When you’ve had an eating disorder in the past and people are aware of that, you are no longer protected in that safety blanket of the unknown. People now have suspicions. They are more aware. They know you once suffered and are now tracking every move you make; every bite you consume. There’s no hiding it now. They know, and you can’t take that back. That’s the most scariest thing about recovery. The raw revealing of yourself. Your entire thoughts and battles on show for everyone to stare at. That’s what makes Christmas as a recovered so hard…
You can no longer pass off not eating the cake because you’re a little full or you’ve already ate. You can’t make up a believable excuse as to why you’re exercising none stop. It’s not to be healthy or to practice for a sports tryout. Refusing a meal is no longer simply overlooked; its scrutinised and studied.
But the thing is, when you’re ‘recovered’ people expect you to reintegrate into the normal family unit. It isn’t about food anymore. Now you’re recovered, you love food. People expect you to eat everything on the plate and ask for seconds. That fear of food you had – that’s gone now. They want to forget about the past and have a ‘normal Christmas’. You’re recovered now, so why wouldn’t you eat that extra slice of cake or have any fears of food at all. Your health and weight is no longer a concern and people expect you to fit into their shared experiences, including the overindulgence on Christmas Day without feeling guilty and the ability to eat food without deeming yourself bad.
But I want to tell you something…a person who has ‘recovered’ from an eating disorder may appear fine and healthy on the outside. They may eat without guilt or have a dessert after dinner. They may not exercise anymore and seem confident about their body, but the thing is – they’re likely not fully recovered. Eating disorders have a heavy hold on the sufferer. Recovered may mean better but it doesn’t mean the eating disorder has just completely disappeared off the face of the earth.
Eating disorders build up their own identity. There is no room for happiness in an eating disorder. It robs you of your joy and you become some automaton with no feelings. You can no longer tell the difference between who you are and who the eating disorder is. You’re not you anymore. You become a walking, talking eating disorder. The eating disorder invades your mind and every single part of your body. You think you can stop it at your will, but you can’t. You’re no longer in control; the eating disorder is.
Recovered does not mean that I now have a healthy and positive relationship with food.
So on Christmas day, please remember the recovered. Remember that an eating disorder used to be the only thing that they lived for. Remember that they struggled to look at food and eat it. Remember that exercise was their life. Remember that they struggled to eat during family gatherings and did not like social events that included food. Remember that their eating disorder was valid and so is their recovery…
Please remember that recovery is a long and treacherous journey and that relapses are a 100% acceptable.
Be forgiving. Be loving. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be open minded. Be patient.
Christmas is a wonderful, happy time but when you’re suffering with mental illness, it can be difficult to feel joyous. Mental illness does not take a day off. It does not care about your feelings, or what you may be celebrating. It does not care about Christmas Day, or your birthday. It does not want you to feel happy. It does not want you to feel joy.
There are some mental illnesses that make Christmas even more stressful. For example, Christmas can cause severe triggers for eating disorders. Last Christmas, I was so irritated. Everything was about food. Breakfast whilst opening presents, a big Christmas dinner and pudding, and a Christmas buffet at night. By the end of the evening, my stomach felt so bloated and the smell and thought of food made me want to heave so much that I had to go sit in the bathroom with the lights off for over an hour.
It’s not only Christmas that can trigger and make worse mental illnesses, but new year too. With a new year comes a new, older age. With a new year comes new things, new changes and new situations that can cause anxiety. With new year comes new year’s resolutions…which can be severely dangerous for those in recovery for eating disorders. Today, I have been in recovery for around 11 months. During this time I have relapsed 3 times with 1 relapse being severe. With new year’s resolutions comes weight loss targets and people complaining about their bodies. It’s extremely difficult to talk about weight and diets when you’re suffering with eating disorders. You may be in recovery, but you never recover. This year, I feel so fragile. I feel close to the edge of relapsing in the new year. I feel close to restricting food and severely exercising. I feel close to feeling disgusted again by food. I don’t want to get dressed because of the disgust I have for my body.
Please, be mindful to all those with mental illnesses today and during the new year period even if they seem to be coping well. You can hide a lot behind a smile.
Many people use the expression “I’m tired” when they’ve had a lack of sleep or when they feel like they need a nap. When you’ve got mental health problems, sometimes “I’m tired” can also simply mean you’re lacking sleep, but often it means so much more.
When I say I’m tired, I’m usually not just physically tired. I’m emotionally tired. I’m holistically tired. I’m tired even when I’ve spent the entire night sleeping in bed. I’m tired even when I don’t move all day. It’s not just tired eyes and achy muscles. It’s not just a yawn and just one more hour in bed. It’s getting up and getting dressed in a blur. Brushing your teeth and brushing your hair, and then leaving the house. All whilst tired. Emotionally tired. Numb. Drained. Completely out of it. Lost. But you move on with the day anyway, because there seems to be little acceptance of what mental illness can do to your body.
Not many people ask me if I’m OK, but when they do my answer is always the same. “I’m fine, just tired” — and people seem to accept that reply. Tiredness is an accepted feeling — everyone gets it. A long day at work or sitting through a boring lecture. That’s tiredness for many can relate to. But that tiredness isn’t lying in bed all day and still feeling like you could sleep for a thousand years. For me, though, that’s what tiredness is. Tiredness accompanies my depression and my anxiety. It means lying in bed completely exhausted from life without even falling asleep. It means being spaced out and lost in thought most of the day, because it’s tiring trying to keep up with people. It means achy eyes and yawns even after 12 hours of sleep. It means not just feeling physically tired, but feeling oh-so much more.
When someone tells you they’re tired, sometimes you need to look beyond their answer. Are they tired? Are they physically tired and need some sleep? Or do they in fact need you. Do they need somebody to look them in the eyes and tell them they’re not fine but that you’re there for them? Do they need someone to realise they’re not OK and to offer them a hug? Because I know when I say I’m tired, that’s what I need.
I don’t need sleep or a nap. I need people. I need love. I need understanding.