for sharing your story. it means alot

  7. my 18 year old sister has only just been diagnosed with anorexia and I am finding it tough, being the big sister at 20 I feel it is my duty to protect her and understand .. but I just cant. I dont believe I have 'lost her' to this disease yet but I fear this is what is to come. She has responded well to her initial treatment and I hope she only makes positive progress. I fully understand what it means to say that families are torn apart by this hideous disease as I can already see cracks forming in our family dynamics. To be honest I was feeling very lost there and it is nice to know that there are other people out there who are experiencing the same difficulties. It means alot for everyone to share their stories xx

  8. Anon. Thanks for leaving a message.
    I'm not surprised that you are finding it tough... and I suspect that 'tough' is something of an understatement.
    Anorexia holds no bars. It can strike people at any age, and actually, it doesn't matter what age you are; its effects break you to pieces. I come to this from the rather unique perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the wall and I have to say (and it is VERY difficult to compare) that I find the agony of watching someone you love suffer, worse than suffering myself.
    I'm glad that she's responding well. That shows that she has the will to get better, something my sister has never really had.
    The family will be torn apart, and it is a horrible, insidious crack that forms as people's grief is worked out, and sometimes inwards.
    I understand so much of the family's desperate search for meaning, blame, denial, guilt and fear. It takes a long time and a lot of love for the brokenness to work itself into a full circle and unite rather than divide.
    Please stop by if you're feeling lost. Perhaps there should be an anonymous forum on facebook where people can gain support? Feel free to post if you need to vent. WS xx

  9. I searched up this page because I was getting desperate. My older sister has been anorexic for 2 years, and in that time I've witnessed the breakdown of her life. Our once happy family is now a mess and at times I find myself imagining her funeral.

    She is not in hospital and I my worst fear is that one day she will collapse/have a terrible accident on the street.
    Thanks for setting up this page - I feel better after now after reading through other people's experiences.

    Is there anyone who has some good solid advice on how to help my sister recover?

  10. Anon - I'm not sure if you will read this as I know I've been terrible at replying. I'm so sorry to hear about the agony you and your family have suffered at the hands of this illness. When I see your words "I find myself imagining her funeral", I recognise them and the weary ache that lies behind them.
    I wrote this post when I was filled with sadness. Sadness for my sister, for what should have been amd for what is / was. If it can in serve as a comfort to anyone else who has experienced a similar tragedy then I'm glad. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone can help.
    Please feel free to write here or reply to other people who have contributed their experiences. Anything that helps...
    I'm not in the best place to give advice aboiut recovery (or perhaps I am) but I would say that your sister just needs you to show her love. Unconditional love. Somewhere beneath the layers of illness, there is a small husk of your sister. It may be almost impossible to see, but it's there. LOVE THAT TINY BIT... Love it without reserve.
    I think that's the hardest piece of advice in some ways. I know that I loved my sister fiercely, but during the trauma of her worst stages, I hated her illness so much that I wanted to beat her to a pulp. Violent emotion and grief. I imagined her funeral with equal quantities of relief and horror.
    Don't try to touch your sister's illness. Aim for the 'her' that is somewhere deep inside still. That which has not been swallowed up b y it.
    I hope this has made some sense to you. If not, please disregard it. After all, our experiences are all similar but our reactions may be so different.
    Please take care of YOURSELF. You have been badly affected; right to your core. You need to be gentle with yourself. No beating yourself up for anything you feel.
    Hope this has helped.

  11. My sister has had anorexia for years, and I always thought she wanted to get better deep down but I really don't know anymore. She always tells my parents that she wish she'd be "lucky enough" to die... and she's been treating them like crap a lot lately. Telling them that they're horrible parents, that they "torture her". It's so frustrating to see her treat my parents that way because we can all see it's just her anorexia that's making her think like this. My parents are amazing and go out of their way to help her. I don't know what to do anymore honestly.. I know I should support her and love her (which I definitely do) and I feel horrible saying this but it's been so hard lately, seeing the way she treats my parents.

    I can see that the last post on here was in 2013 so i don't know if anyone will read this but I really feel horrible right now and just needed to talk about it.

    1. Hi Anon
      I'm so sorry that it's taken me a while to get back to you.... I didn't see your message until the other day and I don't really use this blog anymore.
      I'm also very sorry to hear how awful your sister's illness is making you feel. The impact of her anorexia is far reaching and unfortunately, is likely to have a continuing negative effect because there are no short term cures for this illness. But you know all this... because you have been the one to suffer the consequences and have to bear the cruelty of her behaviour.
      I expect that your sister DOES want to get better on some level, but it's at a level that she can't bear to show and it might be a desire that is entirely swallowed by the illness at times. Her rejection of your folks is probably really borne out of an inability to cope with what she knows her anorexia is doing to them. It's too much for her to accept. I'm not at all surprised that it's driving you crazy having to watch all this. She must seem so horribly selfish.
      I'd really encourage you to try and find some support for YOU. You deserve it. You are in a terrible situation and being a sibling, your suffering is so often overlooked.
      Please look about for carers groups. Are you in the UK?
      There are a lot of Eating Disorder units that run groups for people like you, those who have to watch.
      Please feel free to write as much as is helpful. Hoping you get this!