How to keep up Recovery during Lockdown - CV19
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
As promised, I'm back today with some advice on how to maintain recovery motivation during lockdown (and just generally). I hope this can provide you with some strategies to help tackle the fears I discussed in my last post, and maybe give you that push you need to stay on track during these tough times.
1. Get into a routine (Whatever suits you)
Keeping up a routine has been key to the maintenance of my recovery during social isolation, as I have found that without it, I can start to feel a bit lost. For me this means eating my meals and snacks within set times, as well as trying to keep engaging in daily activities.
In order to ensure I'm eating regularly, I have been using an app called 'Recovery Records' that my therapist introduced me to last week as a result of our sessions moving online. It allows you to connect with your clinician so they can access the data you record: your meals and snacks, as well as your mood and ED behaviours, such as your urges to binge, restrict, body check and exercise. The app also has further features, such as allowing you to complete clinical questionnaires and surveys, as well as connect with other users and access motivational messages. In addition to this, it can send you reminders to log your food at given times, which I have found incredibly useful, as it means I can keep track of my day and don't have to rely on my natural hunger queues, which I am not yet able to fully trust. I also enjoy the fact my therapist can see my intake as it helps to keep me accountable. I am recovering for myself, but it can be handy to continue checking in with someone else so that your ED voice doesn't have as much scope to take over.
For each of us, routine will look very different, because as we've said previously - different bodies, different needs. Personally I am trying to work into my day some reading and blogging, as well as speaking to my girlfriend, walking the dog and spending time with my family, but this is just what suits me! I am trying to set realistic goals, and challenging not being too hard on myself if I am unable to meet them all. I find it's less about having a strict timetable that I know will create too much pressure, and more about having a rough idea of activities I can engage in when I want to, and when I'm feeling up to it, or in need of a distraction.
2. Self Care (Something that makes YOU feel good, not what you think self care looks like)
Looking after ourselves can seem like the last thing we want to do at a time when we are a bit emotionally drained and generally down in the dumps, but we can try and implement it as best we can to help maintain our recovery. Self care does not have to be all about extravagant face masks and complex skin care routines, it's individual to you! I have been trying to wake up early so I can shower, get dressed and do my hair every morning, and for me this is what sets up my day and gets me into a positive mindset. This may not be applicable to you, and that's okay! It's also okay if you find something that you think is working, and then one day you just aren't able to do it, and likewise it's okay if you do it and you're still in a rubbish mood afterwards!
I think it's important when implementing self care to remember that our ED's thrive off rigidity. Unfortunately this means they can twist even the nice things we do to look after ourselves into obsessions, and try to steal any joy we get from them. The best thing we can do to combat this though, is to be prepared. If we can recognise when our ED voice is taking over then we can chose to turn it off using opposite actions. We know this won't necessarily be easy, as recovery isn't comfortable, but we can repeat to ourselves the real reasons we're completing a task and shut down those ideas our ED is pushing on us.
For example, I try to wash my face every morning and again every night before bed, and I do this because I enjoy the way it makes me feel - fresh and clean. For me this is a good form of self care as I get pleasure from it and it helps provide some structure to my day. Despite this, I have to regularly check in and remind myself that this is why I'm doing it, as otherwise I know it could become disordered. I am prone to getting intrusive thoughts such as those that tell me 'I must wash my face, or else X will happen', or those that convince me that 'Just washing it once is not enough, and I must repeat the process Z number of times'. It can be exhausting having to constantly assess whether your thoughts or actions are genuine or fuelled by your illness, but I promise you that over time it gets easier to spot the difference. I'm only a few weeks into recovery from my latest relapse, and I am already much more able to identify them. As we know, identification is always the first step to overcoming our ED thoughts: identify, challenge, repeat. One method I find helps me to pick out my disordered behaviours is to ask myself: 'Would I feel anxious if I didn't do this action?', and if the answer is 'yes', then I know I can't let myself do it. Yes the anxiety will be bad, but it won't last forever, and it won't be nearly as bad as spending the rest of my life like this.
That may have seemed like a bit of a tangent away from 'self care' as it's traditionally regarded, but I want to get across the point that self care is not the activity itself, but the feeling you get from it. It doesn't matter whether you're having a shower, painting your nails, or putting make up on, if it makes you happy, or at least feel slightly better then that's a form of looking after yourself, and during hard times it's important we can find little things that lift our spirits, even momentarily.
3. View it as a Recovery Opportunity
Turning a global pandemic into an opportunity for you to recover from your ED may seem a bit self-centred or just down right strange to many, but hear me out okay!
If you haven't already, take a look at my latest blog post https://therecoverybean.wixsite.com/therecoverybean/post/fears-during-lockdown-cv19 to see how I'm opting to view the struggles of lockdown, as a chance to challenge my phobia of change as well as different fear foods and ED behaviours. It may be terrifying, and it might be unplanned for, but like it or not the current situation is forcing us to tackle a lot of our ED rules sooner or more directly than we would have liked. The way I see it, we can lean into this and embrace it as the chance to come out the other side one step closer to full recovery, or we can hide away and resign to spending the rest of our lives stuck in this horrible ED mindset. I know which one I'm choosing.
I'm aware this is a very overwhelming suggestion, and one I'm having to tell myself repeatedly that I'm up to, as just like many of you, I'm really scared! So aside from the big challenges the lockdown is putting us up to, I'm trying to find the ways in which it is actually helping my recovery run a little smoother. For example, as I am not currently going to work, I don't have to wear restrictive clothes everyday, and so this is aiding my recovery as it's helping me manage the physical discomfort of weight gain such as bloating. Furthermore, it is allowing me to finally get into a proper pattern of regular eating, as sometimes being on a shift can make that difficult. It has also allowed me to dedicate more time to working out my goals and motivations in recovery, as well as allowing me to find new distractions and new coping mechanisms that I can bring forward with me.
Yes, you could argue that due to the temporary nature of the situation, relying on especially the first two opportunities could result in a difficult adjustment when this period is over. I however, believe in embracing the small silver linings in life, and as there is no real certainty regarding an end date, I refuse not to. I don't think that from a place of recovery we can pay to much attention to when 'things will return to normal', as in it's essence, overcoming an ED means that everyday brings with it something new, lockdown or no lockdown, and so we can't get by just waiting for the time to be right. We are never going to feel ready to recover. Our fears can only become lessened through our actions and by repeatedly challenging them, and so living by that message, I think it is more than acceptable for us to view lockdown as a chance to commit ourselves fully to recovery.
4. Keep in touch with the outside world (no matter how you do it)
Being stuck at home all day, everyday, whether it be alone or with the people you live with can be a lot. Whatever your unique situation, it's completely normal for you to be feeling a bit lonely or fed up, or just generally trapped! In order to combat this I am trying to stay in touch with the outside world as best I can, but of course that brings it's challenges. For me, the most important contact I'm making is with my girlfriend as we haven't been able to self-isolate together (which is just about killing me!). We are Facetiming, texting, and Snapchatting each other as much as possible just to keep up with what the others doing, and so we can try to keep the distance we feel to a minimum. Obviously I know I'm extremely lucky to have her, as very often due to our ED's, it can be near impossible to maintain relationships and friendships as our illness makes putting others first difficult. This is because they force food to the centre of our world and so we can often be too distracted to really listen or care what the people around us are saying or doing. Due to this it may seem odd for you to suddenly strike up conversation with old friends or people you rarely see in day to day life due to the restrictions your ED puts on you, but this could be another opportunity that the lockdown is offering.
It's proving bothersome for me trying to manage how I'm using social media during this time, as there's a fine line between it being a tool to keep you connected, and it having a negative impact on your day. I have found that I am altering how I use platforms such as Instagram, so that instead of scrolling aimlessly like I would do normally, I am only clicking on people's stories if I have a genuine interest in what they might be up to, and if I'm looking to strike up a conversation with them. This is working for me, as like I said in my previous post, the urge to compare myself to people online is especially strong at the moment, due to not having any access to their 'behind the scenes', as well as the fact everyone is making an effort to be even more positive than normal. (It's fab that people are spreading nice messages and motivation, but when you're feeling miserable it's sometimes hard to see it that way!) Due to this, I know there is no point me accessing content that has the potential to make me feel worse, and so I am using social media as a way to engage with other people rather than just getting jealous, staring at picture perfect versions of their lives.
Getting away from this, I am also trying to spend more time outside which for me looks like sitting out in the garden (a luxury I know), and taking Morts on a walk. I'm aware this isn't an available option for everyone and that the lockdown rules are different around the world, but I've found comfort in seeing other people out and about on the field near my house, as it is surprisingly easy to forget that other people do exist when you're in the confines of your bedroom!
I have also found reading to be of great comfort to me, as even if I can't keep in the loop in this world, I can escape to other worlds through books. The same goes for finding a good TV show or film to watch! As much as keeping present is important, we also need to find distractions for when our thoughts get to loud, and connecting with different characters and different story lines can provide us with relief from listening to the seemingly never ending bad news stream.
5. Accept that this is going to be hard
My final piece of advice is applicable to all of the above, in that we have to remember that recovery is a struggle at the best of times, let alone when things are tough, and so we can't give ourselves a hard time if things aren't all smooth sailing. Recovery is a battle, and whilst we can prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities for it, it is never going to be a walk in the park.
I don't want to give the impression that my recovery is all shiny and perfect, because like pretty much everyone else's, it's no picnic, and there are lots of ups and downs. Just last night, after a week of writing these posts on how to manage recovery, I had a mini breakdown and was cursing past Mais for being so positive. When my girlfriend suggested I reread my own advice on how to handle extreme hunger (the cause of said upset), I just wanted to mock it, because nothing could ever ease the guilt and disgust I was experiencing!
We have to remember that our ED voices don't care if we've read some tips on how to quieten them... that doesn't make them want to control us any less. The only way we can stop being tortured by them is by strengthening our rational voices, and as lovely as it would be to just read an article and bam, we're fixed! That's just not how it works. We have to continually challenge the disordered thoughts through opposite actions, and deal with the anxiety and discomfort that this brings. It's about temporary pain for long term gain.
In the same way that our bodies don't know what a number on a BMI chart means, the way they don't care what anyone else eats, or how they exercise, and they way they don't care about how we look, they also don't know about what's happening in the world. The lockdown is frightening for everyone, and really difficult to navigate with an ED, but no matter what's happening externally, our bodies need us to nourish them all the same.
I know this post was a little wordy so congrats if you made it this far! This is not an exhaustive list and nor is it only applicable to recovery during lockdown, and so I may look at compiling some more concise tips, as I find it can be good to have short snappy messages or mantras you can repeat to yourself when you feel like you're headed off track.
Keep going everyone, more from me soon!
Mais // The Recovery Bean