Her cheekbones are sunken and her face has a fine coating of hair. She’s wearing a hat, but part of her head is visible and there are patches on her scalp. Her skin is grey, almost translucent and along her arms runs a criss-cross of blue and purple veins. Her legs look as though they might snap.
It’s sunny outside, but she’s wearing two jumpers and a scarf. Her fingers are wrapped around a large cup of black coffee, and she stares, sightlessly out the window. She gets up, suddenly and puts out a hand to steady herself. Glancing sideways, she goes to the bathroom and comes out, flushed and wiping her mouth. She walks to the exit like she’s taking up too much room. I watch as she breaks into a run and disappears into the distance.
I didn’t stop her. But maybe I should have tried.
In the past, I’ve approached strangers. Not many, but a few. They’ve looked at me, blankly. Who is this person? What can she possibly know about me? About my body? About the way that I feel?
And I think, yes. Perhaps you’re right.
What right have I to speak, uninvited? What wisdom have I to give, that others didn’t offer me? How do you reach out to someone who doesn’t want your help?
I spoke recently to a teacher who has watched several of her pupils battle eating disorders.
One, who struggled with bulimia, left school and went to university. But she didn’t come home. Her oesophagus burst and she died, alone in her room. They discovered her body weeks later. Another student explained, ‘she didn’t like anyone to get too close’.
What’s the answer? To eating disorders. To addictions. To those who need help but won’t accept it.
I wish I knew. It’s repeated across the country, across the world. In most cases there are dozens of family and friends who have tried to breach the defences and tried to speak sanity. Sometimes it helps. But sometimes, nothing seems to penetrate.
We still need to speak. Even if we’re pretty sure it won’t work. Even if they hate us. Even if they scream ‘keep away’.
Sometimes, we also need to step back. When they don’t belong to us. When we’ve tried and tried and it’s destroying us too.
Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but quietly put them in God’s hands.