Tag Archives: anxiety

Celebrating Three Years Since Choosing Recovery

3 years 5

TRIGGER WARNING – this post shows images of my body during my eating disorder, as well as images of my recovered body*. Please do not look at this article if these are images that are likely to trigger you.

In the last three years (and a bit), I have come further than I ever thought I would. Just over three years ago I was a suicidal, starved, insane mess of a human being. I was throwing glasses across the room in anger because my partner at the time had turned around my horrible self-reminders not to eat that I had plastered around the house, and had instead written lovely messages on the backs on them. Just over three years ago I was screaming at him because he put a dash of milk in the scrambled eggs. I had intense urges to eat food off the ground because my body was so hungry. Each day was all about filling out the time until I was “allowed” my next measly portion of food. My life revolved around the number on the scales. Everything I did was for that number to decrease. I walked around with my brain feeling foggy, my body weak, and put it through intense and draining physical exercise anyway. I was a walking corpse. I wasn’t alive. I was merely existing.

It took me a couple of months of uhmming and aahing to really choose recovery. I was uncertain. I was scared. I was in denial about having to gain weight in order to be healthy and happy. But eventually I got there. Gradually I solidified my decision, and I although I had ups and downs (understatement of the year), I never really looked back. I had many, many, many moments where I said to myself “I’m done! I’m going to relapse!” but I would cry it out and keep on going anyway.

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A year into my recovery, I made the photo above. If you know me and my blog, you’ve probably seen it before (and I posted it on another post on this website too). The hollow, unfocused, red-ringed eyes had been replaced by bright, shiny ones. My grey, matte skin now glowed. My smile didn’t seem stretched, and the happiness showed upon my whole face, rather than looking tired and empty. I love the comparisons. It always shocks me, and it always reminds me how terrible I looked then and how healthy I look now. It always reminds me of how far I have come.

3 years 3

My hair is shiny and soft now, not falling out, and not desert dry. After two or so years in recovery, it suddenly grew really fast and is now really long and I love it. I now engage in the world: my senses aren’t dulled due to starvation, and I take in what is around me. I am fully present when conversing with friends and thoughts of my body don’t cross my mind when I am with them, when before I was utterly distracted by how my body looked in that moment. I feel strong, rather than feeling like I am going to pass out at any moment. I feel like I am really in the world, rather than miserable and alone in my own harrowing personal nightmare.
dani and sarah
During recovery, my personality that had been smothered by my eating disorder emerged, stronger than before. During the first two years of my two and a half years in recovery, I grew more than I had ever done in my life. I established who I was and what was important to me. I developed hobbies and interests that I had never had before, whilst regaining my love of old ones. With help from feminism and the body positivity movement, I felt empowered and impassioned. I found my drive and my purpose, and I established my worth as a person inside my own head. In simple words, I now feel solid. I feel strong.

3 years 2

My eating disorder starved me. I lost myself, not just my weight. My relationship disintegrated. I couldn’t concentrate around my friends (although, unlike a lot of others with eating disorders, I managed to maintain my friendships). I didn’t do anything without thinking about losing weight. Recovery gave me back my sanity, and my ability to function within the world and within relationships. I regained weight, and I regained myself. Unfortunately, my relationship came to an end six months into recovery, but I now know I will be able to have a healthy, happy relationships without my eating disorder destroying me, and in turn, destroying my relationship.

3 years 4

For me, sleep was first an escape from the pain of the life I was living when my eating disorder was active, but after a while, as my body became more and more starved, it became impossible to sleep. I would be thinking over and over about my “meal plan” for the next day, and would find it really difficult to fall asleep. When I did, it was food that I dreamed of – that, or gaining weight – and I would wake up in fits of anxiety, or stroking my hipbones; a bizarre habit that occurred in the worst period of my eating disorder. One of my favourite things about being healthy is being able to sleep properly. Resting is so important to me now, and such a relief.

3 years 13

Giving up exercise was something that I really struggled with during recovery, and was something that I relapsed with two or three times. Once I’d started eating and my survival instincts took over, restriction wasn’t something I wanted to engage in again (even though my eating disorder kicked and screamed against that thought), but exercise was something I could do without having to feel hungry all of the time but could still burn calories and feel “healthy”. Even though my weight didn’t change whether I exercised or not, I still had the severe compulsion to work out because I felt so anxious and guilty if I did not. But even though I didn’t have to deal with being hungry all the time, exercise made me so utterly exhausted that I could not even sit up in bed with my laptop on some days. I had to lie down instead. Eventually, I was able to cease exercise until I was healthy enough both mentally and physically to be able to do what I now like to call “recreational activity”. I walk a fine line in choosing to be active in remission, but I have my “red”, “amber”, and “green” types of exercise so I know where I am with it, and I’m constantly evaluating how I feel and how much I’m doing. I see the activity I do as enjoyment rather than doing it for my body – the health benefits are secondary for me. Having fun comes first and foremost in the choice to do physical activity, and I think it should be that way for everyone.

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The picture above is me today. I am now over 8 months into remission (full recovery). I feel strong and healthy and confident. I have bad and good days with my body, but I more or less accept it for what it is now. Today was a good day, and I feel powerful as a person. I’m about to have a delicious dinner with my family, on holiday, with a view of the sea. This evening I am going to a bar to have cocktails with my brother. And it won’t even matter to me how many calories any of what I have consumed today has.

I am enjoying being me.
3 years 6

*The reason I have included photographs of myself when I was ill is because for me, it’s an amazing transformation. Recovery should be equally about mental and physical recovery – you can’t have one without the other – and I wanted to show both, because for me, my experience with weight gain was a huge part of my recovery. I can only show my physical recovery through photographs, and my mental recovery through expressing it in writing. This article is not about the process but about the comparison as to how I was then to how I am now. I also wanted to show that it is possible to gain a significant amount of weight and look very different and be able to accept that. My body and the changes it made throughout recovery were hugely significant to me, so to be able to show that comparison and say that I made those changes to my body and I got through all the self-loathing, guilt, and anxiety, and found my way to accepting my body as how it looks now is incredibly important to my journey. Some people may not agree with my choice to include photographs, but that is why there is a trigger warning. That was my body, and this was my journey, and I want to express it in the way that is significant to me. 

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Distinguishing Your Voice From that of Your Eating Disorder

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Recovery can be really hard when you are unable to distinguish the eating disorders “voice” from your own. Making decisions becomes an uncertain task that can end up taking up far too much of your time because you are anxiously torn between what you want and what your eating disorder wants, and not being able to tell which is which. Because the voice actually sounds like your own thoughts, this can make it really difficult for someone to tell what thoughts are really theirs, and what are those of the eating disorder.

When it comes to telling your voice and the eating disorder’s “voice” apart, the first thing to think is “do I really want this?” Some people are able to quite easily separate the two with just that first question, and others are still unable to do so.

When it comes to food, and choosing to eat a certain food or comparing between two choices, the easiest way to tell what it is you want is to ask yourself; if it had no calories, would you really want to eat it? Or would you prefer something else? If the two you are comparing to had no calories, which one would you actually want to eat more? Another thing to do is think, if I walked away with this one and bought it, would it give me more anxiety than the other option? The one that you have more anxiety over is the one your eating disorder wants you not to choose, and is therefore the one you should choose to confront and overcome that anxiety. I would bet that the other one is something your ED picked to get you to choose that “safer” option rather than the one you really want to eat.

When it comes to negative thoughts about yourself – that’s not you. Hands down anything negative that comes into your head will be your eating disorder. I say this because now, in remission, I rarely have negative thoughts about myself or my body. When I do, they are quite mild and I can tell that they come more from a “normal” brain and have developed because of the society we live in. Negative thoughts caused by an eating disorder are usually very forceful, very malicious, and very hateful. They are cruel comments, not just “hmmm I’m not sure I’m loving those back rolls but meh okay what was I doing let’s carry on with that.” They are hurtful, vindictive, venomous comments like “you are disgusting” or “you are worthless” or “you are a worthless fat bitch”. When you experience thoughts like that, they are the lying, bullying voice of the eating disorder and you need to recognise that that voice does not carry truth. It just wants to hurt you. I would place my bets on saying that 99.999% of negative thoughts going on in the head of someone with an eating disorder are eating disorder thoughts.

When you are eating, or buying things for yourself, or doing something you enjoy, etc etc, and a thought comes into your head about not deserving to eat it, or buy it, or do it, then that is not your own thought. That again, is a bully inside your head that should not be there. Kick it out. Tell it that it is wrong. You deserve all the things that you want and you should be able to have all of the things that are within your reach.

When it comes to negative thoughts or thoughts that you don’t deserve something, ask yourself “is that something I would say to someone else?” If it isn’t, chances are it’s your eating disorder speaking. The things that eating disorder says to us, we would not find it acceptable to say to others, or let others say it to us, but we let that internal voice say it to us and submit to it. Start changing that and fight back. Recognise that the “voice” is just playing on your insecurities and is making unacceptable and vile comments towards you. Tell it to f*** off.

When it comes to other habits or behaviours, for example using certain items of cutlery, using certain plates or using only bowls to eat out of, challenge that. If you feel like using a bowl, use a plate. If that invokes anxiety in you, then using the bowl is a disordered habit. Use  a different fork/knife or spoon. If that invokes anxiety in you, then using certain items of cutlery is a disordered habit. The same goes for every habit or behaviour. Test out if they are disordered by switching things up. If you find it hard to sit still or sit down, but are pretty sure you’re just an active person, have a duvet day. If you eat at certain times because, you know, that’s just how it is, make it earlier or later. If you avoid white carbs because you just never really have the urge to eat them, make up a nice crusty roll or a bowl of pasta or some egg fried rice using white products. If you are eating low fat yoghurt but are pretty sure you just love it, buy some full fat yoghurt. Stop making excuses and just do it. It won’t be a problem if it is not a disordered habit. If the change freaks you out, the habit or behaviour is disordered.

These are some ways for you to tell apart yourself from your eating disorder when it comes to decision making and making the choices for you instead of your eating disorder. These tactics, of course, are not exclusive. I would welcome any comments to this post suggesting other ways for people to distinguish between their eating disorder “voice” and themselves. The more the better.

Anxiety Management

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Anxiety can feel extremely overwhelming when in recovery for an eating disorder. As I talked about in the FAQ, it is pretty much impossible to avoid anxiety when it comes to the recovery process, and that is one of the reasons as to why recovery is so difficult.

Again, as I have said in the FAQ, I use this metaphor for eating disorders and recovery: There is a terrifying dragon in your garden, and every time you try to leave your house the dragon tries to eat you. You have a choice: you can resign yourself to being trapped in your house forever, or you can find a weapon and go out and fight it.
These are the choices you have regarding your eating disorder. You can either choose to remain trapped by it or you can face yours fears and fight it. You can only make the anxiety calm down and eventually stop altogether by facing your fears regarding food, weight, and other eating disorder habits. You can only make it stop by going against your eating disorder. For example, check out this path below:

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This path has been created by people walking along it. Someone walked that way then another person did then another, and they all kept walking over this one track more and more, making the path deeper and more worn in until it was a very clear path that everyone would now automatically follow rather than walking along the grass beside it. This is what happens in your brain: the more you do something the more it becomes the norm to follow. So if you respond to your eating disorder over and over again, that becomes the habit to follow and not doing it creates anxiety. When you fight against your eating disorder, you start treading on the grass that isn’t the path. At first this is anxiety-provoking and scary, because it is not the norm, and it will continue to be scary for a while, but each time you are making more of a path in a different route. Eventually, that route will become a solid pathway, and the other one will start to disappear as grass starts to grow on it again. Eventually the old route will disappear and the new one will become the norm. What I am saying is that to do new things creates new neural pathways in the brain, making your new behaviours eventually become normalised (right now your old behaviours – those created by your eating disorder – are normalised because you have repeated them so often). This is when the anxiety will start to lessen. The more you do something the easier it will become, and eventually it will become easy, and the norm.

So anxiety is going to be something that you experience during your recovery. Maybe that anxiety occurs before you challenge yourself, maybe it occurs during, or maybe it occurs after, but either way, it’s there, and you don’t know what to do about it. You probably feel like responding to your eating disorder, which is probably telling you either not to challenge yourself, or to compensate for doing so. Ignore that voice. I know it is extremely hard but that voice is trying to make you sick. It is trying to get you to live in misery. Ultimately, it is trying to kill you. So how do you cope with that extreme anxiety when it is upon you?

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One thing that is important is distinguishing its voice from yours. Recognise what is you, and what is the eating disorder. Argue with it. Use your rationality. Use your logic. Use the facts against the negative feelings it is trying to evoke in you. Beat it with logic.

One of the best ways to deal with anxiety is to use distraction techniques. When you are feeling anxious, distract yourself by doing what you can get most absorbed in. Here is a list of suggestions:

  • Watch a movie
  • Read a book
  • Write
  • Paint or draw
  • Blog
  • Collage
  • Knit or sew
  • Research something you are interested in
  • Play XBOX
  • Play games on your phone
  • Do fun internet quizzes
  • Play computer games
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Meet up with someone
  • Watch a documentary
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Do homework
  • Tidy your room
  • Do some internet shopping
  • Take photographs
  • Do puzzles

Puzzles in particular are very good for distraction as they really engage your mind and so distract you from the negative emotions you are experiencing.

Other things that you can do include:

  • Doing things which evoke a different emotion in you from the one you are experiencing. This could mean reading emotional books or letters, or looking at photos that bring up happy memories. It could mean watching films that evoke a different emotion to anxiety, such as a comedy, romance, or even a horror! It’s also good to listen to happy music when feeling sad, or calm music when feeling anxious. We tend to listen to angry music when we are angry, or sad music when we are sad, but this only reinforced the emotion rather than helping it to settle down.
  • If you are really, really anxious, and feel like you can’t contain yourself and are reaching a very intense level of anxiety, you can use the ice diving technique. If you are on beta blockers, have a heart condition, or any other medical condition, consult a healthcare provider before doing this. The ice diving technique means filling a bowl with ice, and sticking your face in it. This lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, which helps with distressing emotions and reactions and lowers the anxiety levels. It can take around 15-30 seconds for the effects to occur.
  • Changing your environment can be good when you are anxious. Whether that means going to an imaginary safe place in your head, going to a place in your house where you feel most safe, going for a brief calm walk, or going to a friends house, a change in scenery can help calm you down.
  • Keep your reasons to recover in mind and find purpose in those negative emotions. For example: “I’m doing this because I want to recover.” Knowing that these negative emotions are playing a part in moving forwards can help.
  • Relax your body. Tensing up, which is a natural reaction to anxiety and stress, signals to your body that you are in danger and therefore continues to make you feel anxious. Try to relax. Let your shoulders drop. Lean back into a sofa or lie down on the bed. Unclench your muscles. This signals to your body that you are not in danger, and so can decrease anxiety.

Anxiety relating to recovery from an eating disorder is unpleasant at best, and overwhelmingly awful at worst, but it is something that can be managed, and something that will improve when it as your recovery progresses. If you can, do get a therapist to help you to help yourself throughout this difficult time. Hang in there, you can do this!