By Judy Krasna, Executive Director
If you are a Friends fan like I am, the word “pivot” will conjure an image of Ross yelling at Chandler and Rachel to “PIVOT” as they try to navigate a large couch around a bend in the staircase. Beyond that, the word “pivot” is a critical one when you are caring for a person with an eating disorder.
Generally, a person pivots when going straight is no longer effective or does not suit their needs. Given that the eating disorder journey is rarely linear, often we end up needing to shift course in one way or another. We need to adapt, improve, or modify what we are doing so that we can move our child forward toward restored health.
In addition to not being linear, the journey to recovery may be lengthy, and families may need to switch strategies multiple times along the way. To do this, you need to be able to pivot.
Sometimes, pivoting can seem like failure. I don’t see it that way. Sometimes, like in that scene in Friends, you just need to find a way to turn the corner. Once you do, the journey will get easier, and you will be able to glimpse a brighter horizon.
It is not easy to pivot. It can be scary to leave the road that you are on without knowing for sure that a different road may lead to a better outcome for your child. The thing is, if you don’t pivot, you may end up hitting a wall, which makes turning the corner much more difficult.
Pivoting requires insight. You need to know at what point to pivot. I think this is key. In my experience, knowing when to pivot is based on instinct. Listen to your instincts; trust them. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect decision; I think that an informed decision reinforced by parental instinct is probably the best that you are going to get.
I think a lot of us find it hard to trust ourselves after our child is diagnosed with an eating disorder. We get stuck in our thoughts of “how did we not know it was this bad?” or “how did this happen on my watch?” and it undermines our confidence as parents and the trust that we hold in our parental instincts. Listening to these voices of self-doubt will interfere with your ability to pivot when necessary.
For me, pivoting came into play in two different ways. One was related to my daughter’s treatment. There were times when we had to pull her out of treatment and find an alternative because we could tell that it just wasn’t working; and if anything, the treatment was making her sicker. It was an agonizingly difficult decision to make, and it was terrifying, but we realized that if we didn’t pivot, we would never be able to turn the corner and start moving in the right direction. Learning to pivot was a skill that served us very well throughout our journey.
I also learned to pivot in my mind, and it made a world of difference in my caregiving journey.
When my daughter was first diagnosed with anorexia, my world went dark. I put everything I had into caring for her. And I did this for a really long time, for well over a year and a half. At a certain point, when I came to the realization that we were in this for a longer haul, I realized that if I continued to put everything into caring for my daughter, then I would have nothing left to care for anyone else, including myself.
Of course I would continue to care for my daughter and dedicate myself to her wellness, that goes without saying. But alongside that, I came to the realization that while I would always be saddened by my daughter’s eating disorder and the suffering that it caused both her and our entire family, I also wanted happiness back in my life. I didn’t want my life overshadowed by the darkness of my daughter’s illness to the point where no light could come in. I needed that light. And if I continued the caregiving path that I was on, without pivoting, it was going to destroy me, and I was desperate not to let that happen.
It was a really hard pivot for me. I’ll be honest, it induced a fair amount of guilt. But that pivot, that shift in my mindset, gave me permission to let the light back into my heart, and I really missed that light.
Wherever you are on your journey, I hope that you learn to pivot. Pivoting at the right time can make a world of difference.