I have been working on a post discussing how we can let go of our sick identity for some weeks now but am finding it a difficult one to write. Therefore, in this post I thought it may be useful to introduce some of these ideas and themes in order to spark discussion and hopefully outline some of the things that make saying goodbye to your ED so difficult.
I recently saw a post by Jennifer Rollin captioned “You don’t need to use eating disorder behaviours to communicate “actually i’m not ok.”, and I thought this was a concept worth exploring further.
Like many of you I’m sure, I have often found myself turning to ED behaviours in order to deal with unpleasant emotions or tough times. This is because my ED has acted as a coping mechanism, be it a toxic one for the last year, and so I have formed neural pathways that lead straight to restriction as the answer to many of my problems. As a result of this, whilst I have been more able to stop engaging in these behviours as a result of developing a recovery mindset and changing my attitudes towards weight gain, I am still finding myself attached to my illness. Consequently, this post resonated with me and reminded me of the need to replace anorexia with healthier ways of coping in order to better explore and deal with my feelings.
In a recent entry I discussed how I was attempting mindfulness in a bid to fill this position and promised an update on how I was getting on. I have found it more useful than expected and have in particular benefitted from practicing breathing exercises. They have served me especially well when trying to ground myself in the times I've felt the ED thoughts closing in on me, and as a result I have noticed I am definitely more able to rationalise my thoughts. I do however think that this may come as a surprise to those close to me, as despite knowing that it is a good strategy for me, I have often been reluctant to or neglectful in using it. One reason for this is that I have almost found it frustrating being able to calm myself down as part of me actually wants to experience the stress and anxiety that the mindfulness is preventing from surfacing. I have discussed this with my therapist and we established that I fear I will be missing something important by applying the technique as I hold the belief that stress will serve me well in signalling the need to respond to a given situation. In order to tackle this, we have been talking about the reality of this claim, as if these negative feelings lead to restriction, then I am only setting myself up to be even less equipped to properly deal with them. Leading on from this I am therefore learning to adopt the view that mindfulness is the preferable short term solution to coping with distressing emotions, and so I now need to work on the next step.
This is about looking at long term solutions to these emotions so that I am able to properly process them rather than just surpressing them. For many ED sufferers, there will be underlying mental health issues or surpressed trauma that you may not have been able to access or even been aware of as they were masked by your ED. I feel this has been the case for me, and so now that I am moving further away from my illness I am in a better headspace to start working through these issues which will not only help prevent relapse, but will contribute to the freedom I am aiming for. This is by no means going to be an easy process and I am yet to discover what it will look like or what I will be facing, however I am grateful that I will be able to embark upon it.
I feel I am sometimes guilty of creating an overly idealised view of a recovered lifestyle, as the over side of this journey is unlikely to be exclusively rainbows and unicorns. In fact it’s probably still going to be really tough and we may learn more about ourselves than we expected and some of that will probably not be too pleasant. That said, we cannot just hide behind our ED’s forever, and I would rather continue to work on myself and be able to do so with the skills that recovery has taught me alongside the greater mental capacity that it has allowed.
This post ended up taking a different path than I had envisioned, however I may revisit this topic to discuss the other ways in which we can communicate that we are not okay in the future. I think what I'm trying to portray here though, is that we can find other ways to deal with the hard times life throws at us, and so our fear of encountering difficult emotions is not a valid reason to cling onto our ED's. Your ED has never ever served you well despite what it tricks you into believing, and so whilst it may be scary facing up to the unknown that awaits in your recovered life, we know that there is nothing good in the depths of this illness. Therefore, it is always going to be worth it.
More from me soon,
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3