YCteen publishes true stories by teens, giving readers insight into the issues that matter most in young people's lives.
What's New
Email Newsletter icon
Write for Youth Communication: Video
Behind the Scenes: Teen writers describe what it's like to work at YCteen.
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow YCteen on Facebook Follow YCteen on YouTube Follow YCteen on Twitter
Follow YCteen on Facebook Follow YCteen on YouTube Follow YCteen on Twitter
My Anorexic Friend
I wanted to help, but she wouldn't open up to me
Marci Bayer
headshot

Names have been changed.

I met Deborah in 9th grade, and before the year was out she had become my best friend. We talked throughout all of our shared classes and got together almost every weekend. Sometimes we’d spend hours on the phone putting together a party. When she was absent, another friend would always ask me where she was, and vice versa. We had other friends, but I think we both felt that ours was a special friendship.

She was the most confident girl I knew. She could walk into a room full of people she didn’t know and instantly be chatting with everyone. She could do something crazy in front of friends or strangers. She was the girl everyone came to with their problems; she just knew what to say.

I was much more reserved, especially with new people. But our personalities clicked. If she was getting over the top, I would calm her down. If I gave in to my shy tendencies, she would draw me out of my shell. Our minds worked in very different ways, which made for good discussions. And sometimes I felt we could read each other’s minds.

But even in the happiest of times, I could see something disturbing underneath the confident facade my friend put up. She always wore a lot of make-up when going to see guys. This was normal enough, but sometimes I got the feeling she didn’t think her natural self was good enough for boys to see. I sensed her confidence was a little bit fragile. But I didn’t like seeing any weakness in her, so I never said anything.

Something Was Off

As time went on, I began to believe something was off. I’d never seen her eat very much, and she ate nothing in front of guys. She was skinny, and never had much energy for physical activity. I didn’t think much about these things, but after my school ran a program educating students about eating disorders, I realized that some of Deborah’s behavior fit the description of someone suffering from anorexia. I made one serious comment to her about her eating habits—I can’t remember now exactly what I said—but she brushed it off.

A year went by without me raising the subject again. During this time, our friendship underwent change: Deborah started spending more and more of her time with guys, and I wasn’t so into that scene. We spent less time together. However, I still felt that closeness; she was still the friend I wanted to talk to about my problems, even if I didn’t always do that anymore.

Then, in the middle of junior year, she got a stomach virus. She couldn’t keep anything down. There wasn’t enough fat stored up in her body to tide her over for a few days, and when she came back to school, she looked terrible. She was really pale, her eyelids were fluttering closed, and her cheeks were sunken. In the middle of class, my friend and I decided to take her to the nurse.

The nurse was only down the hall, but Deborah couldn’t get there. She couldn’t walk without leaning on us. Then she started saying something, but she wasn’t coherent. Before I knew it, she had fainted in my arms. We gently lowered her to the ground, and called for help. The nurse came running and an administrator blocked off the hallway. I was scared to death, squeezing Deborah’s hand as we waited for the ambulance to come.

Hospitalized

At the hospital, Deborah saw a nutritionist who told her that she had to consume a certain number of calories a day. We all knew she was supposed to gain weight, but it didn’t seem to happen. She came back to school looking better, but she never exactly looked healthy.

That fall we had a holiday, and when it was over Deborah didn’t come back. A mutual friend told me Deborah was dehydrated, and should be in school the next day. But she wasn’t. When I called her a few days later, she didn’t answer.

Because of everything that had gone on the previous winter, I was worried. Then one of our mutual friends, whose family was close with Deborah’s family, told me that Deborah had fainted again that morning. Her father had brought her to the hospital.

I felt awful. We hadn’t talked in a while, but she was still my best friend. She was hurting, and I couldn’t do a thing to help. She ended up attending a facility to get treatment for an eating disorder, and staying out of school for three or four months. It was hard to comprehend.

Tearful Phone Call

At night I would send her texts to say I was thinking of her, to let her know that I was there. But she wouldn’t answer back, and I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to support her and tell her that I was still her friend no matter what she thought of herself, but she wouldn’t let me near.

I knew she was going through something big and difficult, but I was sad that she couldn’t talk about it with me. I wondered if there was something wrong with our friendship that it couldn’t weather this storm.

One week when she wasn’t answering calls or texts, I actually tricked her into calling me. I texted her that someone had asked me out, knowing that she was a sucker for stories involving guys. It was a lie, and I felt bad about it, but I had to talk to her.

Like I knew she would, she called to congratulate me. I couldn’t stand to lie, so I told her it was a joke, and somehow got her to stay on the phone for a few minutes. I asked her how she was and I knew she was crying. I started crying, too.

We didn’t talk for long; she just told me how hard it was for her to be around people, to talk to people, to be reminded that real life was going on without her. She said she couldn’t explain what was happening, that it was just too much. I couldn’t press her for answers in a state like that. All I wanted to do was make her feel better. So I told her it was OK and she didn’t need to talk, but that I’d be thinking of her no matter what. I said that it wasn’t normal life without her.

Like It Never Happened

After we hung up I went to my room, feeling upset and confused. I couldn’t help thinking that having therapists and doctors wasn’t the same as having friends. But then again, she was the one going through this; if she didn’t want friends pestering her, I had to have the decency to give her privacy.

image by Percy Tejeda

When Deborah came back to school a few months later, she acted as if nothing had happened. Occasionally she mentioned new friends she’d met at her program, but otherwise she didn’t refer to it. She had adopted a really fast pace and had a whole new set of boys that she had somehow met. She always wanted to go out on Saturday nights with a large group of people, usually including the new friends she had acquired. It felt like one activity after another, booming at me like meteors.

I was so happy she was back and I wanted to spend time with her, but not like that. What I really wanted was just two minutes to hug her and tell her how much she meant to me, how glad I was that she was back. I wanted to ask how she was really doing, how she was coping. But because she was acting like it never happened, I felt weird bringing it up. I never knew where the boundaries were.

In one way she was like a stranger to me, but because we had been so close, I was also pretty sure I understood what was going on in her mind. I think it was hard for her to be comfortable around me, because she knew I wanted to know so much and she couldn’t open up.

I wasn’t volunteering much about my own life, either, because I felt it would sound silly and juvenile compared to what she’d been through. It became hard for us to have any conversation at all when we were alone together. I began to realize that if we were going to talk about things, I’d have to bring it up. I’m usually really bad at confronting people. When I’m hurt, I usually choose to ignore it and hope it will go away on its own. But this time I had to press the issue.

Time Out

I told her we needed to talk, and we set a time for ourselves. I think I was more nervous after making it so official, but I had to make sure it happened. To make things easier, I wrote down all the things that were bothering me on a piece of paper. I knew it would take some time before we’d be able to talk about her eating disorder, so I didn’t even include it on the list. We had to heal our friendship first.

We cut class one day and sat down on a radiator in the hallway. I clutched the paper with all of my points on it, feeling scared and so nervous.

“Deborah,” I said, “Things haven’t been right between us lately.”

“I know,” she said, looking me straight in the eye like she always did. I avoided eye contact and looked down at my paper.

“Our friendship is not what it was,” I said. “We don’t talk on the phone anymore, we don’t have much to talk about in school. I want to talk to you, but I can’t. You were my best friend, and it hurts to see that we don’t connect anymore.”

She seemed to be listening, so I continued, “On the weekends, I never see you because all you want to do is hold court at the pizza store with all those new guys. I don’t like hanging out with them; it’s not fun. And you always invite the guys when I suggest doing something.”

She was really open about it. She said she totally got where I was coming from, and responded with her own thoughts. I don’t remember exactly what we said, but we came up with some guidelines on how we should act in the future. It was a long discussion, and didn’t end with a neat, packaged solution, but it was a start. We were able to really discuss things. I was surprised that it had gone so well.

Warmer

Almost right away, I noticed a change in our day-to-day relations. We were warmer to each other, able to carry on a conversation when no one else was around. She still did things that pissed me off sometimes, like inviting her boy friends over when I just wanted to hang out with our old friends, but I knew we were on our way to repairing the rift.

I’d missed her in those months when we didn’t talk so much. I missed the friend who had been so much fun: the friend I used to talk to on the phone, the friend who used to know me inside and out.

Once we started getting closer again, I realized that she had become a different person: Her thought processes were different, what was fun for her was different, how she related to other people was different. It was painful to realize that all I had to show for our years of friendship was the ability to tell when she was hurting—as she was now—and that I was no longer close enough to her to help her get over the pain.

But no matter what, I loved and cared for her. Even when she bailed on our plans, or spent an entire sleepover on the phone with her boyfriend, I knew my anger was a sign that she still mattered to me. There were rough and smooth times, and on the good days, she opened up a little bit more. Sometimes she would talk about her time in the program, her eating plan, or her medication. She didn’t pour her heart out, but I was still glad to get that much from her.

I felt guilty about my lie earlier in the year, when I’d tricked her to get her to talk to me. I didn’t want to do that again. So if she brought anything up, I would ask questions carefully, not pushing for more. I was curious, but I wanted to be the friend she needed me to be. That meant holding back a little bit, waiting for her to be ready.

There if She Needs Me

I still feel guilty for not being the one to get her help when she was suffering from a disorder. If I had been there for her, maybe she would feel she could talk to me about it now. I know it’s not my fault, but I think I want to feel that there is something I might have done, because it’s scarier to think that the situation was uncontrollable.

At the same time, I am so thankful that her parents did get her help, and that she is on the road to being healthy again. As time goes on, she seems to get more comfortable with herself. I used to think she was the most confident girl I knew, and in ways I still think that. But everyone has a frailty, a part of themselves that isn’t happy, lively, and together all the time. Despite her weaknesses, I am still amazed at her strength, now that I see her coping with her problems.

We are not the tight friends we used to be, but I see now that sometimes problems bigger than ourselves can get in the way of friendships. I’m scared that her eating disorder will come back again, because I love her. Maybe one day we’ll be able to talk about this and about everything in full, but I’m not sitting around waiting for that day to come. As long as she knows that when she needs me I’ll be there, I’ll be OK with that.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, seek help. Contact the National Eating Disorders Association on their toll-free information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237 (helpline hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time). You can also e-mail info@NationalEatingDisorders.org for more information.

horizontal rule
(NYC-2012-05-12)

For Teens
Visit Our Online Store