There is always a before, a now and an after. Take the current COVID19 pandemic, for example. In just a few short weeks, everyone’s lives have turned completely upside down. Before this, we could sit in the park with a friend drinking a takeaway coffee and not even have to consider the distance between us or be concerned a cop might rock up and give us a fine. We could walk down the main street of our hometown and explore the little shops, wander around the bookshop, pop into Vinnies. We didn’t have to avoid people on our morning walks and make an obvious point of walking around them. We weren’t necessarily wearing gloves to buy groceries or sanitising and washing our hands obsessively or wearing masks or feeling anxious if the person in our train carriage had a cold. Indeed, we could even catch public transport without an ounce of anxiety.
And then there’s now. The present. Where we are on edge and thinking about all of the things I’ve just mentioned and more. We’re more vigilant. We’re more aware and wary of others. Nurses and doctors are being abused in the streets. People are living in fear of getting sick. We’re thinking about this virus all the time. The news is saturated by it. We’re receiving new information about it constantly. It seems things won’t be as they were before. Everything is uncertain and scary for many of us.
There will be an after, whenever that may be, but the after will look different to the before. Consequences of the pandemic will linger for a long time – the financial repercussions, the emotional, the spiritual. The physical. It’ll take a long time for it all to dissipate. I suspect though, that people will look at the world through different eyes for a long time. People will continue to be on edge long after this has passed. Maybe they’ll be concerned about travelling, flying on planes, going on cruises. Catching public transport. Going to the shops and trying on clothes or touching fridge doors or handling shopping baskets and trolleys. There’s heaps more to it, heaps more to the before and the now and the after but I think we’re all pretty aware of how things are.
I guess I just want to talk about the concept of hope. The hope that we KNOW things can be different and they WILL be different. Modern science will triumph. A vaccine will be created. There’s an end to this. The hard part is that we don’t know when that will be. The hard part is the uncertainty and having to sit with that. The scary part is not knowing if this virus will affect us or our family prior to the curve being flattened entirely and us coming out of this, together.
So to link this to eating disorders – it’s the same concept, right? There was the before. The before where maybe there weren’t any thoughts or anxieties about food and exercise and weight and shape. The before where you could read a book or meet up with friends or go out for lunch with your family. The before where your days didn’t just revolve around food or lack thereof and exercise and your head beating you up constantly about not doing enough, not being enough blah blah blah. The same old stories and bullshit it feeds you.
Then there’s the now. The now where those things I just mentioned may exist. The now where maybe you’re in recovery and having to restore your physical health and you’re eating 6 or 7 or 8 times a day and following a meal plan that often seems impossible to follow. The now where you have to be uncomfortable and just sit with that because it’s the only way you can recover – by not engaging in those behaviours, by not getting sucked into those thoughts. The now where you resent everything and everyone and feel so much hatred and anger and sadness and fear and uncertainty. Where you feel it may not be worth it, all this hard work. The now where maybe you’ve dug yourself so deep and you don’t see how you can ever climb back out.
So I’m here to say you can. How? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I know more than anything there’s an after and it may not look like it did before but that’s OK. In fact, I’d say that’s a very good thing. If your after looks like your before, you’d get an eating disorder all over again. But we emerge out the other side of this changed, with new characteristics, with more resilience, with more insights about ourselves and others. Our perspectives on things may have changed. We might be more mindful or grateful or just generally glad for life and for living and for small things like coffees and sunshine and dog kisses and days at home where we can just sit around and read and not feel an ounce of disgust or annoyance with ourselves for being “unproductive” (whatever the hell that is anyway). We might be able to read more or write more or do artwork, see friends, go to parties, have a day or multiple days or a week or where we don’t exercise or whatever because we simply don’t have the energy. And (shock horror to the eating disorder) we might even be totally OK with that.
How good. I can’t wait for the after, whatever it may look like. I can’t wait to see YOUR after. Just like with the COVID19 pandemic, there will be an after. Whatever your current circumstances or crisis or problem – there WILL be an after. Grief? Depression? Financial hardship? A stressful work environment? A difficult friendship or family member? This is the now. There was a before. And there will be an after. Hold tight to that truth amidst the now.