I am a 37-year-old woman who was diagnosed with anorexia seven years ago. I have been IP four times, but due to circumstances outside my control was never able to finish treatment. I am 5’4″ and my weight is back down to ** pounds. I am a graduate student and have three young children so there is very little time for myself or a visit to the therapist. I am married, but my husband offers no support. He pastors a large congregation and we both are very involved in our community. I know I need to slow down a little, but when I try to he volunteers me for more work. I have tried to talk to him but he doesn’t listen…instead he just tells me I am mental. He takes great pains in protecting those in his church insuring that they are not overwhelmed and when they are I get their jobs. If I miss a service or meeting, well it’s just not a good thing. I can’t talk to anyone because he is worried about what people will think. I am really tired right now, and am having trouble just thinking. I have found myself wondering if dying is better. I don’t even know why I am writing this. I guess even talking on a computer is better than not at all.
I’m glad that you took the time to write, even if it is just to “a computer.” However, there is a real person on this end of the line and I’m concerned for you. You mentioned several things that have caused this concern; first of all, your safety. Thoughts like, “I wonder if dying is better” can be very scary and are difficult to voice to others, but need to be taken seriously. If you have any specific thoughts or plans about taking your life, you need to tell someone in your life right away. Life is worth living and there are people who will not think you are “mental.” Please seek out help.
In light of your history, your low weight is also a warning sign of potential trouble. As you know from experience, that can have serious health implications and can drive you further into your eating disorder. If there is anything you can draw on from your past experience in treatment to stop the weight loss and restore some weight, you need to begin practicing those behaviors today.
As I write these words though, I am very aware that you are in a situation where you feel helpless and stuck, and most of that has to do with your relationship with your husband. This is what seems to be the biggest problem you are facing. You and he seem to be living a double-life with very little authenticity or depth of relationship. As you describe him he seems to have a real lack of understanding or insight into these behaviors. It’s possible that he is just more concerned with his image and ministry, but it is also likely that he feels incompetent and frightened when it comes to dealing with emotions. I know this from experience. Many men, when confronted with emotions and problems that feel overwhelming simply withdraw and push others away. I don’t mean to excuse your husband for his lack of engagement, but the reality is probably a mix of fear and self-protection on his part.
Regardless of why he seems unable to engage with you or why he seems more concerned about those in his congregation, the fact is, if you are going to experience change in your life you are going to have to take some serious steps—whether he does or not. Those steps include:
- Making choices to seek help, regardless of what others think, including your husband. A friend once told me, with regard to some difficult relationships I was in at the time, “If this is ever going to be untangled, you need to follow Jesus, regardless of whether the others do or not.” If you are going to experience wholeness in your marriage, your spiritual life and your health, you need to follow Jesus, whether your husband does or not. This may sound dishonoring to your husband, but actually you following Jesus and seeking help may be the most honoring thing you can do for your relationships, your church and your family. If inpatient is appropriate for you, your husband must be involved and you need to work the program to completion. If he was involved previously, it seems he didn’t “get it.” I’m sure your husband may tell a different story, but that is why you need to be talking to a third party, to help you both see where change needs to take place.
- Seek out a treatment team. Your reason of being too busy as a student and mom isn’t good enough. If you don’t address these issues your studies will be in vain and your children will never experience their mom as she is meant to live. You may need to quit school (even temporarily) to get help. You need to be examined by a medical doctor to ensure your medical stability, you need to talk with a Registered Dietitian to begin restoring your weight and you need to meet with a therapist to discuss the issues of hiddenness, loneliness and depression in your life. Eventually, you and your husband need to do this together. This all sounds overwhelming, I’m sure, so just begin with one. But call today. See “Finding Treatment for more guidance.”
- You need to seek an authentic community. The duplicity you describe in your church activity is sucking the life right out of you. No wonder you are depressed and discouraged. You are describing a world where no one knows you and the one person you’ve opened up to (your husband) has shut you down. This is a recipe for depression and discouragement and it is certainly not an expression of grace and wholeness that should be part of a Christian community. Let me recommend the book, TrueFaced, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol and John Lynch. In there you will find a description of a community of grace that leads to healing.
There is hope. You can experience freedom. The first steps are going to be frightening, but you need to act before things get worse.