I am certainly grateful for my eating disorder. I think it has molded the person I am becoming, who I think could be pretty cool, I wouldn’t change anything, I’m happy the way everything worked out but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days.
Days where getting out of bed seems nearly impossible. Where all I can focus on is the weight I’ve gained, the fat squishing under my yoga pants band. Where I stare at the fridge knowing I need to eat, but I can’t. Days when I’m overwhelmed and stressed as my friends make life plans and I’m just trying to get through breakfast. Days where I don’t want to be in public. Days I can’t even stand being in my skin, ashamed of the body I have. Days where my anxiety is so intense I just shut down. Days where I think of all the memories my eating disorder has taken from me. Days where I’m angry that I’m stuck in the annoying cycle of recovery. Days I hate everything and want to quit. Days where I’m exhausted from fighting all the voices in my head. (jeeze I really enjoy making myself sound crazy)
But on those days, I remember how far I’ve come. Just a year ago, the gym was my life. Counting calories was my only focus. And loosing weight was my only priority.
Here I am, a year later (a few pounds heavier), living. Really living- being present in each moment. Simply walking down a street and noticing the cute dog running by, the large trees rooting into the ground, the cute old lady crossing the street, the smile on the baby’s face, the smell of fresh foods. Such small simple things that I’ve missed the last 7 years. Walking down a street a year ago would consist of – well actually I wouldn’t have time for that! I’d be at the gym for the second time that day, stressing over the extra chicken I had at lunch and calculating how many sprints I had to do to burn it off. I didn’t notice people, I didn’t have time for them. I planned my days around my workout. Cardio. Class. Gym. Homework. Meal Prep. Repeat.
I’ve now learned what life can be like without an eating disorder. It’s precious, it’s beautiful and it’s certainly awakening. But every once in awhile a bad day comes along, and if I’m being honest, it’s been more like a bad month. But I know how much better life is without my eating disorder.
Which somewhat makes the situation that much shittier because you know the bullshit your brain is telling you is bad news, yet you can’t help but flirt with the thoughts. Slowly you start giving in, little by little and sure as shit you end back at square one where eating becomes minimal, thoughts become loud and body image is unbearable. Where slowly your tiny social life gets pushed aside more and more until getting skinny is all you have time for. Where people get pushed away. And a feeling of emptiness overwhelms you.
But it’s OKAY. I’m going to be OKAY.
And I think this is crucial for supports to understand. Recovery is a cycle of ups and downs- it isn’t linear. There’s good weeks and bad weeks- but it’s all part of the process. Seeing familiar behaviors or attitude can be nerve wracking but the first thing to realize is not all hope is lost.
When I’m feeling a bad week coming on, I actually hide it from my supports too many times. I do this because I do not want to scare them. The look on their face is fear, out of love of course, but I know I’ll be back on top in a few days or weeks- I’m just treading water for a bit (really choppy water).
So you ask, what can I do as a support to help you?
I hate this question. My family always asks this question and the answer is I have absolutely no clue.
Which actually brings me to the first thing you can do.
#1 Accept What is
Now before you say I’m a terrible person for asking you to accept their miserableness, I want to clarify that you must accept something to change it and sometimes- you just can’t change it. Chances are no matter how much you try to cheer me up, I’m still going to feel blah on these days. That doesn’t make you a bad person for not getting me to smile, that makes me a patient with depression.
#2 Ask What They Need
Again, I hate this question. But it’ still important to have that communication. Lately, I have found having a support text me at breakfast and lunch holds me more accountable. I fought this for a long time, I wasn’t that pathetic, I didn’t need my boyfriend texting me to make sure I ate. But day after day of “I’ll eat more tomorrow” wasn’t working and it was time to sink or swim. Letting your loved one know that they can rely on you is certainly helpful, it doesn’t mean they’ll take you up on it every time, but offering to support them in anyway they need can be the difference between eating that day or not.
#3 Watch food and body comments
This should ALWAYS be on the forefront of your mind but it’s crucial to be extra sensitive on your loved ones down days. On these bad days, any triggering comment could be an end all be all. It’s as though I’m super sensitive to dieting and just start flirting with the behavior- I start reading more ingredients and calories, researching weight loss remedies, eating more ‘clean’ options and any comment you make endorsing dieting just fuels the fire and brings more focus to it. Similar with your body comments- during these bad days I am extra sensitive to every inch of fat on my body- your body shaming just normalizes the (excessive) behavior for me.
Remember that recovery is a learning process that takes time. I was sick for 7 years, a year of treatment can’t compete with that. It takes time to get to a healthy place, hell I may not even 100% get there but things get better. It’s totally normal for things to be going great and then they aren’t. It doesn’t mean your loved one needs to be rushed back to treatment, it just may mean they need more support. And if they do need to go back to treatment, guess what, that’s pretty normal too.
So remember to have compassion and be open-minded. Patience could be pretty useful too!