One of the strongest bonds of friendship you can find is on a team.
Look at any well oiled, properly trained high school team. While looking at athletes who are younger than myself, I am inspired by their ability to not only unite on the field, but their ability to come together when a teammate is in need.
In my Jr. year of high school, our volleyball team was very close. When my cousin’s(who was on the team with me) dad(my uncle) was killed in a car crash, the whole team joined me in the school chapel to pray, cry, and embrace each other while my cousin was with her sister at the hospital. We were with them, even at a distance. We were there for our teammate. That memory will always be with me to remind me of the strength of a team, and the strength of love.
When a bond is that strong, the members always want to be supportive. They want to help their peers deal with the death of a relative, or maybe even work their way through a painful injury. Sometimes though, the hearts of a team are even stronger. Just like any human being, when a team is introduced to one member’s depression, suicidal tendencies or even eating disorders, that desire to help grows even stronger.
No one wants to watch the person they love suffering. If you are anything like me, you work hard to make sure that your friends know they can come to you for help. You let them know that you love them and that you are always there to talk. Sometimes though, I get the feeling that I could have always done more; that I could have been of more service to my friend.
Eating disorders have been somewhat of a topic of interest to me. I grew up a ballerina, and that is one place where eating disorders and negative body image have become a prominent, ever present reality. While I was lucky to be at a studio where the dancers were taught to love the bodies they are in, some dancers are not that lucky. Some are taught to hate everything that is not perfection, and that leads to some painful effects.
As I meditated on this one night, I realized that ballet is not the only place where athletic men and women can feel negatively about their bodies. I’ve known wrestlers who go on harmful diets to shrink their bodies or football boys who curse themselves for not being genetically created to have the body of a lineman. In high school I would get down on myself for not being tall enough to play a middle in volleyball. Negative body image can happen in any realm.
About a year ago I skyped sports nutritionist Jorie Janzen a few different times to discuss eating disorders and negative body image. We discussed body image in sports, belief systems, and even family dynamics. While she is not an eating disorder specialist, she has worked closely with some of Canada’s finest athletes so I figured she would be a good person to discuss this idea with.
And I was correct. Jorie gave me wonderful advice that I have been able to use on my college campus and in my personal life. Here is one section of our various conversations that I would like to highlight.
Me: What are some things you would want your daughter to do to help out someone suffering from an eating disorder?
Janzen: So, it is a very good question, and even within the teams and sports I work with I have had athletes ask me what they should do to help their teammate and friend, and my response to them is the response I would give to my daughter. It’s that I don’t want her helping someone with an eating disorder. And my reason for that is not to be cruel and to just leave someone hanging, but my daughters role is to be a friend and not to be a therapist, and what she can do is be supportive and say “hey, I’m here for you if you want to talk, if you need help there are resources”, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to be brought down into that because an eating disorder, it is a mental health issue, and for those of us who have our faith we also know that it is even deeper than that. It is a heart issue, it’s a faith issue, and it’s not up to anyone who’s not a professional to work with eating disorders to try and heal that and get them out of that realm, but to not just ignore them but to not feel the pressure of “I have to help this person, my friend, get out of this.” It’s just not their role.
We need to make sure that we take care of ourselves. In order to love others, you must love and respect yourself. This is what Jorie was talking about in her answer to my question. We can encourage our friends, be present for them in their times of need, but no, it is not always our job to “help” someone, especially when it literally is not our job. There are professionals who can help your loved one. That is why God put so many people on this planet; there are those who are gifted with the ability to help those who are struggling with mental illnesses.
You can pray for your friend, talk with them, and love them with all your heart. But in order to love them the best way you possibly can, you need to be sure you have a strong relationship with Christ, and with yourself. If you are not in a good place with Christ or with yourself, you probably won’t be able to give your loved one the help they need. Seek professional help. Love Christ, love yourself, and love your neighbor.
If you or someone you know if suffering with an eating disorder, depression, or other mental health issues, I encourage you to seek professional help. Talk with a coach, a guardian, a Hall Director, someone you trust who can give you the resources you need. There are plenty of college campus’s that offer on campus counseling, and some churches offer counseling services as well. Ask for help. And if the first source you ask doesn’t give you any answers, find another source. Be persistent. It is hard to do, but if it means saving a life it is worth it. You’re worth it. God gave you a wonderful body, mind, and spirit. Please, take care of that gift.