I have struggled with anorexia and purging disorder on and off for around 17 years, and last year I had a relapse and entered treatment for anorexia again. I spent seven months in a day patient service and have now been back in individual therapy for nine months. I like to openly share my journey across Twitter, Instagram and my own blog, but it’s important to me to reach a wider audience so I can try to help as many people as possible. With that in mind, here are some lessons I have discovered along the way…
Nobody can ‘fix’ you.
I desperately wanted somebody to just magic anorexia away from me. I would have given anything for it to just be taken off me so I’d be free from it, but that just isn’t possible. Although people can help you along the way, only you can really make those changes. It’s all well and good attending the day hospital and eating meals there, or talking about your struggles for one hour a week in therapy, but if you aren’t implementing any of those skills outside of those times, then you aren’t going to get better. It’s as blunt and simple as that. Knowing is not the same as doing, and knowing you need to stop unhelpful behaviours can only get you so far. You need to actively engage and be present in the treatment process and be honest with those around you. It’s the actions that really count in recovery and that will ultimately lead to freedom from your eating disorder.
People might say the wrong thing.
I’ve honestly lost count of how many unhelpful comments I’ve had from people over the years, but I think when you are actively unwell or in recovery, you become hypersensitive to them. From the initial “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” to the “you look like a skeleton” further down the line, talking to somebody with an eating disorder can be like treading on eggshells. The hardest one for me has always been “you look well” especially when I am weight restoring. It’s been difficult for me to accept that whilst my brain translates this into “you look fat”, that’s not the intention behind the statement. Actually, when I am in recovery I do look more ‘well’ because there’s light in my eyes and my skin is brighter and my hair is thicker. I am learning over time that when people say this to me, they might not actually be talking about my weight at all.
There will still be bad days.
Recovery is a rollercoaster, which means of course after the ups there comes the downs. The important thing to remember is that a ‘lapse’ is not the same as a ‘relapse’ and that each time we feel like we have failed we can use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. There will inevitably be times where you feel like you have either plateaued or made backwards strides, but that doesn’t erase all the steps forward you have taken. There are going to be times where it feels absolutely impossible, and that recovery might be for other people but not for you. But thoughts are not facts, and just because you have a thought, that doesn’t make it true. Nobody’s journey is a straight line and sometimes we just need to pause, remember why we are recovering, and start again tomorrow.
Keep a record of your progress.
I have started bullet journaling my way through treatment and recovery this time around and it’s been such an incredible tool for me. It gives me the opportunity to work through my thoughts and feelings, store my therapy notes, complete my homework and monitor my progress. Sometimes when we have bad days or slip-ups, it can be easy to feel like we haven’t made any steps forward at all, especially as many of us struggle with that ‘black and white’ thinking style. Having a resource to look back on and see how far I’ve come has been endlessly helpful to me, especially during the most difficult days. It’s also an excellent way to keep me on track as I can revisit all the work I have done in treatment again and again, as many times as I need to.
Everyone’s journey is different.
I look at people who I was in treatment with 15 years ago and wonder why I failed so spectacularly at recovery when they all seem to be doing so well. I often question why it is that I keep relapsing and getting stuck in this illness when others seem to be able to free themselves from it. I have spent so long beating myself up about the fact that people on social media that I’ve never even met seem to be able to recover into perfect bodies and perfect lives and feel free and at peace with themselves when I battle my way through my meals and snacks and feel constantly at war with my own body. But I also know for a fact there were people I was in treatment with this time around who looked up to me and wondered why I was able to reach the weight gain requirements and they weren’t, and how I got through most of my meals without crying while they couldn’t. I know people look at my social media and wonder how I have managed to stay at a relatively stable weight since leaving the day programme and how I keep the anorexic behaviours at bay. We all recover on our own timeline, and someone else’s experience does not invalidate your own.
The last couple of years have been an absolute rollercoaster, but I hope that the many things I have learnt over this time will enable me to continue on my recovery progress and carry me through life without any further relapses. I also hope that this might help some of you to realise that no matter where you are in your journey right now, you deserve to be kind to yourself. Each lapse is an opportunity for learning, and reframing the ups and downs of my eating disorder like this has helped me to feel more at peace with it and focussed on staying well. The lessons you learn throughout your own journeys can carry you through the rest of your life – remember all progress is progress, no matter how small.
Keep going, keep learning, keep recovering.
Written by Cara Lisette
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