It has been Mental Health Awareness week, and this year feels like a particularly important time to pay attention to our mental health. We’re living through such a strange, frightening, tragic time and it’s unlikely anyone will get through the lockdown without some strain on their emotional and mental wellbeing. We’re not supposed to live in social isolation, humans are hard-wired for connection. I wrote about the damaging effects of loneliness last month.
This time has been tough for people with eating disorders. I’ve dealt with an ED, off and on, since my teens. I am now in recovery but I don’t know that I will ever be completely free of the disordered mindset. For many people, the loss of control will be very challenging. Eating disorders, in my expereince, start off with the desire to loose weight, but quickly mutate into a need for control. My last relapse was during a period of very poor mental health, when I was desperate to be in charge of something.
For me, recovery is about soothing the neurotic, controlling part of my personality with the assurance that it will not be the end of the world if I eat something that I wouldn’t usually touch, or if I deviate from my workout regime. Everyone’s recovery is different and what works for me will not be right for other people. However, I know that if I eat unhealthily and don’t exercise, my eating disorder will come back with a vengeance and demand that I punish myself for straying from my ‘safe’ foods. Equally, if I restrict too much, I’ll slip back into the old, destructive coping mechanisms and I’ll quickly become unwell. It is a continual balancing act which can be exhausting. Recovering from an eating disorder is a minefield, perpetuated by the non-negotiable necessity to eat. When a drug addict or an alcoholic gets clean, they can arrange their life so they do not come into contact with drink or drugs. This is not to diminish the vast challenge of lasting sobriety, but people living with ED always have have to tolerate the presence of the substance in their lives.
I know that a lot of people will be struggling with feeling helpless, eating more than usual and unable to follow their regular exercise routine. Although weight should be the last thing on anyone’s mind, ignoring weight gain or bodily changes is easier said than done – I’ve struggled with it for as long as I can remember. This can sound trivial and vapid, especially given what is going on, but it is symptomatic of wider mental health issues. If you’re struggling with poor body image right now, know that you’re not alone. The best anyone can do is just survive through this period. Don’t feel bad for fretting about your weight, feeling anxious is to be expected, it doesn’t mean you’re shallow or self-obsessed. Also try not to feel guilty for eating more than usual. Most of us are finding comfort in food and that is ok.