Someone asked me recently whether I would ever consider not calling my eating disorder a ‘disorder’, given that I also describe it as a way of surviving in the midst of difficult circumstances. The suggestion was, I think, that if a particular strategy develops as a means of coping, then at one time, it was useful, and needs to be recognised as a sign of resourcefulness – and a resource. What we call ‘anorexia’, even at it’s worst, did to some degree allow me to cope emotionally, I was able to study, to work – even if I wasn’t able to do much else. I was consumed by numbers and emotionally numbed, and at one time, that helped. Perhaps it was even necessary. Eating disorders often develop in a context of difficult feelings. There is always a story behind ‘I’m fat’.

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Because people do, don’t they. Even those who know us well and would call themselves friends or colleagues. Or maybe it’s just me.

Part of the challenge is that I have been MUCH more open about my eating disorder recently. For years, no one in my wider life, including work, had any idea. If I weren’t trying to change things, I could have continued this indefinitely. But keeping things private at work wasn’t an option if I wanted time off for therapy. So far, my manager has been supportive. The work friends I’ve been open with continue to express confidence in my ability. I suspect I’m fortunate. It’s no secret that mental health services haven’t always been great at looking after their own.  Continue reading

I’m feeling fairly determined at the moment. It’s unexpected, considering how I wanted to sink into the ground after therapy this morning. Part of the problem is that professionally, I know the answers, certainly in relation to managing anxiety. But I can’t always apply this to myself, and it sometimes gets in the way of my ability to challenge ‘food rules’ as much as I need to.

So this is an attempt to capture some of this unexpected perspective, as a way to (hopefully) refocus and provide an outside perspective when ‘eating disordered’ thoughts feel consuming and all too reasonable. 

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Opening up, reducing the amount of compartmentalising we do, it’s massive in eating disorder recovery.

My husband came to my therapy session this week. This is HUGE. A friend commented that the degree of anxiety it caused me is quite telling. What is so difficult about having my husband, who I share the entirety of my life with, sitting in the same room as my therapist and talking about my eating disorder. I don’t know. It is just not something I have EVER done. I have always tried to manage things myself. It’s my issue, after all.

For a long time I’ve had a habit of keeping things separate, without even really realising it. Especially, but not solely, when it comes to eating and weight. I recognise this is about protecting myself, but it is also about protecting others from things I feel they are either unable to, or shouldn’t have to, cope with. Sometimes, sharing seems unnecessary, not because I want to hold things back (though sometimes I do) but because it feels like the most responsible option. I have also worked very hard over the years to function and keep going, and I definitely do not see myself as a ‘patient’ or someone who is very ‘unwell’. I don’t want other people to view me as that – or certainly not as only that either. Continue reading

We hear a lot about how controlling weight and eating can be motivated by the desire to appease a general sense of not being good enough. If you have unrelentingly high standards, weight loss is measurable evidence that you’re doing ok somewhere. This is especially relevant in a society where women are socialised to value thinness as attractive. I know for me, controlling food became tangible proof that I could definitely achieve something, albeit in a very distorted way. These are the ‘usual’ issues we hear about. However there are other important themes. Things we don’t often hear about in the media, because they aren’t convenient and they don’t fit the (more palatable) narrative of the white, appearance focused, over achieving young woman. Contrary to the popular myth that anorexia is narcissistic, it is more often about a person being silenced, feeling unheard, or having a lack of control in areas of life that really matter. Turning to, or away from food can be a way to manage feelings of worthlessness, an attempt to ‘fix’ a constant, nagging sense of never quite measuring up.

Of course, dominant narratives around being female prime us early for a disordered relationship with food and our bodies. The message that thinness is synonymous with attractiveness and power sits heavily. But not everyone exposed to the ‘thin ideal’ develops a consuming eating disorder. Often, it is where difficult relationships or experiences outweigh our ability to cope, that weight loss all too easily comes to provide tangible, measurable evidence of achievement. ‘At least I’m doing ok somewhere’. People with the psychological and practical resources to manage difficult experiences and painful feelings usually don’t develop eating disorders. But for some, controlling food is the only available way to manage an overwhelming sense of confusion. It isn’t a choice, it is about survival.

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In February, the Time to Change campaign are having a ‘Time to Talk’ day. It’s a day to ‘have a conversation about mental health’. But sometimes, it isn’t that easy, is it. I’ll challenge myths about psychosis, or argue for a less medicalised view of mental distress. Ask me about my own mental health, and it feels quite different. Continue reading