Hello Blog Readers! <— Wow. I never start with a direct salutation. I shy away from assuming people are reading and I don’t want to be left “hanging.”
But I’d like your help. Yes, you!
I received the following question on Facebook and think some of you (yes, you) may be able to contribute your smarts and help a sistah out.
The reason I am writing is because I have been reading your blog, and I know you are in recovery from an ED. I hope that in writing to you, you may be able to offer me an opinion, or help somehow.
One of the doctors I work with I am sure has anorexia, and is possibly bulimic as well. She has been displaying "classic" eating disorder behaviors, such as chewing food and spitting it out, not swallowing, and baking late at night. We have also found vomit in the trash at the office. She is also a compulsive exerciser-she is constantly leaving the office early to go to the gym.
Unfortunately, this has been affecting her work performance recently, and we are losing business because of it. It’s embarrassing for me when I have to hear clients comment on her appearance and behavior. She has become jaundiced from only drinking Carrot Juice.
I based my advice on how my coworkers approached me when I was very sick and still “in the closet.”
Oooh… this is hard because I don’t know her and people are different. I think a manager has to take her aside and express concern. “You do not look well…are you okay or is there something medical?…Does you need personal time?” then mention that it is effecting her performance “We have noticed that you leave early. This is becoming a problem, how can we help…." etc.
Gauge how open she is. Do not mention the ED symptoms (vomit…etc) and try and avoid talk of weight. Talk about fatigue or tardiness. If you have a friendly relationship with her you can be more specific.
Here’s a bit more about my experience while I’m on topic:
Since my office environment was familial, I had the luxury of being approached on a personal level that felt natural and caring.
My coworkers knew I had “issues” with my diet and didn’t eat cake or sugar (I claimed hypoglycemia) but they started expressing concern when my weight plummeted following the end of a relationship. I went from eating very little to nothing at all and weighing maybe 95 lbs to maybe 70 lbs. It was UG-A-LEE.
When people expressed concern I lied and said I had stomach issues and that I didn’t know what was wrong but was seeing a Dr.
When my brain and consequently my work performance suffered, my manager took me aside to intervene. She asked if I needed time off, and worried that I was so frail. I told her I was sick and couldn’t eat. I was too ashamed to tell anyone about my disorder. I focused on the stress I was going through after my break-up and a recent move.
She gave me personal days and lovingly offered support. She gave me the insurance info for mental health services, etc. She checked in with me. She was a confidante.
My condition worsened (I have little to no recollection when I was at my worst). Eventually I had to step down from a mid-management position I’d been promoted too. I was put on “probation” and my work performance was closely monitored. This was done in a very kind and loving way.
This picture is long after I got back from a brief hospital stay. Bag Empty. Cat Out. Meat on Bones.
I was “in recovery” but still not eating (during the day? Never!). I actually ended up being the birthday party planner and would order elaborate cakes each month but never eat them. I was able to feel a part of the office that way.
I was “functioning” with an eating disorder.
For the most part, besides some of the closer friends I had at work, nobody said anything. But I always assumed everyone “knew.” Offices gossip, you know.
My work-friends were understanding. They understood when I avoided company lunches. My manager would buy a special supply of sugar-free candy for me while everyone else got chocolate or she’d get me a small toy instead of a cupcake. So sweet.
I’ve had other jobs since then. My behavior and appearance are more normal and I’m more open to explain my “issues” when someone brings up food or weight so I don’t have really have this issue anymore.
And now I’d like to pass the mic.
- What would you do if you think a co-worker has issues with eating?
- Have you ever been in this position?
- If you’ve struggled with an eating disorder, has anyone at your workplace approached you?
PS- If you are a former co-worker feel free to share your experience of dealing with me when I was “snakes and monkeys on a hot, sticky messy plane.”
Don’t be scared. Spill it.