I’m coming to the end of a good few weeks in Day Service. And this time I’ve done some of the things I wanted to do over a year ago and didn’t manage. Behaviour changes. Weight gain. Food rules. And what strikes me is how messy the process has felt so far, and how lost – and not so lost – I’ve felt at different times. I wanted to reflect on how things have been so far. I am not ‘there’, but I am also somewhere I never really believed I could get to, so it seemed fair to make time to reflect. Some of the things that stand out happened in outpatient therapy, some in day service. All part of a process of slowly untangling from something that I didn’t realise had me so tightly gripped until I began to try to find my way out.
During the process so far I…
Said I was ‘fine’ but knew I really wasn’t.
Worried that my eating disorder wasn’t ‘bad’ enough for help
Asked for help anyway.
Tentatively built some trust.
Realised that ‘functioning’ and ‘fine’ are most definitely not the same thing.
(Resentfully) stopped running. Gained some weight.
Tried really hard to get everything right. Tried really hard not to cry.
Got very anxious and a bit stuck.
Allowed my husband to attend a therapy session.
Tentatively began to allow people to see the reality of how trapped I felt.
Started to touch food again. Ate with my fingers
Relearned how to cook and prepare food normally.
Began to think that people might sometimes be kind.
Spoke about things I’d promised myself I’d never share. Was listened to kindly.
Felt relieved that that particular promise had been broken
Slipped back a bit. Talked some more.
Realised again how much the relentless demands of anorexia actually limit my life.
Set some honest goals. Cried.
Met some lovely people.
Worried (again) that I didn’t need [deserve] care/support/kindness as much as others
Accepted support anyway.
Asked for firm boundaries – then felt angry and frustrated when they were implemented
Felt desperately relieved that the boundaries were there.
Gained some more weight. Cried.
Missed my old therapist.
Relentlessly refocused when anxious worry pulled my mind all over the place.
Realised recovery can be more about creating new things than going back to old ones.
Stopped choosing foods for rule driven reasons and found some tentative ‘likes’
Discovered good hot chocolate. Rediscovered cheese. Ate cake. Ate chocolate.
Talked to the people I trust instead of squashing things down
Said I couldn’t carry on. Carried on anyway.
Noticed how anorexia silences and the space it encroaches upon
Began to go against the terrifying thoughts and be more ‘reckless’.
Went out for brunch with the two people who mean the world to me.
Asked my new key worker about things I felt scared to hear the answer to.
Cried because of how tired and cold I used to feel.
Felt baffled at how I managed to function in a demanding job on a pitiful amount of food.
Reached the bottom end of a ‘healthy weight range’ for the first time ever.
Felt horribly confused about whether I’d done the right thing.
Grew some flowers. Started drawing. Rediscovered crochet.
Ate FISH AND CHIPS for the first time in ten bloody years.
Went for a stop-start relaxed jog rather than a terrified, punishing run.
Considered that perhaps that critical/dismissive mindset needs less free reign.
Began to think that maybe I might be able to be weave things together in a hopeful way.
What’s the point? Probably that untangling from anorexia, for me, anyway, has so far been a lot more messy and confusing than it sounds in most accounts. And that those of us who navigate that journey desperately need people alongside who are skilled at helping, can be strong, kind, and able to contain all the fear and feelings and stick with us through the process in their own human way. And to feel able contribute something back too. Sometimes those people are services, sometimes they are family and friends, sometimes, both. But whoever they are, you need them. And you need at some point, to begin to be a bit of those things for yourself, too. I am actually really angry with anorexia at the moment, because recently I have noticed how it traps people who are often thoughtful and careful and talented into the same scathing language of self blame and rigid rules. And it just isn’t fair.
I wonder whether strong boundaries have to be set in order to help people, like me, who are really crowded out by their eating disorder [and who also really want something different] to begin to feel safe enough to make the most challenging of changes. I also think it’s important that people feel seen as a whole within that process, especially when they have had early experiences of feeling trapped or powerless. So sometimes [maybe always] the way things are done is as important as what is done.
Perhaps it’s also important to consider how long the change process can take for some of us. How it can be quick and slow at different times. I had never been in contact with services despite being quite unwell. By the point I came to an assessment with an ED service, I had had anorexia since my mid teens, had gained some weight fairly independently a few years before, and attended my first assessment at a stable but definitely ‘not ok’ place that had still allowed me to build something of the life I wanted. The reality was that my mind (and body) had been tangled up with anorexia for a good bit of time. And perhaps as a consequence, things were fairly entrenched. And my progress in recovery – so far – has fluctuated. It was quick, then slow and stuck and then fairly rapid again. It hasn’t been linear. It has taken time time to build trust and to share important things. So it has taken thought and flexibility on the part of services too – who are made up of humans, doing their best, and facing huge financial constraints and pressure. And to be honest I’m not sure how the current political climate fits with my journey – because I know that I needed to be given a chance and to be given time. I’m just glad the service I attend were in a position where they were able to respond to that.
Anyway it’s messy. But today I am hopeful.