P – The Best Parts of Eating Disorder Recovery

(I didn’t know what letter to put this under, so I settled for ‘P’ because in this article I focus on the parts of recovery. Nevertheless, I was considering ‘X’ as sort of substitute for when there are too many words in a title, and also because I don’t know what topic to write about that could begin with ‘x.’)

Anyway, it’s a good thing that there is plenty of stuff out there on the physical and mental benefits that come with eating disorder recovery. It’s important that this positive and motivating information is available, because recovery can be extremely difficult, time consuming and frightening.

But there are parts of recovery that may fall under the radar. There are small moments that can bring unacknowledged joy and quiet pride. They are special, well-deserved and highly satisfying, especially when you realise how far you have come.

These can include, and are definitely not limited to:

  • A ‘guilty indulgence’ is called that because it is expensive. Doughnut dinosaurs and fancy cake wedges that you need 10 napkins for are unnecessary but a great treat.
  • Your brain becomes a self-judgement-free zone.
  • You look forward to take-away and don’t dread it.
  • Clothes are no longer too big or too small because your weight is finally stable.
  • Hot chips with aioli become a rebellious quick lunch.
  • Say hello to lolly-bags at birthday parties again!
  • The mirror is now used for putting on make-up, styling hair, and brushing teeth, not scrutinising yourself.
  • You have more headspace for daydreams, hopes, and fantasies.
  • You walk with confidence and aren’t ashamed of your appearance.
  • Celebrations such as birthdays, Easter and Christmas are not clouded with resentment or guilt.
  • With less doctor’s appointments comes a crazy amount of free time, to spend however you want.
  • Your life is not ruled by fear, hate, or… rules. (See what I did there?!)
  • You get a much higher capacity to work on yourself, your relationships, your studies/career, and your cheesy pick-up lines.
  • You won’t panic if there is a party with a terrible assortment of ‘food’ fit only for a 14 year old caveman.
  • Photos taken of yourself by others are alright.
  • Exercise is for health, not weight-control, and so it is stress and guilt free.
  • Like in a video game, you have levelled up in independence, fortitude, endurance, weapons, strength, clarity and health.
  • Your relationships with others can improve as you become more relaxed and less suspicious or paranoid.
  • You can let yourself rest and become fully immersed in a movie, TV show or book, with no background urges nagging at you.
  • You are much more present in your relationships with friends, family and animals.
  • Without behaviours such as binges and purges, you save a LOT of money.
  • If you have children, you can be a healthier and happier role model for them. And if you have friends, you can be a role model for them too.
  • Holidays and trips away are soooo much easier.
  • No more lies or sneaking around. You can finally be more honest and direct.
  • You’ve become better at communicating your needs and wants.
  • Consuming junk food and confectionery is enjoyable and does not lead to a chaotic spiral of doom.
  • You’re able to understand and express your thoughts and emotions better.
  • You live with the knowledge that you literally beat death and overcame an enormous and terrifying challenge.

 

Perhaps some of these apply to you, but not all of them. Yet. Guess what, keep up the hard work and they all will. And to those who do not suffer from an eating disorder but are still bothering to read this, hopefully you are able to comprehend how an eating disorder is so much more complex than eating poorly.

Take care of yourself.

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P – Pride

The other day I realised that I was over eight months self harm free. I felt something stir within me, something that I had not felt in a long time. It was a really powerful feeling and it seemed to fill up my whole body… No, don’t worry, it wasn’t a violent cannibalistic urge, or a desire to join ISIS. This strong sensation inside of me was actually pride.

This may not seem very significant. Surely it would be more exciting if I had realised my dreams of fulfillment lay in public nudity or learning the body language of spiders.

But it was, in fact, extremely noteworthy. Because like many who suffer from a mental illness, experiencing feelings of pride are few and far between.

I’m not talking about being proud of having a mental illness. Certainly, it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not really trophy worthy. It would be like congratulating someone for having cancer. Recovery, on the other hand, is definitely worthy of praise.

People with mental illness accomplish tremendous feats on a daily basis. Those recovering from eating disorders try to wade through a sea of terror and eat their meals. Those with social anxiety force themselves to go to the party, despite desperately yearning to stay at home. Those who are clinically depressed push themselves to get dressed and leave the house, even though they feel like they are capable of nothing more than breathing. Every unhealthy behaviour delayed, every healthy meal consumed, every dangerous urge avoided, every breath consciously slowed.

What is easy for many is incredibly difficult for those with a mental illness, and that should be acknowledged. Every day survived to the best of your ability is a victory.

And the bigger signs of progress – the weeks or months free of a particular behaviour, the weight restored or lost to a healthy level, the honesty with which you evaluate yourself and accept help, learning to be compassionate towards yourself despite what your head tells you – they each deserve an Oscar/Nobel Peace Prize/$10,000 gift card.

Unfortunately it is all too easy to disregard any progress, even if it is objectively significant. Common symptoms of someone with mental health problems can include low self-esteem, a distorted view of oneself and a highly critical internal dialogue. As a result we belittle ourselves for the situation that we are in and the illness convinces us that everything is our fault. Any progress isn’t good enough, it didn’t come about quick enough, there is still too long to go, and it should have been better executed. Or it doesn’t even feel good.

Take recovering from an eating disorder. Consuming a food item that you haven’t touched for years, not restricting any food group, or resting instead of over-exercising – surely accomplishing these insanely difficult feats would be met with some sort of exhausted pride, perhaps similar to that of finishing a marathon? Nope. After valiantly fighting the clutches of an eating disorder in an effort to be healthy and safe, the person is met with intense guilt, anxiety and worry.

It’s a vicious cycle because the motivation and sense of accomplishment that comes from realising how far you have come in your personal recovery is quelled by the mental illness itself: it simply wants to keep us trapped in our anxious negativity and hopelessness. Bastard.

So let’s try the following.

Currently, your illness might not let you say or believe it, so I will say it for you: congratulations on making it this far. Well done on not dying. Good on you for holding on and trying your best. You have every right to be proud of yourself, no matter what.

And guess what, believe me, eventually you will make enough progress that the illness will further relinquish its hold on you and you will finally revel in the unique and wholesome feeling that is pride… as a result of your mental health achievements. Yes, they are achievements and they are noteworthy.

 

Take care everyone. I truly appreciate any likes, comments and shares :o)