Conversation is important. Especially when it comes to tough topics. I’ve found that simply talking about a problem instead of holding it all in and stewing over it helps me immensely, both mentally and emotionally. When I write about eating disorders, what is the first thought you have about someone who has one? Even I will admit that I automatically think: food. They have issues eating too little or eating too much. But underneath those food insecurities lies so much more.
For some, it is sexual abuse. For others it is fear of sexuality. One person might have a few wires crossed in their brain, or connections that are disconnected. But what if you were told that there is hardly ever a simple answer? I remember being very engrossed in my eating habits,and what was and was not going in my mouth, and yet my parents talked to me about my emotional state. They had noticed I wasn’t my usual happy self. In fact I was often irritable, and never seemed to want to participate in family outings or the like. The truth is, I was restricting. I started to lower my caloric intake and exercise more, and in turn my mood plummeted. I was depressed. And down the road, I became anxious, even more introverted than I normally was, and terribly afraid of social interactions. The simplest tasks seemed like a nightmare to me.
Sometimes those who have an eating disorder are told to “just eat more” or that they could benefit from “eating more ice cream”. Trust me, I had these thoughts too. If I could only eat more, if I could stop my obsessive exercising, if I could just be happy. It’s not that simple and it’s not just “about the food”. It’s really not about shoving calories down your throat and trying to be OK with it. No, someone with a mental illness; any kind of mental illness, must put in the work and effort. It’s not easy. It is often a full-time job that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day…but if you want to live a life that is “normal” and “healthy”, you have to put in the time. For yourself. And if you can’t only do it for yourself, do it for those who love you. I have found that seeking out healthy habits and recovery can’t happen for me if I’m not actively doing it for myself. I can feel guilty and horrible about making my family miserable for me, but it’s not enough. I have to want it for myself. I have to value myself enough to work on the hard stuff. Because at the end of the day, I am the one who has to be all right with who I am, and what I am doing. These are the reasons why I resisted inpatient. I was seeking out treatment and the doctor told me I had to go inpatient. In her notes, I believe her words were “we will not let her slip through the cracks again”. I told her no, I wouldn’t go. I know part of my reasoning was fear and ed, but lots of it was me. Knowing that if I wasn’t choosing inpatient, I wouldn’t put in the work. I’d eat the food, because I’d have to. But once I reached the weight that their little charts and scales approved, I would be released and go right back to old habits. Mentally I just wouldn’t be there. Nevertheless, this doctor was sure that I wasn’t able to do this alone. I think she thought there was some weird family dynamic going on (of course she would think that, obviously if a mother lets her child starve almost to death, she’s not a fit parent. Um hmmm.). But I was an adult at this point, so things got a little sticky. Oh, did I say a little? I meant a lot. Anyway- I still think I made the right decision at that juncture to fight authority and speak up for what I thought would benefit me. And look at me now. Look. At. Me. Now.
My point is- food is not the issue. Not the whole issue. It’s love, control, fear, insecurity, anxiety, hatred, guilt, shame. There is almost always an underlying issue, even if you don’t want to acknowledge it, or can’t acknowledge it. I know I didn’t realize how all of my problems were related. For example: I used to have horrible back pain. I would lay in bed and I couldn’t get comfortable. That’s gone now. I don’t know what I thought it was. (Hello! Anybody home? Obviously if you’re dying your body is going to hurt.) As is my social anxiety (am I really going to have a mental breakdown if I talk to that person?). Control is often a huge issue for those with an eating disorder. I was in denial about this for a long time, but I see now it’s true. I wanted control. If I couldn’t control what was going into my body, then I would hate myself and want to die. Fact. So I learned my limits and put up safety nets and became so fearful of anything that threatened those. I’m still learning to give up control, but it’s coming along. Anxiety also played an enormous role in my eating problems. If you’re anxious about everything, and especially food, how are you going to make smart, rational decisions? You’re not. I still think of my anxiety as a shameful thing, because it presented itself in the most immature and weird ways. Racing thoughts was only one of the symptoms I experienced as an anxious person. Having anxiety around the thing that you have to face all the time in recovery isn’t helpful, but medicine is. A medicine that agrees with you and helps slow down those parts of your anxious mind is sometimes key to a successful mind change. I know antidepressants have helped me immensely.
So you see, food isn’t the be all and end all. It is a part of an eating disorder, obviously, but it is not a cure. Yes, mom I see now. It is medicine. It is. But it won’t completely take away the disease. There are many components to recovery, most of them mental. So be compassionate with yourself, and those around you. You never know what they are going through.