I am still very new to experiencing young and old people with eating disorders. My past experience has been mainly shaped by adult, overweight women. Women who on a daily basis were concerned with indulging in the most unhealthy foods, with the least amount of exercise, smoking the most amount of cigarettes. In my current job I am faced with the complete opposite; most of the patients happen to be young females suffering anorexia.
I sat in a room with a group of young people (male and female) ranging from 13-17years old, at different stages of their eating disorder journey. This group was being facilitated by 2 other professionals.
It was interesting.
The group was focused on the health considerations of being anorexic. The young people were asked to think about questions relating to health and then write these down and add them anonymously to a hat at the centre of the table.
The first task of thinking of a question(s) appeared to be difficult for a large proportion of the group. A few of which were not able to write anything down to contribute.
The hat was then passed round the table so that each person can pick a question to discuss. Not all the young people chose to select a question to read out allowed, and perhaps only 3 of the group members were responding to the questions.
These questions turned out to be extremely valid and for me, really highlighted that these were innocent young people in the room. So skilled at the art of starvation yet having very little comprehension of what they are doing, and how it will affect them.
Examples of some questions:
– why do you take blood pressure sitting and standing?
– what are some of the side effects of being anorexic?
– what happens to cognitive functioning when anorexic?
– can I still have children?
When I listened to these questions and watched how many of the young people, although not contributing directly, were extremely engaged in the conversation that was happening. I also felt an immense amount of pain. Again, just the idea that they really are not understanding the impact of their weight loss. The fact that indeed a few in the room are not thinking right because they are so deprived of food all they can do is think about food, however, they are now conditioned to think any source of nutrition is fattening so it is this painful feeling of wanting something so desperately but having powerfully ambivalent feelings towards it! Coupled with a young mind, I can only imagine what this might feel like.
It was generally very difficult for the group to speak up and contribute, however it was very clear that they weren’t just shut off or shutting down and a tremendous amount of narrative was going on internally.
One of the oldest group memebers who was doing most of the talking suddenly got up and left the room. This broke down much of the tiny thread that was holding the other younger people together and the session ended soon after.