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Keeping a Diary to Help Yourself

By June Alexander, member of the F.E.A.S.T. Advisory Panel

Life balance can get out of kilter when caring for a loved one with an eating disorder. Add
COVID-19 to the mix and the chances of this happening can skyrocket. Often when we are
caring for others, especially someone we love, we put our own self-care and well-being on
hold. We might forget we are entitled to a life of our own.

We might also forget we are a mother to other children, that we are a wife or partner, that
we are a daughter, sibling and friend. All we know is that we are a caregiver and we feel
guilty if every second of every day is not devoted to helping our loved one to face their
challenges. Eventually we feel worn out and possibly even resentful. Sound familiar?

Diary or journal writing is a coping tool you can use at home to help yourself achieve a
healthy life balance. This is important, because:

  • Caring for your own health first and foremost is vital so that you are in the best
    position to help your loved one.
  • Caregivers often need to heal as well as the person who has an eating disorder, and
    recognition of this offers great opportunity for self-growth and improved
    relationships with others.

Grant yourself 20 minutes a day
Find a quiet spot and sit down with pen and paper. I recommend a paper diary or journal as
this is more tangible and intimate than writing on a tablet, laptop or cell phone. Writing in
your diary for 20 minutes each day, at a time to suit you, can help you to feel in control of
your life. Try to write at around the same time each day. Regular diary writing can help you
feel you are leading a life that is true to you by helping you to connect with and strengthen
thoughts and feelings that belong to your healthy self. Sometimes you might write in your
diary multiple times in the day and this is to be encouraged as your diary is your 24/7 friend.

It can be easier to write than talk
Trying to portray a brave front when an eating disorder is causing havoc in your home, can
form a wall between your life’s narrative and emotional truth. Pouring raw feelings into
your diary, in whatever form feels right, can help sustain you while you develop the skill to
examine emotions, follow them to their source, and repackage them with rational thought
and a positive spin.

Writing is a form of conversation and provides a way of expressing emotions instead
of repressing them. With practice this process can help you feel better about yourself.
Tracing difficult feelings back to the moment and releasing them onto the page will help you
to replace chaos, guilt, shame and other negatives with clarity, compassion, and calmness.
You are not perfect. You are doing your best.

Taking care of your needs
Use your diary writing to assist with:

Decision-making— refuse to allow the eating disorder to consume your entire life.

Social engagement— make time for other family members, friends and community.

Self-awareness—learn to think in a deliberate, deeply conscious way; you are the
navigator of your life.

Mindfulness—focus on this very moment to help your healthy self and body to feel as
one. Investigate and resolve nudges of ‘something’s not right’ promptly.

Self-shaping is ongoing, a daily process. It is about tending to and balancing your spiritual,
social, psychological and physical needs. Make time to attend to each of these needs every
day. Map out how you are going to do this. Remember, for healthy life balance, that quick
coffee-catchup with your best friend, even if it has to be via Zoom or Skype, is not a waste of
time, it is essential.

Life is not fair – embrace the color gray
The diary is like a daily serial, authored by you, and regular reflection on past entries
provides a place to learn and practice life lessons.

One of my lessons was that ‘life is not fair.’ I felt incensed at the injustice of this statement
when my psychiatrist pronounced it, bluntly, during one of our many sessions, because I
was feeling sorry for myself. But on reflection I saw that due to the black-and-white thinking
of the eating disorder, I had been expecting life to be fair; indeed, often doggedly insisting it
‘should be.’ It wasn’t, and there was no universal dictate that it need be. Expecting
perfection, and everything and everyone to be ’right’ and ‘just,’ had fuelled my anxiety and
set the scene for continual disappointments.

I began to take pride in being less than perfect. I began to let the small stuff go. Today, I
continue to explore the beauty of different shades of gray in my diary. It is like a buffer, a
blotter that soaks up and softens the black and white extremes. It helps me to feel carefree
and that all is well with my world. Allow gray into your life too!

Be flexible in problem-solving
Use your diary as a navigator to plan your life, one day at a time. When ‘Plan A’ fails, rather
than dwell on what could have been and spiral into a tailspin of self-reproach, focus on
exploring Plans B, C, D or E until the right solution is found for you. Use your diary to be
aware of and avoid the eating disorder pitfalls, and channel your energy into positive
outcomes.

Writing openly in your diary helps to foster self-care and promote recovery from losses and
disappointments inflicted by the eating disorder. Sadly, not all losses can be regained. The
diary is a refuge where you can go to grieve, where you can scream and shout, let the pain
out, and allow healing to begin. Your family, as well as you, will benefit.

Let your diary speak for you
Last but not least, if you continue to feel overwhelmed by the pressures of caregiving and
the many other daily responsibilities that go with caring for a family, reach out for help from
someone you trust. If you find speaking too difficult, share excerpts from your diary, so
trusted people can fully understand the depth of your needs and support and guide you
through this challenging time.

Remember, taking care of yourself first and foremost, enables you to take care of others.

Be the Master of your Ship: Journeying through an Eating Disorder
… I am the master of my ship.
I am in control.
Yet, all too soon,
it feels so wrong …
… Yet, I can still choose.
I grab a hold.

~Anne Edwards

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3 Comments

  1. Julie Montal

    Dear June Alexander,
    Thank you for this very constructive piece. In fact, during those dark hours, I did write a journal, which helped calm me. Parts of it contributed to our book, written in French, which has just come out in French bookstores: ANOREXIE: Paroles de Parents, Parcours de Soins (Parents Sharing, Paths of Treatment). I interviewed 26 families, treated in France (as our daughter was), and caregivers in the medical professions as well. Here is the link for the book:
    https://www.editions-empreinte.com/anorexie-paroles-de-parents-parcour
    I look forward to “seeing you” at Feast of Knowledge tomorrow,
    thank you for your sharing,
    Best, Julie Montal, in France

  2. Eva Musby

    Dear June, it looks like you used diary-writing in a way that really helped.

    I used diary-writing in a way that really did not help!

    I thought that if I documented every horrible thing that had happened, I would be able to let go. In practice I made myself miserable while writing, and it did not soothe or erase memories. I think it amplified them. The old problem of believing your thoughts…

    So my next strategy was to use any spare time to have fun (and speak to a counsellor).

    I’m still kind of glad I have a year’s worth of diary because it helps me empathise with those who are now in the place I was. I had forgotten the level of confusion, misinformation, and sheer misery.

    Maybe for you the magic was that you managed to “repackage them with rational thought
    and a positive spin”, which I most definitely did not!

    So interesting to hear other experiences.

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