I have a question that is sensitive and may be one too uncomfortable to answer on your blog, but at the same time I think it is a crucial issue.
Every couple weeks, I end up in the bathroom at the same time as another woman who is purging. Because of the time of day and frequency of this occurrence, I can only assume she is bulimic. I have an idea of who she is but I’ve only seen the back of her head. I refuse to leave the stall until she has left the bathroom, which has allowed me to avoid her face. Every time I feel so compelled to confront her and ask if she is ok. At the same time, I don’t feel it is my place. Do you have any advice in this situation? Is it my duty as one woman to another to check on her? Or as a stranger, should I remain a stranger?
When I first read this email, it stopped me in my tracks. There is such a fine line between trying to care for a stranger in the name of sisterhood/humanity, and letting people have their privacy.
Several years ago, I read an article about a woman who was struggling with bulimia. Every day she would walk down four flights of stairs to a public bathroom, on another floor of her office building, to purge.
Then, one afternoon, she walked into the stall and saw a piece of paper taped to the inside of the door. It said, “You are more beautiful than you know, and stronger than you can imagine. I hear you purging in here every day, and I want you to know that I care about you even though we have never met.” Below the message was a phone number for an eating disorder help line.
I don’t know if this will work, or how the girl will react, but I think it’s worth a shot.
If you know someone who you suspect has a problem, don’t let your fear of being intrusive stop you from trying to help her or him. That nagging feeling in your gut is your conscience telling you that the right thing to do is to get involved. If you are in a position where you can talk to the person face-to-face, take them somewhere private and say, “I’ve noticed that (describe whatever behavior is scaring you). I care about you, and I’m concerned. Is there something going on with you that you need to talk about?”
Maybe they’ll open up to you, maybe they won’t. But that is their choice, so be prepared to step back if necessary.
Working on the Hill, you get very close to your colleagues. If you’ve worked in an office for any decent period of time, you’ll know more about your co-workers than you ever thought possible. If you learn something that concerns you (eating disorders, substance abuse problems, you suspect someone is being physically abused, etc.), in my opinion, you should try to help him or her. And if the issue begins to impact their work or your Boss, you may need to take it up the chain to a higher authority, but that is a last resort.
It’s completely normal to be concerned. Too often, we let our fear of the intangible get in the way of helping others. This girl might have a problem, and it’s noble of you to want to get involved. She may not react the way you want. So it’s a risk. But I think it’s one worth taking.
Leave your thoughts in the comments, I’m by no means an expert here. I’m just telling Anonymous what I would tell anyone who asked me what to do.