Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Why I no longer focus on being recovered from my eating disorder

If you read my last post, you will know that Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from Monday 26th February to Sunday 4th March 2018, so this week I wanted to share a couple of posts about my experiences of having an eating disorder. In the first post I uploaded this week, I talked you through my Eating Disorder story so you might find it interesting to read that first and get a bit of background before you continue with this one. But today, I wanted to chat to you about why I no longer focus on being recovered or ‘fixed’ from my Eating Disorder. Like with my other post, I want to add a quick disclaimer that this could be triggering, so only continue to read if you feel strong enough. And of course, this is just my experiences and opinions – it shouldn’t replace medical advice from your own doctor and I understand that what works for me won’t work for everyone.

I’ve been battling eating disorders in one form or another for a large proportion of my life. Although it didn’t become obvious until I was around the age of 15, I was getting negative thoughts around food, my weight and my body from a much younger age. As you will have seen in my other post, I have also been through a lot of different treatments over the years – inpatient, day patient, out patient; input from dieticians, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, nurses and doctors. Some of these have been helpful, while others have often made things worse. But all of these treatments have taught me something and, whether good or bad, they have contributed to my overall journey and got me to where I am today.

For pretty much the entire time I was in treatment, my biggest focus was on reaching the point of being recovered or ‘fixed’ from my eating disorder. I think a lot of this was down to being in treatment – recovery was always spoken about and was always pushed as something we should be aiming for. Quite often, it was made out to be this amazing place where an eating disorder just didn’t exist any more. You were completely happy, could go out for meals without anxiety and loved the way you looked every time you saw yourself in the mirror. But despite being in treatment over the space of around ten years, I never managed to reach this Nirvana.

I would spend most of my time beating myself up mentally, asking myself “Why can’t I recover?” or “Everyone else is recovering, why can’t I?” It got to the point where my feelings of failure towards recovery were becoming triggers for my eating disorder thoughts and behaviours. If I can’t recover, then what’s the point of even trying to put on weight/stop using negative behaviours/learning to accept myself? I already felt awful about myself, so feeling like a complete failure was just another negative emotion to add to my overflowing bucket of negativity. It was just another thing that I was rubbish at – another thing I couldn’t do.

But it’s only now, after so many years of beating myself up, that I’ve come to the realization that the state of recovery I was trying to achieve is unlikely to actually exist. I was trying to get to an impossible place. Now before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there are people that say they have managed to get to a place where they feel their eating disorder is completely gone – they can enjoy food without worrying about weight gain or calories, never think of using eating disorder behaviours and feel completely happy with their body. And that’s absolutely brilliant that there are people who manage this. But I feel like they are probably in the minority, and unfortunately aren’t people I am able to identify with. For me, I think obsessing over trying to get to a point where I am completely recovered from my eating disorder is unrealistic and therefore unhealthy. All it leads to is a negative cycle of feelings of failure, using eating disorder behaviours to deal with those feelings and therefore continuing to feel like a failure. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s no way to continue to live your life.

Once I realised that being completely recovered isn’t possible for everyone, I started to think more about what recovery could mean for me. I realised I preferred the word recovery to recovered, simply because it allowed me to see it as a process and a journey, rather than an end point that I would reach and then everything would be fine. When I stopped trying to reach that end point, and just took things a day at a time, life started to get a little easier. I stopped seeing myself as a failure every time I slipped up, and so stopped beating myself up too. I no longer compared my journey to other people’s, which allowed me to focus on my own journey and what is right for me. Little by little, I have made progress, and I’m able to look at that progress with compassion for myself, rather than feeling bad for not doing better.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t certain aspects of an eating disorder that you shouldn’t worry about recovering from. For example, it is really important to get yourself to a healthy weight, or to stop using harmful behaviours such as bingeing and purging. These things impact on your wider health, as well as your mind, which is often why, in eating disorder treatment, these are the first things you have to work on. I never understood this when I was really unwell – how was I meant to put on weight when no one was helping me with my thoughts? But now I understand that you simply cannot be moving towards recovery when you’re dangerously underweight or are using negative coping mechanisms. So whilst I don’t focus on being recovered any more, I do understand that I need to be in a healthy body to allow my mind to begin a process of recovery.

But that’s what my life is now – a process of recovery – and I don’t think there will ever be an end point. I still struggle with thoughts about my body and my weight, I still get times when I have to eat and really don’t want to and I still get anxious every time I put weight on/a buzz if I lose some weight. But I’ve accepted that it’s OK for me to still have these anxieties – it doesn’t make me a failure or a bad person – it just makes me a person that is battling an eating disorder (and winning). I’m winning because I keep trying. I’m winning because, overall, I feel like I’m in control more than my eating disorder is. Yes, I might sit in front of a plate of food and have thoughts about not wanting to eat it. But I am able to challenge those thoughts and convince myself that those are my eating disorder speaking. And I sit there and eat that food, no matter how anxious I feel. Yes I still weigh myself once a week, and when I see my weight go up, I automatically start thinking about what I can do to bring it back down again. But that’s where it stops – at thoughts. Because most of the time, I fight against those thoughts and give myself a positive pep talk about why listening to those thoughts is a really bad idea.

No, this isn’t what I imagined being recovered would be like, but that’s OK because every single day for the rest of my life, as long as I am on my recovery journey, I am OK with that. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. You just need to do you, and as long as you are fighting that eating disorder in whatever way you need to, then you are doing a damn good job.

If you’re reading this now and think you might have a problem with your eating, thoughts and behaviours, my biggest piece of advice would be to talk to someone and start your journey of recovery. Whether that’s your parents, a friend or your GP – just starting that conversation is a massive step on the journey towards you getting help and living a life where your eating disorder doesn’t control your every move. I know how scary starting that process is (and hell, even continuing with that process however long you’ve been on it), so if talking to someone you know feels too hard, Beat have an amazing helpline and will listen to you in confidence, giving you the support and care you deserve. You can find them on:

Helpline – 0808 801 0677
Youthline – 0808 801 0711

As well as some posts on my blog, I have also got a video going up over on my YouTube channel, which I would love you to check out. And if you would like to share this post to raise awareness during Eating Disorders Awareness Week, it would mean the world to me.

What are your thoughts on being recovered from an Eating Disorder (or any kind of mental illness)?

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