#EDAW: You Don’t Need to Be Perfect

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“You don’t need to be perfect; You just need to be there.”

I came up with this tagline for Active Minds’ observation of Eating Disorders Awareness Week a couple of years ago because a) it seems to sync well with the personal stories of people I’ve met, and b) it works on a couple different levels. Allow me to explain.

You don’t need to be perfect.

Hey, you — yeah, you, the one who is wired like me.

Maybe you’re toying with disordered eating, or you’ve already descended a distance down into the black hole that is an eating disorder, disconnecting from everything and everyone you love as you fall deeper: You don’t have to be perfect.

I’m my harshest critic, and I always have been. When I was in elementary and middle school, high school, and college I focused on seeming perfect outwardly, even if I felt incredibly imperfect on the inside. I was the straight-A student with a spotless behavioral record and all of the right extra-curricular activities.

But I saw even the smallest mistake as a threat to that perfect persona I had been cultivating for years. When I finally came out as a lesbian to myself, close friends, and family during my junior year of college, I was convinced that was it. My perfection was shattered forever, and I felt totally unmoored.

My eating disorder fetched me compliments. My eating disorder helped me assert my perfectionism. My eating disorder allowed me to focus only on one thing—it—at a time when I was submerged in feelings, thoughts, shame, options, opportunities, and an uncertain future. My eating disorder made me weak, irritable, a terrible daughter and friend, and it almost took my life.

Perfection isn’t worth that. Perfection isn’t that at all.

You need to be there.

Hey, you — yeah, you again. We need you here.

I know how hard it is to begin to force out that eating disorder voice. The obsessing; the compulsions. The isolation and numbness.

But treatment works. Treatment helps.

It’s not easy, but you’re worth it. I didn’t believe it at the time, but I can’t imagine missing the 10 years since my treatment. Life has been so good to me since, and a lot of that is owed to my treatment and recovery (and the people who helped me through). If you’re interested in exploring your treatment options, call up your campus counseling center or the NEDA Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

You don’t need to be perfect.

And how about you? Yes, you—the friends and family of someone who is struggling.

There’s no textbook way to approach people like us who develop these stubborn disorders. Even when you say and do exactly the right things, you may be told you’re doing it all wrong. That’s okay. You’re doing fine.

If you’re not solely focusing on our eating disorders, you’re doing the right thing. There are other important parts of your life, and there are other important parts of ours.

If you’re still asking us to go out and do something, even when we’ve turned you down the last nine times, you’re doing the right thing.

When you speak up and tell us how you feel one-on-one, and we blow up at you or deny anything is wrong, you’re doing the right thing. Believe it or not, we’re listening and reminded each time that you care. You may never say or do the right things, but the doing anything is what’s important.

You just need to be there.

Yes, you again—the loved ones and friends.

Stick around. Keep trying to make us laugh. You don’t need to police our behavior, but you can keep asking how we are. Each time we push you away, acknowledge that you feel it, but then stick around. Call the next day. Drop us a text. Invite us to watch a movie.

All of this supporting gets tiring, so build a support network of your own and rely on each other to create a web of support. But just stick around.

When you’re there before, during, and after treatment and are still there to ask how you can help with our recovery, we know we are loved. You can’t imagine how earth shattering that is to a brain that is healing and beginning to remember it is worthy of that love.

You don’t need to be perfect; you just need to be there.