Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Rule three

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you
A friend of mine died of complications arising from anorexia nervosa a couple of years ago. The specific complication that killed her was congestive heart failure. That's a common outcome of persistently eating too little and it kills a substantial number of people with anorexia every year.

One of the many things that still troubles me about the years leading up to her death is the way her friends supported her in her self-destructive ways. She built a network of supporters. These people would unfailingly come to her aid in times of difficulty. No one, however, challenged her on her eating habits. To do that was to be excluded or semi-excluded, which was what happened to me.

The first sign that something was wrong came in her fifties when she began to suffer from what she called "chronic fatigue syndrome". She claimed her doctor had diagnosed this but her doctor actually sent her to see a therapist which doesn't match up with that. One day my friend let slip in conversation that what her doctor was actually concerned about was chronic depression. Depression frequently occurs in people with anorexia. No one knows whether that is an outcome of the disease or one of the causes of it. My friend's doctor noticed the depression because she noticed my friend's attitudes. She was, unfortunately, in no position to accurately assess my friends eating habits.

None of us were at first. My friend and I used to go to a Mexican restaurant near the university where she taught. She'd always eat a full serving. What I didn't know until years later was that she'd then eat nothing else for a full 24 hours.

She responded to every health fad. The last one before she died was gluten intolerance. She, like a lot of people, self-diagnosed. The net effect was that she ate a whole lot less. This was after she had been actually diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

One thing that still haunts me. About five years before she died, my friend read that some fat consumption was good for you. So she set about eating fat. She decided on two sources: avocados and olive oil. She started eating an avocado every two weeks or so. Olive oil she used in salad dressing. When you did the math, it turned out she was getting maybe a half teaspoon of olive oil at a meal. That's about 20 calories or 220 calories short of the bare minimum she should have been eating every day.

I don't know that there was anything anyone could do about it. A professional intervention might have made a difference. Then again, it might not. In any case, no one was in a position to bring such a thing about. You had two choices: either continue to support her in her struggles with the consequences of her disease without ever bringing up the fact that the root cause of all her problems or be excluded from her life. I sort of chose the latter.

Rule three comes from Jordan Peterson's 12 rules for life. No one, least of all Dr. Peterson, would recommend you run your life according to rules. These are just meant to be helpful guidelines and I think they're pretty good for that.

The rule gets even better when you read it in context of the others. You only have to add one additional rule to the context for the sense of it to expand in a good way.
Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping
Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you
My friend was very good at rule three. If she'd been just a little better at rule two, she'd probably still be alive today.

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