On March 21st 2019, my younger brother Dane took his own life after a six year long battle with Anorexia Nervosa.
It’s hard to talk to people about the struggles of watching a sibling endure an eating disorder because unless that person you’re confiding in has had similar experiences, then most people respond with “Oh just make him a big plate of his favourite food and he will be fine!” or “It can’t be that bad!” or “If it’s that bad just kick him out or you move out.” I can guarantee anyone who has had a sibling endure an ED will have heard all of these sentences at one time or another, and I can guarantee that if the people making those comments ever sadly had the heartache of watching a loved one fight the battle of an ED every single day then no way would they ever say those things.
Eating disorders are horrible, they are secretive, insidious, frustrating, and manipulative and they can be fatal. It was sad and frustrating watching my rosy cheeked, goofy, energetic, and charismatic, smiley little brother become this sad, cold, frightened, angry and grey frame who occasionally had the essence of the boy I shared my childhood with but was now far from that same person he once was. In the beginning I couldn’t understand it, why was this person who once loved food so much now so afraid to even be near the kitchen at all? Why was this relaxed and easygoing guy now doing things so obsessively & excessively? Why was this person who revelled in family time now so repulsed by the idea of time with loved ones?
I couldn’t understand it fully for a long time, but once I researched and began to understand that it wasn’t my brother who was behaving this new way it was his anorexia, I began to understand that deep down Dane was still there, hiding and trying to catch a glimpse of the loved ones his anorexia was spending so much time with but his voice struggled to get a word into the conversation. I made sure he knew it was okay that he wasn’t okay and that I still loved him, and that Dane, the Dane who was scared of those ana voices was there deep down but had to watch his life be controlled by his ED – I made sure that Dane knew we all knew HE was trying his best to get a word in and take back the control of his life he missed so dearly. It helped a great deal for me to understand that while yes it was hard knowing he had lost a lot of control in his life – I knew he was fighting as hard as he could, that his ED was not his fault, and that I was proud of him. His greatest fear was weight gain, and while I didn’t always fully understand that specific fear – I did have fears of my own, so it helped me to picture how much courage he had in order to face his greatest fear at least 3 times a day.
When we look back on Dane’s illness, there are so many “what ifs” but my family and I know we did the best we could for what we knew at the time. Knowing what we do now, of course more could’ve been done, and earlier. Because ED patients often feel ashamed and embarrassed about their illness, it results in them and their loved ones feeling isolated and alienated when dealing with the frightening eating disorder struggles of everyday living. The close siblingship between our sister Maia, Dane and I became fractured by the distance his anorexia forced him to put between us as a way to prevent loved ones from helping him. Meal times were disrupted to begin with; they then became a fragile and hostile environment with my family trying to bargain and beg Dane to finish his plate. Because Dane began to truly fear food and the impact it would have on his weight, this meant he stopped participating in any family event that was associated with food — birthdays, Easter, Christmas, celebratory dinners were all spent without him the last two years because his eating disorder wouldn’t allow him to take part. After he died, we learned that his friends noticed he came to parties or dinners late so he could avoid meal time.
It helped to always know and remind myself that Dane was still there, he could see what anorexia was doing and he could see the impact it had on me watching him go through it, but that I still loved him and would support him any way through anything. I miss you every day Dane, but your absence does not take away from the pride I have for how hard you fought your anorexia nervosa everyday.
#KeepFighting #MakeDaneProud #DisorderedEating