We all know that you have to save yourself. Your parents aren’t going to do it for you, your therapist isn’t, your best friend isn’t either. You have to.
So, how do you help yourself? How do you get to the point where you are, well, recovered?
Honestly, I think that is pretty much the crux of it.
I have been struggling with anorexia for nearly 7 years and it’s only been in the last eighteen months that I have seen considerable progress. I’m not talking physically, as we all know someone with anorexia can be a healthy weight but psychologically still be in excruciating pain. In the last eighteen months I have been reaping the rewards from my years of hard work against anorexia. And honestly, it’s only been in the last 6 months that I’ve got my anxiety down about my weight and day to day food consumption. I’m a work in progress.
The point is, if I had given up 2 years in, or 5 years in, I’d still be way back there struggling with my breakfast, rather than here, eating freely.
I’m not saying it’s going to take you 7 years to get better, but I am saying that this takes time and it is imperative that you persist.
The principle of “fuck it” is quite possibly the most empowering approach to mental illness recovery.
You see, I’m a mess.
I was diagnosed with anorexia and depression at 16 years old, was admitted to a psychiatric ward at 17 and have been struggling ever since with the seemingly innate desire to starve myself to death and the rational want to live a happy and stable life.
I’m a worrier. I worried about the past, the present and the future. I’ve worried about the should haves, the would haves and the might have beens. I’m an over thinker too, so you can imagine the stress and misery I’ve caused myself over the years (best not to dwell on it).
Faced with the end of my formal education -at long last- I have had to square up to and genuinely consider what the bloody hell I am going to do with myself. What career am I going into? Where will I live? Will I get a graduate scheme? Will I have to move back to my parents’ full time?
It’s almost become so overwhelming that I have ceased to bother myself with such matters. On the practical side, I am of course looking for jobs and applying to anything that catches my fancy. Does that mean, however, that I must drive myself into insanity because I am faced with my future?
This is where the principle of “fuck it” comes in. Now, I do not see this as an excuse to be reckless or irrational. Honestly: it’s just not my style. Nevertheless, it is useful to see that there are some things that are just not worth the time nor effort worrying about. If I get a job right away, great. If not, also great. It’s not the end of the world, Alee. With this greater context in mind, it has offered me another perspective on my mental health problems.
As my weight has slowly been creeping up I have taken my principle of “fuck it” and I
have applied it really rather effectively to anorexia. It’s obviously not a case of internally shouting at my inner monologue at any given moment but it is providing me with a strange sense of freedom.
“Fuck it” enables you to realise that sometimes, just sometimes, the little things really are just the little things.
Little things like the number on the scale, like the extra mouthful at dinner, like your reflection, like the thought that pops up and proceeds to ruin your entire day, like fears about events that are not only not happening, but may never happen.
It’s made me reconsider what the big and little things really are. What’s worth worrying about and what’s not? What’s thinking over the situation one more time going to do? What’s fretting over the next few weeks and months going to change?
Those two words have helped me, I hope they can help you too.
I’m a few days late. We’re over a week into 2017 already, however, I desperately wanted to write a year in review for 2016, followed by postulation for this year.
There’s been a lot on social media about how 2016 has been the “worst year ever”, some saying so with a touch of hyperbole and others with genuine moroseness. Thankfully, I do not share in that despondency. At first thought, 2016 has been nothing short of a success. Mental health wise I haven’t relapsed once, sure there have been times where I have felt extremely low and I haven’t always eaten 3 meals a day and 3 snacks, sometimes my mood and intake have been less than satisfactory, however, I have kept a hold of my illnesses for the most part and I am very proud of that!
2016 was a great year academically, I graduated from my uni with a 2:1 in BA English after three years of hard work and a dissertation. There were times where I genuinely thought I might not finish it, but I am so glad I did. A few months later, I started on my MA where I commenced the learning of Latin and started studying more intensively the Medieval English period.
It’s been really challenging but I have loved learning more about this wonderful period in our history.
This year has pretty much been dictated by my learning and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Aside from learning, I have also been working. In the summer, which was free, I took up a job as an English teacher for foreign students. This year I was in the UK, which isn’t as exciting as two months in China, but I still got to explore different parts of England which I had previously never visited.
During this role, I worked and saw Brighton, Portsmouth, London, Oxford, Bath, Bristol and Wiltshire. It was taxing as I was working 12 hour days, but I earned some money and got to help others along the way (what more can I ask for?).
The third element of my 2016 was definitely travel.
My first foreign trip of the year was in February to France. I went for an extended weekend, flew out from London, spent a few days in the city of Metz with her and spent a day in Luxembourg. It was crazy but so enjoyable! I went when I should have been working on my dissertation, but hey, it all worked out in the end didn’t it?!
Barely a week after, I was off again to Italy with my wonderful boyfriend! You guessed it- we were headed straight to Rome! This came as a surprise a few weeks prior, it was an early anniversary present (we celebrated a year together in March) and I was absolutely delighted to be heading to Italy.
It was quite possibly the best holiday I had ever been on! And with the man of my dreams, I really couldn’t complain!
In true 2016 style, my next holiday wasn’t far away! After a few months grafting away, I handed in my dissertation… and off we went to Croatia!
The most extravagant holiday came in the month of August. Shortly after finishing my job, my boyfriend and I jetted off to Asia to see the wonders of… NEPAL. This was all planned very last minute, but we managed to pull it off quite magnificently!
It was ridiculously beautiful.
In my final holiday abroad of 2016, I returned to France, this time arriving in the area of Les Vosges. I spent New Year there with friends, in a chalet atop a mountain. Not bad, not bad at all…
I got back a few days ago (hence the late writing of this post). My French is very bad, unfortunately, but I had a magnificent time nonetheless.
I went on a few UK based trips this year too, such as down to Cornwall and to the Gower in Wales. I’ve been very lucky.
2016, you’ve been ridiculous. And I’m not sure I can top that in 2017, but we’ll give it a bloody good go!
This year, I have to finish off my MA, write a 20,000 word dissertation and well, that’s about it. Come September, I’ll either be getting a full time job or going travelling for a few months. I really need to decide what the next step is for me; I’ve dedicated many years to my own education, is it time for a break? Do I get a job? Do I go travelling?
It’ll be no surprise to regular readers of my blog that I am in recovery from anorexia. For me, my illness has very much been about restriction, not only of food and water, but of all the things that make life interesting, exciting and enjoyable. As I slowly work my way out of the deep hole of my eating disorder I have come to realise that this is a far reaching problem that perhaps shoulders its way into all our lives
In the past few years especially I have denied myself my own love and support. My restriction extends beyond calories. I remember when it got especially out of hand, to the point where I would limit my experience of life.
I would deliberately keep myself quiet, I would restrict my time socialising with friends, I would never buy myself anything, I refused to do things I loved, I never went out with friends to eat, I wouldn’t spend a single penny on myself. This is of course rooted in a deflated sense of self worth and a lack of confidence which depressed even me.
Things are better now, but I still feel guilty occasionally for being “too happy” or enjoying my food or planning trips or doing something nice for myself. Anything that would result in me surpassing the arbitrarily considered “accepted happiness level”. Lately though, I have been considering my own mortality and that has served me well on the motivation front. I’m going to die one day, it could be any day. And look how I had spent my few precious years on earth!
Once I realised that my existence didn’t automatically register me as a bad person, I cautiously worked to build up my sense of worth. I came to see that although suffering is an inevitable part of life, one doesn’t have to suffer in order to be deserving of moments of happiness or success. And what a revelation that was to me. Life doesn’t have to comprise of slogging through the first 60 years in order to seize the benefits in your last 10. What if I don’t even reach 60? Then what will have my life been for? Endless suffering for a goal, an end I never achieved?
I always forget to enjoy the moment. My goals are all long term and the present has always been a means to an end. The end doesn’t always come. And if it does, well, it’s never exactly how you want it to be and you have a trail of tears and sleepless nights behind you.
The now is far more important. We don’t live in the future, now is the only time things happen, the only chance we get at experience. A few months back I did some soul searching. It was my 22nd birthday and I wondered where the past 6 years had gone, seriously. I was guilty of running through the week, drawing breath on a Saturday and recommencing my struggle on a Monday morning. I began to ask myself some pretty paradigm shifting questions: why must I struggle through the day? Why must I wear myself out to exhaustion? Why is it that I haven’t painted – something I love to do- in over 5 months? Why must I keep busy and be content with my lot? Why?
I realised that the life I was making for myself was not serving me authentically. And it was harrowing. To deny yourself the basic pleasures in life is no life at all.
It makes me uncomfortable to the point of frustration to go against the shoulds and musts. It is a challenge in itself to convince yourself that you are worth the time, the money, the good… but truly we all are.
There is no glory in self sacrifice, to bathe in our own wonderful light is our only duty to ourselves.
If you’re anything like me, asking for help is difficult. And because it’s difficult, I seldom do it.
We all know that a problem shared is a problem halved but when you can have 50+ problems a day, ranging from the mild to unmanageable, is it really possible to ask for help every single time and maintain your own sense of independence without robbing someone else of theirs?
This is a question I dwell on.
If I’m having a bad mental health day, or a bad few hours, I have two options:
1. deal with it myself.
2. get someone to help.
On those days, some of the most basic tasks seem impossible. On my most recent ‘off day’ the things I struggled with ranged from going into the kitchen to get myself a drink, to preparing myself to have a meal, to leaving my place to go food shopping.
In those moments, I was terrified. Thoughts would spring up telling me not to do it, or if i did it this would happen, or that. I would convince myself I was too tired or too busy. I became paralysed by fear.
If I rule out asking for help, I leave myself with the possibility of not doing said task at all. By telling someone else, the responsibility of doing it is in a sense, passed over to them…
“I had to go shopping, x encouraged me to and if I don’t I will let her down”
“I had to make dinner because y told me to…”
You see, it wasn’t me! I wasn’t disobeying, it wasn’t me that made the decision…!
Dealing with it yourself is much harder.
You have to stand up, tall and strong and tell it to f- off.
That takes an insane amount of courage.
Often, it’s a case of talking yourself through the rational response, other times it’s a simple “I need to do it so I am”.
The more I rely on myself, the stronger I become and yet if I can pluck up the courage to ask for help- I am bringing in reinforcements to fight the fears.
Either way, as long as you defy it, you are winning.
In this post, I do want to stress the importance of actually, relying on yourself. By doing so, you give yourself responsibility of your own actions. You start to form your own choices, own priorities, away from the illness, or the part of you that makes you ill.
Forming a part of you, or at least contributing to its development, is imperative to the creation of a person which is not the illness, which is not driven by harmful urges.
It is so, so difficult… but know that nothing is physically stopping you. It may feel that way as our minds are powerful, but the will inside you that wants to thrive is even more so.
When in recovery from a mental illness, many sufferers declare a longing of the past. They look at how their lives used to be before they got ill and they miss it. They lament at their lost selves, their carefree nature, their impulsiveness, their genuine smile. All of which was lost when the curtain of mental illness fell before their eyes.
I’m guilty of it too. I wanted “me” back, I wanted to be that studious girl who was physically fit and healthy, who had a social life and who was in charge of her own day. Instead, I was being bossed around by the bully in my head: my entire life was about food and numbers and mirrors and self hatred. I wanted things to be the way they were before and I wanted to be what I was before.
That is a mistake.
I began to look more closely at the person I was before. She was fourteen, excruciatingly shy and had bad acne. I was healthy, sure, but I had definitely romanticised the idea I had of myself.
More importantly, I realised that seeking to be “who I was” is actually very unhelpful.
I endeavoured to look at my life objectively, by sating facts:
I am a 22 year old woman. I have a degree. I am living independently in a city a long way away from where I grew up. I have a boyfriend. I have an entirely new set of friends. I have different priorities.In short- I have changed since then.
I can never go back to being that fourteen year old. I cannot erase what has happened to me since then. It happened and it has changed me irrecoverably. I am a different person to who I was. I have a greater insight into my illness, I am more self aware, more confident, I am so much more fulfilled and developed as an individual.
I should not seek to have the mindset, life nor appearance as 14 year old me. I have grown up and out and sideways, I will never get that person back. She does not exist. What right minded 22 year old aspires to be a practically pre-pubescent child with no qualifications and no experience in the real world?
This releases us from our past. It allows us to look to the future, to what we might be, rather than what we were. The past doesn’t have to determine anything.
I used to play with soft toys and dolls as a child, does this mean I have to do it today? No, I’ve got different interests, I have different priorities.
By the same token, just because I used to starve myself, does that mean I have to do that for the rest of my life?
We are all in a great position now, we are in a place where we can grant ourselves the freedom to be who we want to be.
So, you’ve embarked on the journey to recovery from an eating disorder. First and foremost: congratulations! Secondly, good luck! Recovering from an ED will most likely be the most difficult thing you have ever had to do, however, it is also the most worthwhile journey you can take. In 10 years time, you’ll be thanking yourself.
1. Expect to fail.
Why? because you will fail. You will fall and relapse and stumble and trip. You will. When I first committed to recovery way back in 2012 I saw a future for myself where I would eat every meal and snack on my meal plan, exercise appropriately and never weigh myself again. I failed again and again.
That’s alright. It really is. We (myself included) have to see failure as simply another step to where we want to be. Just because we fail once, twice, two thousand times does not mean we will always fail. You just gotta keep trying and eventually you get there. We must fail in order to succeed. Besides, we’re human- we’re not perfect.
2. Expect chaos.
Embrace it. The sooner you do this, the better. Leading on from my previous point, recovery is messy. One day you’ll be doing great then for the next three every mouthful of food will be a struggle. It can vary minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour.
Don’t expect your day, your intake or your mood to be neat and tidy or to follow a set path. It’ll be up and down and inside out and somehow, you must learn to accept it.
P.S. if you can do this, it will put you in good stead for life because life in general really is chaotic and it is random and unpredictable. Being able to throw your hands up and go, what’s next muthafucka is a fine quality. Really.
3. Expect to be exhausted.
Recovery is hard and you have to work for it every second of every day. No joke. Sometimes, you will be extremely lethargic and this will be a combination of weight restoration and emotional stress.
Changing how you think is not easy, altering your perception of yourself isn’t either and nor is working to overthrow an entire belief system (which you are likely to have functioned on your whole life!).
You’re relearning how to eat and how to live. You’re also learning a hell of a lot about yourself and how you think and see yourself.
4. Expect to grow.
And no, I’m not talking about your waistline. Sooner or later, after the endless fights with yourself, after the therapy, after the pep-talks, after the tears, you will change. You will grow as a person, in ways you thought you wouldn’t. You’ll grow in confidence and yes, if you stick at it long enough, your priorities will change.
That was the most awe striking moment for me. When I had more important things to do than to lose weight; when I began to care about my education, even my health, more than I cared to be ‘thin’, I began to see progress.
And it was the best feeling in the world.
Recovery from an eating disorder isn’t just about the weight gain and your attitude towards food. It’s a complete overhaul of your being, you shed your old skin and become something more. Of course, the essence of who you are remains, but it becomes more refined, it shines brighter and it beams out of every crevice. You become who you are truly meant to be.