Health before pride

I have always had a hard time confessing when I’m struggling. Well, actually it depends on the context of the problem. I didn’t mind having trouble adapting to working a few weeks ago, because it’s common to get stressed out when starting a new job. It was fine to ask for help when I had an increase of PTSD symptoms over the winter too, because most people in my situation would have felt the same way.

So I don’t seem to feel ashamed about depressive or anxious thoughts which are purely a reaction to circumstances. What I DO hate is struggling with thoughts and urges related to either the eating disorder or self harm. It frustrates me and makes me feel like a bit of a hypocrite, given my usual “recovery is awesome!” stance. Ninety percent of the time my eating disorder doesn’t bother talking to me any more, because it knows I won’t respond. But occasionally it likes to ambush me when I least expect it, just for shits and giggles. I would have to say that it must be a blue moon, except I know that the next blue moon occurs at the end of August 2012…

This might seem a bit weird given my non-body dysmorphic ED history, but I feel too big. Not fat – I see myself accurately in the mirror, I know I am at a healthy weight and could even stand to gain another 5-10lbs. I am quite aware that I am more attractive at this size than smaller. When I say I feel too big, it’s not a reflection of any cultural, peer-related or personal aesthetic or physical standards. What I mean is that I feel overwhelmed by anxiety and despondency, the practicalities of being an independent adult are overwhelming, and the corresponding physical state to the previous occurrences of this emotional state has been an anorexic one. Being at a normal weight and feeling utterly battered produces a weird sort of cognitive dissonance, as if I am in the wrong body. It’s similar to the feeling I’ve had when I’ve visited York University in the last two years. There, my brain associates a geographical location with a particular body size and set of sensations, and not being ill makes me feel disorientated. In this case, it feels more like the set of thoughts and emotions I’m experiencing don’t match the body I’m in. People always seem to find it hard to understand that someone without body dysmorphia can find being at a healthy weight just as torturous as someone who sees themselves through whale-shaped glasses, but I would like them to come and spend an hour in my head when this sort of thing is going on. It’s really hard to explain too. I see why so many people fall for the cultural explanation.

As with my occasional self harm urges, the problem is not really the thoughts themselves but what I DO with them. Most of the time I ignore them and they go away. Sometimes I ignore them and they don’t go away, and eventually I find myself acting on them in various almost imperceptible ways, so I have to catch myself before things escalate. This is easier said than done, because my natural reaction – hell, the natural reaction of most people with eating disorders – is to mentally put my hands over my eyes and then, six months later in full relapse, complain of having been blind. I’m not saying these are conscious decisions, I’ve read too many research articles to believe that – but it’s still easy to see where things went wrong in hindsight.

What I’ve found over the last two and a half years is that one of the most effective things I can do to stop this happening is to write about it. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, so shining a spotlight on wayward thoughts and behaviours in recovery can have the effect of pouring a bucket of water over the Wicked Witch. It’s not that I need the reassurance of commenters – there’s no point telling me that I’m not too big, because it’s not THAT sort of big, if you get my meaning, which you may or may not depending on how coherent this post turns out to be. All I need is to get past the lingering shame of occasional struggles and actually talk about it.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a girl who was trying to decide whether to go to college this autumn or to take a year out to recover more fully from her eating disorder first, and one of the deciding factors for her was what her family and friends would think of her if she admitted that she wasn’t ready. She explicitly asked for my opinion, so I told her that recovery required putting your health before your pride. Most of the time that shame is misplaced anyway – what makes someone a stronger person, taking the road of very little psychological resistance and remaining isolated and ill, or doing something which scares them and asking for help?

Sometimes I worry that having ED thoughts and urges when under stress makes me a liar or a hypocrite, because it can be so variable – some weeks I feel like a normal 26 year old with no mental health problems, and then a week later I can be really fighting to keep my head above water. But that’s just dumb. This is what recovery is like. I go through periods when the ED is completely absent; when it is whispering but easily hushed; and when it’s shouting obscenities in my ears and I start to feel like I would do anything to shut it up. If I only wrote about the good OR hard times so as not to contradict myself my blog would only show half the picture. It matters more to know that I can carry on taking care of myself when things are crappy than when there isn’t much stress in my life.

Health before pride. I like it, if I do say so myself.

P.S.: WordPress stats inform me that this is my 600th post 🙂

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8 responses to “Health before pride

  1. First, I am really sorry you feel this way. Second, I absolutely empathise. A few years ago, I kept taking time off work to try to recover (I was signed off sick by the professionals treating me). Every time I returned to work heavier, many people (in kindness) would say things like “I’m so glad you’re better”; or, “you look great”. Yet, I felt totally screwed up and very anorexic in my mind. I felt like saying “please stop telling me I look better because I feel sh*t”. I felt I was in the wrong body because my inner thoughts were not reflected by my healthier body. I also put pressure on myself, believing that I should feel OK because I looked better than I had looked when I was emaciated. I think a lot of people will identify with what you are writing.

    Oh, and congrats on the 600th post 🙂

  2. I just re-read my comment above… When I said that I am really sorry you feel this way, I meant that I’m sorry if you’re feeling a bit crappy at the moment, not sorry that you have good and bad times in recovery. I have never met a perfect recovery specimen from an ED… I’m not sure such a person exists (?). I would suspect that everyone has to work hard to stay well. But once we have experienced wellness, or a more recovered state, then we recognise that in general it’s a far better state than the sick state.

    Take care… xx

  3. Katie!!!!!
    I’m sorry to hear the disordered thoughts are giving you a hard time, but as always, you never fail to impress me with your strength and courage to stand your ground and face whatever self-destructive coping mechanism as NOT AN OPTION 🙂
    To be honest I can really empathize with you right now…I consider myself recovered, as I don’t engage in ED behaviours or want to most of the time…but occasionally, like now, that I’m feeling somewhat directionless & somehow desperate to have something concrete on what to focus, the thoughts and urges come creeping in…and before you know it I’m debating on whether I really “need” that ice-cream as opposed to which flavours I want!
    I’m guessing what you mean by feeling too big is kind of how I often used to feel when weight restored but a complete mess psychologically (not saying you’re a complete mess, all the opposite!) but it was almost as if when I was a skeletal golum-like creature I felt like my body was some-what representative of how I felt mentally, a small worthless mess…and being in a healthy body but a not so healthy mind made me feel much more trapped somehow as everybody thought I was fine..when I really felt more terrified than ever…I’m not sure if I’m making much sense here…let alone being at all helpfulll…it’s definitely been a great help to me to read this though….I feel rather ashamed of slightly engaging in these stupid thoughts instead of talking to someone about them…anyway I think it’s great you are so incredibly honest about these feelings as it’s the most difficult thing to do…perhaps it might be a good idea to visit your relapse prevention cards 🙂
    Hope this didn’t sound patronizing, I’m typing quickly cause I’m off to meet someone for dinner in Barcelona!
    *sending you hugs & love from across the sea*
    Take care katie wonderful !

  4. I don’t think there’s anything hypocritical about finding recovery hard sometimes. Admitting that you find things hard and working out what to do about it is a part of recovery too. I can completely relate to what you said about feeling uncomfortable in your body without body dysmophia, because I’ve felt that way a lot and I still don’t really understand it. Likewise, I don’t really understand why some days feel harder- sometimes there’s an obvious trigger but some days just feel ‘bad’ for no recognisable reason. Maybe it’s hormonal or maybe it’s some stress I’ve ignored and pushed to the back of my mind. So I don’t think you need to feel ashamed for feeling bad when your feelings aren’t necessarily related to the circumstances, because it sounds like you’re dealing with it really well given the circumstances.
    I really hope you feel better soon.
    P.S. I had no idea that blue moons were real phenomena! Off to Wikipedia it now.

  5. I’m really sorry that you’re having these struggles Katie, but pleased that you had the guts to write about it (as part of your strategy for fighting these thoughts). As others have said there is no shame in the fact that you still experience thoughts and urges related to your eating disorder but I can understand your frustration. It’s what you do with the thoughts that shows how far you have come… but I think all I am doing here is (badly) paraphrasing your post. Thank you for sharing this with us as I think it is really valuable (and makes for a far more realistic portrayal of the awesomeness of recovery – ie. you’re still awesome, but that doesn’t mean life is all kittens and daisies!).

    I really relate to feeling overwhelmed by the concept of adulthood – I think that is the main problem that has kept me attached to an eating disorder for so long. The eating disorder is certainly coming in to play as a ‘refuge’ (haha – what a crap refuge) from the anxiety and despondency that ‘my future as an adult’ is causing me at the moment. Unfortunately I am acting on the thoughts and urges, which only emphasises my lack of ability to cope… self-fulfilling prophecies and all that.

    Hope things start to feel less overwhelming soon and that sharing this has helped in some way.

    There’s no hurry – take adulthood in manageable bite-sized portions!

    x x x

  6. Your blog documents the recovery process, ups and downs. That’s what makes it honest, and relatable too. If people were under the illusion that recovery is all sunshine and roses, then those that were struggling would feel alienated and probably frustrated with themselves.

    I like what Ursus said very much, and I also relate to associating certain places and experiences with being a certain size. At college when I went back for the second year of A-Levels after attending part time through the first when I was at an anorexic weight at 18, I felt completely out of place, dazed, confused, I barely spoke because the environement seemed unfamiliar even though I’d been there for hours before. I suppose even surroundings can be (sorry, no other word) ‘triggering’?

    *hugs*

    xxx

  7. Thanks for being so honest and having the guts to be so open about your feelings. I, too, find writing therapeutic… I admire you a lot, you know!

  8. I was always a high achiever, the sort of person who would be disappointed to come second and would rather die than fail. When my OCD reached its peak I had to drop out of university and take a year out to recover – and I was more afraid of what others would think than anythibg else.

    I know now that it was the right decision, but I am still paranoid that people see me as weak, flawed and no good because of my year off.

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