EDFA's Christine Naismith explains why support groups are a form of self-care

20 Oct, 2020

After caring for two daughters with eating disorders, EDFA’s Christine Naismith has made it her mission to equip other families and support people with the tools and knowledge to make it through. This is her story...

Christine’s eldest daughter recovered from her battle with anorexia in 2013. Since then, her second daughter has developed another type of eating disorder, ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). Now, Christine uses her own experiences to support and educate other people caring for someone with an eating disorder.

“Caring for my eldest daughter started my journey into wanting to give back and help other parents - because it was hell on earth.”

In 2016, Christine helped to start an eating disorder support group in Melbourne, which has been meeting monthly ever since and continues to grow. A year later she joined with some other passionate parents to create Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA) - a volunteer, peer-led, national support organisation for parents and carers. Now, EDFA runs support groups across the country.

"It's good to be able to chip in, share my knowledge, and maybe help circumnavigate some of the wrong turns along the way - to shorten the duration of the child's illness and to reduce the suffering for the whole family," explains Christine.

EDFA's support groups are called ‘strive’ which stands for Support, Teach, Reassure, Inform, Validate and Empower, which are qualities EDFA aims to bring to each attendee. COVID-19 changed their plan to roll out-face-to-face support groups, and EDFA created a new format, with online strive groups, which are now operating across Australia. This means that peer support is now available to all families, whether metro, rural or regional, and parents or carers do not have to travel to get to a meeting yet can still feel connected to a caring community. The private strive Facebook groups also provide a safe space for parents and carers to communicate daily, ask questions and support one another.

Support groups are self-care

Christine says there is much to be gained from meeting with people who are going through the same thing and that joining a support group can be an effective form of self-care.

"It's actually such a relief to talk to somebody else who understands. If I can just lighten the load for these people then I feel that's a really helpful thing to do for them.”

“Support groups allow you to ask the vital questions you need to know, and people with experience can share their knowledge. Just being able to get your hands on that information that you need quickly is really important, because you don't have hours to spare to be researching.”

“And we have a laugh. You wouldn't think that you can laugh about this, but we do, we have a laugh over ‘how different is our life?’ - we all get it.”

The Importance of Self-Care

Through caring for her own daughters, Christine has learnt that self-care is incredibly important and needs to be a priority for support people.

The process of helping to refeed her daughter was incredibly taxing of her time and mental health.

“I was confined to my home doing six meals a day. I actually hate cooking and I felt like I was being punished. I was forever in the kitchen making these meals and then ensued lots of distress trying to get a child to eat."

“I didn't have my outlet. My outlet would normally be activity and sport. So, I felt that I was getting mentally unwell because I didn’t have time for that.”

“I strongly urge people to find time, every day, just to do something, even if it's meditation, a walk around the block or a coffee with a friend - something that just brings them a little bit of joy and re-fills their cup. It's really important, I can't stress that enough.”

“These are illnesses that can last for years and years, and it's not realistic to put everything on hold. So, you can make sacrifices early on - but it's not sustainable.”

"If you need to seek help, get it"

Christine also stresses the importance of accessing counselling or seeking help.

“You need to look after yourself mentally. So, if you need to seek help, get it. It's not a sign of weakness by any means. Don't be hard on yourself - it's a tough gig. “

“And you're going to feel guilty about your other children too, because you don't have as much time for them. So, utilise the offers of help from family and friends. They can't actually do the hard work with the unwell person, but they can help with the siblings.”

“For example, you could ask, ‘can you to take Johnny out to a meal to a restaurant where there's no arguing around the food?’ or ‘could you please have Susan for sleep over?’ – so they feel special and someone’s giving them time.”

"Recovery is Possible"

Christine says that it is also important to remind support people that even though the journey is tough, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Recovery really is possible. I just want everyone to know that anyone can recover. It is possible. And as hard as it might be– you’ll get through this.”

“When my daughter was unwell, I said, this is the toughest thing I've ever done in my life, it still is. It's really hard.”

“But with love and compassion and firmness and boundaries - you can do it. It's super tough, but once you get through, it's absolutely worth every minute.”

“So that's why I want to give back and encourage others to keep going, as hard as that is. There's a lot of people out there that care and lots of great clinicians. It's just about finding them.”

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