It’s now 4 years since I started recovery from my eating disorder and I’m pretty darn healthy in that respect. I’m in a place that I never thought was even possible, even though I’ve always subscribed to the theory that anything in this Universe is possible, some things are improbable yes, impossible? Not so much. Despite that, I could never see myself recovered even in the most distant future. I instead always imagined my life either trying to live a bit healthier with it in a state where my eating disorder was more manageable (That was what I had intended to achieve with this recovery), or struggling with it for the rest of my life. I had accepted, very wrongly, that my eating disorder was a part of who I was, and at my sickest that it was the most important part of me. It was always there for me when I needed someone, it got me through some really traumatic awful past stuff, it was my coping mechanism.
I often wondered if I would ever cope without it, and couldn’t see myself coping with anything without it. Especially as I knew I had other mental health issues, and my eating disorder had become a coping mechanism for those too.
Given that I have had my eating disorder for exactly 70% of my life, it was so intrenched in my brain that it was considered normal by it. Recovery has been like purposely making myself walk a different path across the living room to get to the kitchen, even though I’ve been walking the same route, evident by the high traffic wearing on the carpet, ever since I’ve lived here. Sometimes, you just forget, and have to purposely correct yourself every single time you need to go to the kitchen, it’s hard work to fight the automatic pilot of my brain. It still feels like that now, I’ve been in an episode the last few weeks, which I am currently getting myself out of, without using food or the lack thereof, and I’ve woken up in the morning to, “You should just skip breakfast today, and try and not eat for as long as you can”, and I go about my morning, and then I remember that I don’t do that anymore, and I go and purposely make myself something to eat. I still hope that not having an eating disorder will eventually be the new automatic pilot, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In early recovery I thought that, by still having the eating disordered thoughts that I had failed recovery, that it was always going to be impossible. I tried so hard, in the beginning, to fight them, to tell my brain off, to tell them to, “Please just STOP” out loud, it would just make them louder and would make me more upset for having them. A year after I regained my weight, I started to accept that I might always have these thoughts, but I realised I didn’t have to act on them, nothing bad happens if I don’t listen. So instead of a valiant battle, I started to ignore the crap out of them instead, it gave me power, to have these thoughts but eat anyway? That’s pretty cool considering I was at one time, brainwashed by them. How did I do that? It’s such a long story. I had a lot of help from my nurse who I still see weekly today, a pretty cool dietitian, and occasionally help from the Home Treatment Team, a bunch of really cool mental health nurses that come and see me everyday in my home to get me over a crisis, and they always help me so so much. I had a lot of help from my mum, she looked after my daughter when I got so ill that I felt my daughter was better off away from me. She still helps me now when I struggle with my other mental health problems. I had a lot of help from my blogging friends who were on the same “purposely walking a different path” as me as well as the Facebook friends I have, who all understand. I would name every single one of them, but it would make this blog post even longer than it is, so to those of you, you know who you are and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Initially, I wasn’t recovering for myself at all, I was recovering for my daughter. I didn’t think I deserved to eat, or deserved to recover, but I knew that my daughter deserved to have a mum that would eat with her, a mum that could devote all her energy to her, and not to food instead. Food has always been the third wheel in our relationship and it got in the way of us doing things that I love doing with her now. Making dinner together and then actually eating it, making cakes and actually eating them (I used to cook a load of cakes, take photographs of them, and then not eat them) and eating them does not cause me to feel so guilty that I inevitably binge and purge. We have pizza and popcorn movie nights and I don’t feel guilty even though I didn’t even NEED to eat popcorn, I wasn’t hungry, I just ate it because it’s fun to eat popcorn and watch movies.
Later on, and most recently in recovery, I have stayed in recovery because I know that I deserve to stay recovered. Now, I do it for me too. I now actually like the person I am without my eating disorder. I can’t use the word, “Love” to describe how I feel about myself yet, but I do like myself and that’s a big improvement. It took me years to learn who I am now without my eating disorder and it took me years to stop aggressively hating myself (Contrary to the belief that eating disorders are about narcissism:- No, I HATED myself with a passion). Doctors would say to me in the beginning that it takes 5 years to recover from an eating disorder and only now, 4 years in, do I understand what they meant. You don’t actually need to recover for yourself in the beginning, you might think it’s pointless because you don’t deserve it, but know that if you attempt recovery anyway, one day you’ll be eating for you. I think this has been the most important part of my recovery, and one of the hardest lessons, first learning to not hate myself anymore, and then learning to like myself enough to actually feel like I deserve to eat.
When I was ill, I always thought I actually loved watching millions of cooking shows, and triggering as heck weight loss documentaries, I always thought I loved the low calorie food I ate (This makes me laugh now because pizza and cheese compared to diet bread, vegetables and rice cakes? No contest). I dislike almost everything I used to like except I still like MasterChef UK so I must just actually like that show. Instead, I like TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Prison Break. Shows I just couldn’t give my time to when I was ill, stories I couldn’t follow because my brain was only ever thinking about food, or weight, or BMI, or inches which made my attention span incredibly short. It was extremely hard to keep eating when I didn’t know who I was yet, I didn’t even know what I liked. But I carried on eating, hoping that eventually I would get to know myself, and I believe I have now.
I thought my eating disorder was who I was, my identity, my personality, my great life achievement, leaving it behind felt like a loss, I grieved for the person I was, because that person died. She doesn’t exist anymore. The only evidence that she ever existed, is by the few diaries I kept, which are filled not with important events, or how my day went, but with numbers, my numbers, my BMI, weight, and calculations of how many calories I was allowed to eat that day. There’s nothing about what made me happy, something I concentrate on now. If there’s nothing happy about my day now, I do some self care, do some art, go for a walk, play Lego with the little one, make some cool Lego photographs, or have a relaxing bath. The happiness I felt when I lost weight, despite the fact losing weight meant I had just made myself sicker, is NOTHING compared to the happiness I feel now about the things in my life. Eating has made me feel more deeply about things, made me love the stuff and things I truly love even more. I loved my daughter before I recovered, obviously she’s always been my everything, but I FEEL it so much more now, I feel it in my bones even, in the same bones which at one time, only ever used to feel cold, vulnerable and empty.
I suppose you want to know my secret. How I got this far? Well, there is no secret. My recovery has been a series of events that I thought would never ever happen; I never thought I’d get past the rapid weight gain stage, I never thought I’d be able to eat certain foods, I never thought I’d be able to like myself, I thought I’d be stuck living with an eating disorder for the rest of my life, I never thought I’d be able to eat with my daughter, I never thought I’d ever get to BMI 20, and I certainly didn’t think I would be able to stay there, and then gain a bit more weight from there to get to my set point. I never thought I’d be comfortable with who I am without it. It all seemed so impossible but it happened in spite of that.
When I’ve talked at conferences for the NHS, people come up to me and say that I am remarkable, and that I’m inspirational for being able to recover, and they think that I must be super special somehow. My recovery was not pretty, it was super messy, full of tears, full of rollercoaster emotions and anxiety, it was real, and hard, it is the hardest thing I have ever done. There were times I gave up, before dusting myself off and trying again, several times. My weight yo-yo’d from dangerously low weights to more healthy weights for 2 years, the graph of my weight restoration would be erratic, not a perfect pretty line of positive correlation. There were doctors and psychiatric hospitals, nurses and tests. There were no rainbows, or butterflies, or beautiful little metaphors tied up with a perfect pretty bow. There were no sudden realisations, or lightbulb moments or beautiful poetic epiphanies.
I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I was going to recover, and then I was recovered, it’s been a process that has so far taken me 4 years. I am not remarkable, I am not a superhero. I am just like anyone else, who went through something awful, and came out the other side, I am the Commander Shepard of eating disorder recovery. People think I’m a hero, but underneath it all, I’m so ordinary. You’ll hear stories like mine a million times throughout your life. Recovery happened DESPITE the fact I’m not remarkable or special, despite the fact I have flaws, and despite the fact, at my core, I am just a human being like you. I am special to some people, and that’s okay, but as far as who I am, I’m a pretty ordinary human. I guess my point is that you don’t need to be special to recover, because that’s what I used to think reading other peoples blogs. I’m ordinary, I had a lot of brilliant help and here I am, recovered.