I considered writing a post about eating disorders to mark ED awareness week, despite this being a kitchen garden blog, simply because it has been exactly one year since I went to hospital myself.
I considered writing about how hard any eating disorder is, how different, how similar, how corrupting, how painful. I was going to list the physical problems, like the pain of sitting down on the toilet with not bottom for protection, and the mental problems, like the fear of guilt that makes you feel like you are going to explode. I had a long, long, long list written out, but then I realised: you don’t need me to tell you how bad any illness is. I’m not here to frighten anyone, I’m here to offer some light.
What you need to know is that
When you don’t have an eating disorder…
- you feel happy.
- you can breath again.
- you feel warm.
- you can eat proper meals.
- you can sit down and watch a movie or read a book.
- you can smile.
- you can straighten up again.
- you can hold a conversation with another human being.
- you can exercise because you can, not because you have to or ‘want’ to, but because your body is well enough so you can, for fun!
- is enjoying the little things in life you were ignoring.
- is buying clothes from the adult section.
- is being a truthful person no longer lying.
- is being a good friend, daughter/son, sibling, partner.
- is being able to join in with Christmas or Easter or birthdays.
- is feeling alive.
- is being able to say ‘sod you ED, I beat you!’
Many professionals have likened an eating disorder to someone with a broken arm or leg, that you have to give it time to heal. I’ve never quite seen that connection. TO me, the best way to describe an eating disorder is to compare it to an addiction – drugs, alcohol, even smoking. It is accepted that it is really hard to break these addictions, but there is an awful lot of secrecy and words not said. Broken body parts are acceptable to talk about, to be on display. Eating disorders are there to be hidden, to be shameful, embarrassing, a secret. No one goes round advocating that they have one, everyone else goes around staring and whispering, being frightened of this unknown, well, thing. But back to likening ED to addictions: Most of the time it involves intervention, extreme therapy and abstaining from the substance forever. Well, an eating disorder is like these addictions, but the thing we are addicted to is not an external object, but inside us. We become addicted to the feelings we get when we restrict/overeat/purge/exercise and it becomes our safety net. As the world becomes more terrifying, that bond gets stronger. It is so hard to change someone’s mind. For some reason, the pain you get from an eating disorder seems better than the pain you feel when you go against it, then you are stuck in a cycle and it is so hard to break.
Life is hard. I’m sitting here, a year on, and my meal plan has been slightly increased again – not because I’ve lost weight, but because I’m still a couple of kg under what would be the healthiest weight for me to maintain to be safe from anything that might cause me to lose weight in the future. Even now, I have to keep a strict eye on myself at all times.
I still have bad days. Some VERY bad days where everything hurts so much. I sometimes would not get up if it was not to feed my cat and the idea that I could garden or practice yoga, the three things in the world that make me feel at ease and give my life meaning at this point in time.
I am recovered, but I still have an eating disorder – my way of looking at the world is different to everybody else’s. I can’t afford to skip a meal otherwise it means I’m ‘ill’ again. I can’t eat at random times, I have a strict timetable to keep to. I can’t join in with random exercises otherwise hyper-gymnasia takes hold. My whole day is about staying in control and not losing my hold of the steering wheel – because once we are off course, it is hard to get back. Life feels very hard sometimes. If anyone wants to know how an addictive eating disorder feels, listen to Sara Bareilles ‘Gravity’ on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_U6iSAn_fY
But then I have those beautiful moments. Those moments when I see my broad beans poking up their heads from the soil. When the first blossoms flower on the trees. When I feel the sun on my face. When I’ve cooked a dish I’m proud of. When my dog bounds up to me in the snow. When my sister or brother crack a joke that makes me laugh until my sides hurt.
Eating disorders are like all addictions – they take a very strong hold of you, but they don’t really own you. Despite how you feel, you can always come back. There is always something to come back to.
Everyone: if you know someone who is struggling from an eating disorder, give them a hug and tell them that they are not alone despite what they think, and that you love them. Sometimes that’s all anyone needs to hear to chase a daemon away. Stay safe, stay strong, stay happy.
I’m writing another book, this one is for everyone, to teach us all how to find sunshine in our lives.
If you need some help from an eating disorder, here is my self-published book, available on Amazon: My new book: A Growing Mind: the small book of gardening for eating disorders