I’ve always known recovery from an eating disorder is possible, because I’ve read books about it. I’ve heard people share their recovery stories. I’ve even had the privilege of witnessing it happen from time to time. I’ve known that recovery is possible, but I’ve only known this on an intellectual level – not in my own experience. Whilst I’ve definitely had times where I’ve been more “well” in the last 7 years, I’ve certainly not yet reached a place in that time where I would say my life has been substantially improved, regardless of how things have been perceived by others, or by my friends and family. Funnily enough, eating disorders aren’t about weight and whilst for some people their recovery may have to involve weight gain in some form, it should never be the primary focus. If anything, I’ve struggled even more mentally with my recovery when I have been at those higher weights.
Previously when I’ve been in hospital and have had to increase my food intake, reduce my physical activity and work on restoring weight, my mood has become increasingly worse. Whilst it’s not the case for all people with eating disorders, it can be quite common that one engages in eating disorder behaviours to manage their mood and this most certainly rings true for me. So, given this, my depression becomes increasingly worse the less I engage in eating disorder behaviours and become more vulnerable to intrusive thoughts, low mood and general hopelessness about my situation. The irony of my own eating disorder is that in many ways, it’s the thing that has kept me alive.
So what does one do with that? When the poor coping mechanisms are stripped away and we’re left with nothing but ourselves and our own minds, what do we do? The answer lies within the simple fact that we need to find things that enable us to keep existing. It could be something as basic as meeting with a friend for coffee or taking your dog for a walk. It could be sitting in the sunshine in your backyard and doodling in your journal. You could walk to the beach with a book and sit on the grass, watch people and families and couples and oldies walking by, observe swimmers and surfers and kiddos screaming with delight as the waves roll in. Honestly, it could even be lying on the grass in your yard at night-time and looking at the starlit sky, or taking a shower late at night simply to make time pass. Life, for a time, may become a minute by minute, day by day assessment of what one is capable of achieving.
For me, the things that make life worthwhile and perhaps (dare I say it?!) joyous (!) are the connections and the relationships I have made and had, and that I do have. The connections may be long lasting or they may only be fleeting but every single person I have ever met or smiled at or connected with in one way or another has had an impact on the person who I am. There’s something so absurdly strange and beautiful in that. Right now, these connections are the things that keep me going – seeing my oldie pal Keith out each day when he’s on his walk, for example. The lady who walked by me yesterday and asked where I’d been the last 5 weeks, while I’ve had my most recent hospital admission. Meeting with friends for coffee, receiving messages from friends asking how I am, or messaging a friend who I haven’t spoken with for awhile to hear what’s happening in their world. The small banter I make with the lady working at the petrol station, sitting with my parents each night scrolling through Netflix for 3 hours finding nothing to watch before declaring we’re all off to bed. Snuggling with one of our cats, Frankie each night; even though he acts aloof he’s actually an enormous sook. Connections and relationships with people, and connection to the world around us in an important aspect of recovery, and whilst you can’t really make a career or build a life out of that alone, it’s certainly a good foundation for living and existing and being in the world.
These connections are what enable us to thrive us humans, and in my opinion, are truly what make recovery (and life, just generally) worthwhile and worth sticking around for.