I'm a little behind here, since Laura asked the question about "how do you stay ok when people around you are slipping or struggling" (I'm totally paraphrasing here, Laura- hope that's ok!) several days ago.
Both Wendy and LeahV had some valuable things to say about that question. How we can remain stable, healthy, on the right track for ourselves? It's is a crucial question. It's one that therapists and other clinicians must continually monitor for themselves- especially clinicians who work with people who can be very ill. It's also a central question for everybody to monitor.
If we're going to be in relationships, which is, after all, the entire point of being social creatures (which human beings are by nature), we are always going to face the reality that people around us are continually in a state of change (sometimes the changes are swell, sometimes they are not swell, sometimes they are dangerous... the overall change that's always happening is AGEING- we all are ageing all the time, and ageing brings with it changes that we all must adjust to over time, right? So, it's not that change is necessarily bad, just that it is a reality)
My general strategy in approaching this is two-fold. First, by trying to always be scrupulously honest; second, by using that old Serenity Prayer (serentiy to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference).
We can get into so much trouble with ourselves (overextended, demoralized, hopeless, depressed/anxious...) if we don't pay attention to these two concepts. It's what Wendy and LeahV were talking about in their comments- that they have to continually assess their involvement in any situation. Where should they involve themselves? To what extent? In what ways?
These are important questions.
People who suffer from eating disorders (as well as many other people) wish they could save the world (not to mention, think that if they just work hard enough they should be able to). They want everything to be ok. They want to be able to fix everything.
Many times us human beings can make things ok, or at least better. Many times we can intervene in ways that do truly help. But not always. We don't have total control over everything. That's not the way the world is designed. So, we need to be honest about where, and in what ways we can involve ourselves. Also, each one of us has a finite amount of energy- we have to pace ourselves in life.
It's so difficult to watch someone suffer; especially if we can't stop the suffering. And people who suffer from eating disorders suffer tremdndously- in mayriad ways, some of them very dangerous, even lethal.
I try to focus on where I can help, even a little bit (if I can't FIX a situation, it doesn't mean there is NOTHING I can do, right? No use in being perfectionistic about this!). There are often tons of things we can do to help- things that honestly do help, but also may not FIX a situation or make everything perfect.
Here's an example. A few years ago I was working with a woman in her 50s. Her husband suddenly became very, very ill with an extremely invasive and fast growing cancer. It was clear that he would die within a month or two.
There was nothing the wife, or myself could do about the fact that he was going to die. Nothing.
That didn't mean I couldn't help in some ways. I found out a couple of years after he died that one of the most important things I had suggested to this woman was that she sit in the hospital (this was near the end and the husband was not speaking much) next to her husband and put her hand on him in a way that she often did, and let herself soak up his energy, really feel what it was like to be near him- and let him soak up hers, so that they could both remember that feeling forever.
At the time I suggested it, it seemed like small consolation for the two of them. They were about to be apart in a way that neither one of them wanted at all.
It was, however, something I could offer her, something that ended up making an enormous difference to her- one she was still thinking about and feeling years after his death.
So, Laura, and all of us, never underestimate the help we can provide each other in this world. AND try not to overestimate your power in making everything perfect.