I don’t know many other people with eating disorders in ‘real life’. But social media being what it is, I sometimes come across others, often in the early stages, usually, but not always in their late teens or early twenties, sometimes in that all too familiar cycle of partial recovery and relapse. I want to scream a warning, beg you not to let it drag on if you can possibly help it, not to make the mistakes I did. So from someone who has been stuck longer than I’d like, here are some thoughts.
Ask for help. SCREAM if you have to. Repeatedly. And trust the tiny part of you that knows that you need help, even when your mind finds every reason in the world that you don’t deserve it, aren’t ‘that bad’ or that other people need it more. I didn’t have support at the worst stage of my eating disorder and it reinforced the idea that I could (should) do things on my own. I’d like to believe that if I’d had the kind of support I’m getting now, I’d have recovered – properly recovered, years ago.
Don’t let ‘functioning but stuck’ be your end point. Somehow, I made it through from being really quite underweight and clearly not well, to a place where I was much better than I had been, and I also wasn’t getting any worse. That functioning-but-really-not-ok place allowed me (and others, including my GP) to ignore the seriousness of things. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else, because it is a difficult, confusing and lonely place to be. My life wasn’t lonely, and I functioned, but my eating disorder created a sense of isolation. It was my issue to deal with, as was everything that came along with it. I don’t want anyone else to feel like that.
Do everything possible to get yourself to a place where you want to let it go. Yes, eating disorders are a mental health problem. We definitely don’t choose them and the choice to recover is not a choice in the usual sense of the word, I don’t think, anyway. You can’t just switch it off. The things that motivate recovery are different for each of us and at first it’s a constant pull and push between feeling like you need it and frustration at how it imprisons you. But at some point we do have to make a decision, to accept that walking the same familiar path is only going to bring the same old results. Anorexia is only going to steal more than it gives. This is so easy to lose sight of, and I’m definitely speaking to myself, too.
Don’t put off making changes. You go on, convincing yourself you’re fine, you’ll recover later. You’ll do it when life’s a little less stressful, when you’ve passed your driving test, achieved that first class degree, or gained your professional qualification. Or you promise yourself you’ll allow yourself to stop when you finally met all the targets set out by your eating disorder – when you’ve finally reached that goal weight, met that food rule for long enough or managed to run a set number of miles at a particular pace. But the guilt doesn’t go away and in the end, the targets have moved so often you’ve lost sight of your original goal. And you’ve also missed out on a million different experiences and opportunities, and you stop and realise you’re trapped in a tentatively balanced world of rules, guilt and ever increasing expectations.
Anorexia is about anxiety. It’s about control. It’s about not feeling good enough. It’s about relentless achievement and the fear of feeling. But in the end, we have to stop and consider whether the false promise is worth the loss.
There will never be a ‘right time’. Only now.