During one of my summers in college, I worked with autistic children (toddlers, specifically). When they needed to express something (like frustration, anger, etc), they used a whole host of behaviors to communicate: stamping feet, banging heads, crying (just to name a few). We’d tell them to “use your words.” Not only did we want to work on improving their speech and communication, but we also didn’t necessarily know what they wanted. It was a guessing game! I don’t know what stamping your feet means, and my mind-reading is not very good these days…
There are lots of situations where I’m tempted to say “use your words!” (don’t worry, I usually resist the urge). Often this is with the ED, becuase often people use their eating disorders to communicate. I’m a huge offender.
For me, restricting could mean…
- I’m not okay
- I need more help
- I am overwhelmed and can’t handle life
- I need a reason to be cared about
- I feel undeserving
- I want someone to think I matter
- I’m having a bad day
- I’m anxious
- I’m depressed
- I’m lonely
- I’m frustrated
- I’m hurt
There are so many things that I won’t say (and things that I won’t even let myself THINK). Somehow, though, saying them through the eating disorder makes them valid. Maybe it’s because there is physical proof that something is not right. Regardless of how I feel (because really, who cares about feelings?), I’m hurting myself and that you can’t ignore. That matters.
The problem is, this is a really ineffective means of communication! Restricting could mean a hundred things. Throw bingeing, purging, SI, exercise, laxatives, etc. into the mix and you have enough symptoms to illustrate your whole emotional vocabulary.
However, it might as well be your own secret language, because no one else really knows what you are trying to communicate. You’d probably be better off investing in some flares and arranging them to say “HELP” in your backyard. Or learning morse code. Or writing down “I’m not okay” and sending it to someone that you care via carrier pidgeon. Why? Because you could be overwhelmed and acting on symptoms at every available opportunity to deal with the stress. Eventually something will happen – someone will notice, you’ll end up in the ER, you won’t be able to take it and will quit, etc. Something WILL happen. However, it’s likely not a happy ending. Do you know how much more effective it is to just SAY something? Say “I’m feeling overwhelmed.” If it’s at your job, then you can figure something out to make your work load more manageable. If it’s with life in general, you can figure out how to get more support, prioritize things, delegate more, weed out less important responsibilities, etc. You just need to SAY something.
Granted, it’s really hard to do this (for myself as well). I think some of the reluctance to talk is related to fear – fear of others knowing you’re not okay, fear of ruining relationships, fear of asking for too much, fear or others caring… lots of fears.