So, it has been a year since I launched Jiggsy, and in that year I have more inspiring people than I could have ever imagined. Many of the connections I have made have been with people who have got in touch because they are struggling to find their way out of the nightmare, that I so clearly remember. I have heard from parents, partners and work colleagues who have been brave enough to share their experiences with me. There are of course many common themes that unite them, but there are also a great number of differences. It is these contrasts that can make all the difference in someone’s chances of recovery. I am talking about the discrepancies in access to treatment, the acknowledgement that eating disorders are not a weight issue, and the often reactive rather than proactive approach. This week alone I have spoken to two people who are going about their ways as ‘functioning anorexics.’ This was my story for ten years. I was just about keeping my head above water, but living a life without any real depth or meaning.
What I think has been by far the saddest part is hearing so many people totally hate on themselves. Low self-esteem, zero confidence, fear of rejection, isolation, and hell bent on punishing themselves. I’m not entirely sure what’s been the biggest contributor in all of this, but I long for it to stop. I haven’t met one person that deserves the unkindness that they show towards themselves. When I think of some of the cruel things I did to my body and mind, I find feeling a huge amount of empathy. I wouldn’t have dealt the blows I hit myself with, on anyone.
Despite having a loving and supportive family to tell me that I had no need to hate myself, their words fell on deaf ears. My eating disorder was louder than all of them. I didn’t believe it. I was stuck playing the same old record. So although logic said to me that I was crazy for getting up at 5:30am in the snow to wait for the swimming pool to open, my anorexia marched me up there in military fashion. You see I had no choice. Someone who doesn’t have an eating disorder cannot fully under comprehend this idea. When you are in the thick of it, your choices are taken away from you. The only way I was given this power back was by months of intensive treatment that gradually enabled me to build up my healthy self and talk back to my eating disorder. I healed the wounds that kept oozing open and kept me stuck. I hear many voices who say they feel a failure for not being able to get well on their own. This kind of punishing self-talk only fuels the eating disorder and sabotages any progress. I totally believe that the longer someone is engaged with their eating disorder the longer it may take to eradicate the thoughts and behaviours. I often describe my own journey as learning to speak English again. For so long I spoke, read and listened to another language. The eating disorder had become my primary way to communicate. The thing most people didn’t speak the same way, which meant my world had become insular. It has taken 5 years to slowly learn to speak a language that I ‘Laura’ choose. A language I am not forced to speak. I have so much more choice of words, so much more room in my head to think and breathe.
Healing from an eating disorder looks different for everyone. They are many things. They are the irrational fear of eating something that you haven’t cooked yourself. They are weighing everything out to the perfect gram. They are scouring the menu at a restaurant only to decide not to go as it will be ‘easier.’ They are cooking a huge bath of Spaghetti Bolognese for your family, but not allowing yourself a morsel. They are opening a box of dry cereal and stuffing it in down your throat to numb the pain. They are obsessing over which food group to cut out or eating all your foods separately. They are the compulsion to ‘burn’ off your calories to justify eating. They are the compulsion to visit the bathroom and get rid of what you have consumed, even though your throat is sore and your eyes are red. They are looking in the magazines and wishing your body looked like the celebrities who don’t exist in real life. They are the only way you feel in control when you feel out of control with everything else. They are buying into the latest food trend or fitness movement because you want to feel part of something. They are lying to your loved ones and throwing food in the bin, or feeding it to the dog when no one is watching. They are having someone listen while you shit and flush after you. They are sitting with the agony of a stomach that is so bloated you feel it might burst. They are lying down on a yoga mat in pain because your bones feel every crevice in the floor. They are feeling terrified that you might faint miles underground on the tube through lack of food. They are taking a sleeping tablet so you don’t have to endure the hunger pains throughout the night. They are the shame and guilt you feel when you have crammed down the entire contents of the fridge, and sit there in total disgust.
Eating disorders are cruel, devious, manipulative and a betrayal of our souls. They don’t always start out as a diet gone wrong, and there may not be one single reason that food has become an enemy. You might not even think or be ready to admit that you are suffering. It may be that you have ‘dressed up’ it up as one of the many socially acceptable wellness trends we have succumbed to. Recovery is not easy; it’s the hardest thing you may ever do. It will exhaust you. It will make you face the hard truths that you have numbed for so long. You will shed tears, feel anger you didn’t believe possible. Your eating disorder will convince you that you are… ‘not that bad’… ‘not ill enough’… ‘not thin enough.’ You will take one step forward and two steps back. You will feel like giving up, you may give up. But you must know that it will be worth it in the end. No one deserves to life in this prison. You deserve to be nourished from head to toe. You don’t need permission to enjoy food or life.
As we kick of eating disorders awareness week, take a moment to think about your relationship with food. It doesn’t matter what the next person thinks, all that matters is what is true for you. If you are struggling to live in your body, if you are compromising your physical and mental health to look or feel a certain way, if you are avoiding living in the ‘here and, and if you are betraying your soul-self, then give yourself permission to ask for help. Recovery is about feeling life; experiencing the highs, the lows and everything in between. It’s a life without the need to use eating disorder behaviours to deal with, distract or cope with the shit we are sometimes dealt.
If you are worried about someone, then don’t wait and hope that they will magically get better on their own. Be brave and open up the dialogue. If you are rejected at first, keep trying. Being vulnerable is not easy, but is a beautiful thing. Ultimately it’s the individual who will make the steps to change, but having someone to hold their hand along the way, will definitely soothe the path. Words are good, but a hug is even better.