Today we’re sharing the second part of our Friendship series – catch up on our first part about navigating existing friendships here.
Making new friends as an adult is hard enough, let alone with an eating disorder! There are a few tricky things to navigate when making friends either whilst unwell, during recovery or when you feel you are maintaining your wellness.
Making friends through treatment
Eating disorders can be very isolating and alienating. If you enter an inpatient or outpatient program, it can be a relief to suddenly be surrounded by people who understand what you are going through. This can be an incredibly solid foundation for a friendship. It is an unspoken understanding and respect for your lived experience. I often think that the silver lining of having mental health issues, is the people you meet along the way. You will meet people you may never otherwise spend time with and meet some exceptionally strong and resilient people.
There is every opportunity for making lifelong friends, but we must proceed with caution! Making friends in treatment can be helpful for you to get through those really challenging moments, it gives you someone to laugh with and you feel like you are a part of a community.
It is crucial to remember that your new friends are in treatment too. Everyone arrives with their own set of challenges, their own past and their own way of coping with things. Often when making friends in treatment we do not get the chance to see who they are as a whole person, but only the part of them that is engaging in the treatment process.
The process of recovery is grueling and arduous, and it is great to have an ally, if you both know where to draw the line. It is important to acknowledge that you cannot be this person’s psychologist, crisis worker or case manager. It can be tempting to take on the issues of others, as it helps distract you from our own. Be mindful of how much of someone else’s story you start to take on as part of your own.
This is where the ever-important boundaries come into play. Consider what situations you feel able to support your friend in and when it might not be helpful for either of you. Is it possible that you may get triggered? Feel like you want to compete? Does your ED want to misuse this friendship in any other way? Being aware of these potential challenges can help safeguard you against the havoc that eating disorders can continue to wreak over your social life.
A handy tip here is to swap emergency contacts with your new friend, so if you ever are concerned about one another, you know who to defer to!
Making new friends in your regular life
Maybe you are well on the way to recovery or have been maintaining your wellness for a while. Sometimes when you start to explore you who are without your ED, it can be very overwhelming and lonely. In school or university, we have the luxury of proximity to other people. We are already provided with a pool of people who are also looking to make friends.
As an adult, we have to seek out friendships and connections more assertively. One of the key factors in building new relationships is a willingness to be vulnerable. This might be through trying new things, striking up a conversation or asking someone if they want to hang out. When unwell our vulnerability is protected at all costs, so this shift can be confronting and uncomfortable.
Looking for new friendships and connections can be helped by engaging in activities or communities that you share interests or values with. Look for environments where you may find likeminded individuals. Go after your passions, do what makes you feel good, and you may just find a friend along the way! It will be awkward, you may be unsure how much of your past you reveal, and it may not work out, but you need to be willing to try.
Trying takes vulnerability. You are never obligated to disclose your past, but it can be helpful to come up with a phrase that you feel comfortable with that can help explain a period of your life when you may not have been able to work, study or engage in other activities. Try phrases such as “I had a few tricky years, so I didn’t go to uni”, “I was unwell for a while so mainly stayed at home”.
Take it slow, let yourself take some chances and try something new.
You might just end up with the friends you always dreamed of!