Biting Back

Long time, no blog post. 

Normally this is because things have been going well in my life. Either I’m feeling really positive and motivated or I’m able to keep my head down and just keep trudging through. But I’ve really been having a miserable time of it lately, and didn’t know how to convey it. 

It’s difficult to admit when I’m struggling, because inherent in my desire to be perfect is a want to do recovery without any errors or lapses. I want people to be proud of how well I’m doing, and I want to be seen as a positive example for other people who are dealing with mental illnesses.

But for the past few weeks I’ve just felt like I’ve been slipping down a slope into a sort of black abyss. The only thing keeping me eating is a promise to my dietitian to not start skipping things, though the thought of doing so has definitely crossed my mind more than once. A better estimate would probably be more like a million. Every time I think of putting another bite in my mouth, my brain goes into mechanical mode and I robotically start chewing and swallowing while my mind remains completely blank. And immediately after finishing a meal, I’m bombarded with thoughts of how gross I am, how fat I am, and how much I abhor the idea of feeding myself. I know that the alternative is some level of care, but all too often that sounds reassuring. No more preparing my meals, no more triggering situations that real life brings with it, and the ability to let my disorder take the reins and dictate whether or not I feel like eating. Obviously the expectation is that I do, but there’s no impetus on me to be 100%, because that’s why I would be in treatment: as a result of my having problems with compliance.

Sometimes I wish for nothing more than to simply be left alone. To exercise as much as I want to do. To avoid eating if that’s what I feel like doing. To not be poked and prodded to keep venturing outside of my comfort zone, whether that be engaging with others despite my severe social anxiety, or trying something new that I’ve never done before without any will to do so. The darkness of the abyss seems inviting, like a respite from the often overwhelming brightness that the real world provides. I feel like there’s a spotlight on me, or a million unblinking eyes, all watching and waiting for me to make a mistake. The problem is, I really want to make a mistake. And another one. And another one.

There are other times where I feel slightly more motivated. I get into my “just do it” mentality and just keep on trucking. I figure that I haven’t really experienced what true recovery or maintenance feels like, so I might as well give it a shot. My disordered eating habits go back way farther than the few months of my life that I was in treatment. I may have been able to maintain a weight, but that was through episodes of bingeing, restricting, and overexercising. I have had an unhealthy relationship with food for a long time now, and honestly don’t remember what it feels like to have no negative energy about it.

Just yesterday I was invited out to a belated lunch with friends after already having eaten lunch that day. I went into full blown panic mode. Maybe I wouldn’t order anything. Maybe I would choose something, but not touch it and save it for later. But then, in the interest of appearing normalized, I decided to order something that more or less correlated to my dinner exchanges and switched the order of that and my afternoon snack. My eating disorder was absolutely screaming its head off at me. You disgusting, awful, gross, fat pig of a human being. How dare you eat something, especially something with unknown quantities of exchanges. How dare you eat at such an irregular time. It was literal hell inside my head. And it didn’t help that I was able to sit there and closely monitor the pace at which and the quantity of their meal that everyone else ate. I laughed and I smiled and I pretended everything was okay, but inside, I felt like I was dying. 

I know my body isn’t counting. It doesn’t know that I have to have a certain amount of exchanges at any given point of the day. It just recognizes, and is grateful for, whatever energy I provide it with. And I know that my metabolism isn’t working at the pace of a slug riding a tortoise anymore; in fact, it’s probably more efficient than your average person’s due to the quantity of times I eat per day. But that doesn’t silence my eating disorder. It takes every act of defiance against it as personally as it can and makes it its mission to make me suffer for it. 

I feel like everyone has this image of me as this girl who was able to make a miraculous recovery. And I feel like I fail them every time I struggle. Every time I admit to slipping up, I feel like I’m letting people down, never mind myself. I have never been able to see recovery as something I do for me; rather, I’ve always fought this battle for others. I imagine how disappointed my family, my friends, and my team would be in me if I relapsed. And most of the time, this is enough fuel to keep me moving forward, albeit pretty slowly.

But other times, I’m not strong enough. I always thought that weight restoration would be the hardest part, but as I’ve mentioned a billion times, weight maintenance is infinitely more difficult. Suddenly it’s on you to not let your eating disorder in. When I was weight restoring, it was fine to have negative thoughts and act out on them. Obviously, it wasn’t encouraged, and if I made enough of them, I would move backwards, but there wasn’t as much pressure to always be on all the time. Now that I’m weight restored, however, it’s my job to make sure my health doesn’t waver. And there’s so much in me that wants to hear the words “You’ve lost weight,” that I heard so often when I was really acutely ill. Every week I get the assurance that my weight has remained stable, a little flicker of hope in my chest is extinguished. There’s no happiness in learning I’ve stayed the same weight. There’s no satisfaction in knowing that I’ve managed to adhere to my meal plan.

I know that this is something I need to work on. I need to start trying to recover for me. Obviously, there are plenty of other reasons and motivators to keep working, but I need to find the strength and the drive within me to keep fighting. 

When I was really sick, I was often asked what motivated me to get better, and had no answer. Nothing seemed worthwhile. I was so consumed by my disordered thoughts that I believed wholeheartedly that my life was not worth preserving. Sometimes I still have this terrible thought. Yesterday was a prime example; I said the words “I wish I was dead,” aloud. And I wondered at the truth of them. In that moment, I was struggling so much that I truly wished for the thoughts to be permanently silenced, whatever the cost.

That’s how dark this gets sometimes. The reality is that I am far from perfect. I make errors and give in sometimes just like others do. This is one of the hardest pills to swallow, since even being ill was born out of a desire to better myself somehow. But I need to learn how to keep my head up even when I’m faced with the blackest of futures.

I need to fight, one bite back at a time. 

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6 thoughts on “Biting Back

  1. Emma, your struggles portray the reality of eating disorder recovery- it’s not perfect and it’s tough. Your ability to remain authentic in your journey is more inspirational than being a person who only shares “recovery wins” and in doing so perpetuates the facade that ED recovery is as simple as “just eating” scary foods. I think its important to be honest and show those who may not know much about EDs that they ARE a mental illness and consequently physical health doesn’t equate to everything being better, and it certainly does not mean that someone is recovered. Beating an eating disorder is a complex, dynamic, and tumultuous process. Never feel guilty for being honest and expressing the truth. We love you even when you struggle because we understand that that is part of the process. Just keep trying and fighting the best you can. We support you in TRYING to win. Give it your best, that’s all you can do. One day at a time, some will be better than others. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Recently I’ve had the chance to venture outside my comfort zone and learn about many new aspects of the human condition.The more I learn about chronic disease, mental illness, and addiction, the more I understand that backsliding episodes are part of the recovery in all three areas. I think you’re doing great! What courage–I admire you, my friend. I hope this long dark period is bringing you to the light soon!

    Pam

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dearest Emma- thank you for sharing these thoughts – they make perfect sense to me so I’m glad that you are putting it all out there. Recovery is one step at a time and some days those steps are so hard. I continue to pray for you as I do many others who struggle with anxiety and depression. I’ve seen people struggle with various illnesses and disease and mental illness and most everyone will say that mental illness is far harder to deal with. A lot of people think it’s just “mind over matter” but the intricacies of the mind/brain are so complicated. This is where my faith comes in. The not knowing is frustrating so I daily have to give my worries, cares and frustrations over to Him who is all knowing. 1Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” God knows you better than you know yourself and loves you more than you could possibly imagine. His purposes are not always clear to us so we can only look to Him for strength on the journey. You have showed so much strength even during those dark days. Thank you for being YOU and sharing your vulnerability. What a wonderful world it would be if more people shared from the heart like you. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

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