I never thought an eating disorder would ever happen to me. Hitting me like a ton of bricks, I fell for the persuasive voices and never-ending, torturous thoughts. Before I knew it, I was sucked into a deathly cycle and it felt like nothing could stop it. Thankfully, with the concern of those around me and quick action of my peers and loved ones, I was fortunate enough to receive rapid and effective help, forcing me to acknowledge the seriousness and severity of my eating disorder and making it time to take back charge of my health.
My journey to where I am now has been long - five years in the making - with even longer to go. The amount of help I have received has been astonishing, the services (for the most part) were brilliant, and the unconditional love and support from those close to me made me feel overwhelmingly blessed. I can say with absolute certainty that my life was saved by those close to me and is something I will be forever appreciative of.
Instead of talking about my personal story, I have compiled a list of what I wish I had known when I first started my recovery journey, as well as things I have learned and implemented in my life to ensure my recovery trajectory remains in an ever-moving, positive direction.
· Recovery is not linear - slip ups are common, but they are in no way failures, nor are they the end of your recovery journey. I like to think of them as learning steps and experiences, there is always a lesson to be learned in life and it’s about having the mentality to view these situations in a different light.
· One person’s journey, issues, and struggles may not be the same as yours. That does not invalidate your disorder or another’s, and it does not mean that your illness is not as severe as someone else’s. Eating disorders have a nasty habit of turning things into competitions.
· Eating disorders are psychological illnesses – the physical consequences are just that - consequences. You do not need to be underweight to have an eating disorder. People of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds suffer from these horrific illnesses and each and every case is as valid as the next.
· For some of us, recovery from an eating disorder becomes less about eradicating the voices, and more about turning down the volume of them and giving them less power over the way in which you live your life. For me, I still have disordered thoughts, but I refuse to let the disordered voices in my head have power over my actions anymore – this life is mine and I will live it to the best of my abilities that my health allows me.
· It is okay to not be okay. Admitting that you need help, and receiving help is not a sign of weakness. I view it as an action of strength and courage. Regular appointments with a variety of healthcare professionals all aided in my repertoire of recovery strategies, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Every person is unique and individual in the style of recovery which works best for them. In addition to this, going back to professional care once being previously discharged does not mean you have failed. I was discharged from services and at a later date found myself in a different circumstance which required their assistance again – the service was not disappointed in me. I was not disappointed in myself either.
· Be proud of who you are and how far you have come. One beautiful thing about being in recovery is that you learn so much about the strength you have and the natural beauty within you. I have grown and matured in ways that some of my peers may never do, becoming so much more aware of myself and the sensitivity of life. Be a warrior, stand tall, stand proud, never be ashamed.
· Do not compare yourself to anyone else – those recovering, recovered, or otherwise. This will only get you on a one-way street to negativity and a mindset hard to shake. Would you compare an apple to a pen or to a shoe? Of course not! That’s absolutely ludicrous! The same goes for humans – we are far too unique and different to waste our time harassing ourselves about what we should be, what we aren’t, or what we will never be.
· Do not feel bad, or be afraid, of taking time out of work, or schooling, or lessening your load in order to aid in your recovery. In hindsight, taking a year off school and working was probably one of the best things I ever did. It enabled me to put therapy in the forefront of my goals, learning who I was without any study, and was a time when some huge milestones in my recovery were made. Because of this year, I am now able to work part time, as well as study toward my degree at university without compromising the state of both my mental and physical health. Small compromises in the short term that may feel like big sacrifices can often lead to the best long-term outcome.
In addition to this, on a more personal note specific to me, here’s a few things that I do every day to ensure that I keep on an upward trajectory.
· Keep a gratitude journal to document the non-number related victories in your day. It can be hard at first, but it does get easier with time. These victories and positives can be as small as the sun shining, a good car journey in traffic, a stranger smiling at you, to something like meeting a friend, getting an award or a good grade or playing a good game in your chosen sport.
· Keep in contact with your friends and family. It can be so easy to be reclusive and cut people off due to negative thoughts, but keeping social is a key way of ensuring that your focus is not always internal (which can lead to a lot of ruminating and negative thoughts about yourself). It doesn’t have to be anything big – a favourite drink at a café, going over to a friend’s place for the afternoon, or taking a light walk – but the contact with others can make you feel less alone, and a bit more human when you chat about the random little things going on in your lives. Additionally, they can be amazing sounding walls and motivators when you are feeling down or a bit off – reach out. Most people aren’t used to personally knowing someone with an eating disorder so will not know what to say or do, so you may need to be the initiator of things and let them know what they can do that will help you along your journey.
· Never sacrifice the needs of my health for the needs of others. It sounds blunt and some may read this and think it is selfish, but I view it as the highest way of respecting my body, my needs, and myself. After all, how do you expect yourself to be capable of being the best person you can be towards others if you are not practising what you preach and are not good in yourself?
· Every day, I tell myself, “I look s**t hot today”. For the most part, this gives me a little chuckle and sets my day off on a light-hearted note. I use it as a way of ensuring that I hear at least one positive remark about myself each day. On some days, this isn’t the case, and I immediately shrug it off, but at least I have tried.
If you have to take away anything from this, let it be these sets of three words that I now choose to live by:
You are enough!
Never give up!
State, not weight!