If any of you have a brother or sister, I’m guessing you all did that thing where one person says yes and the other says no and whoever gives up first loses? ‘Yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’….and so on. It gets pretty tiresome, doesn’t it? It’s quite hard to keep up.
Just imagine that both sides are your own mind. Imagine that happens every day in your own head. Your own thoughts are constantly fighting against each other. It is very difficult to distinguish which is rational, and which is irrational. This is a small insight to what an eating disorder is like to live with, or at least my own experiences.
I can’t speak for everyone with an eating disorder, each person has a different experience. However, there are a few things that I have learnt along my journey, which others that have and E.D can identify with, and those who have never experienced the disease can hopefully begin to understand.
Some people have this misconception that an eating disorder is just vain people wanting to be thinner. Shallow girls who don’t have ‘real problems’. Or even, I’ve heard people say that ‘it would be handy to be anorexic’ because at least they would lose weight. I can tell you with absolute certainty, one day inside the mind of an eating disorder sufferer, and anyone who had the choice not to be in that environment would be gone as fast as possible.
So, firstly, it’s not just girls who have eating disorders. They do affect boys and men too, although less common than in girls, it is unfortunately becoming more frequent in boys.
Secondly, eating disorders are not vain, shallow or really about how you look at all. This is the symptom to much larger and more complex issue. An eating disorder is about so much more than appearance, its just that your brain doesn’t know how to deal with the real problems, and so it disguises them with one overwhelming problem. How you look. What you eat. What you weigh.
These thoughts consume you, and at first it’s often a coping mechanism. It feels as though you do have some control over things. Controlling what you eat and how much you exercise can mean that the real issue is pushed to the back of your mind and doesn’t seem so bad. You don’t have to deal with what’s really going on.
The thing is, whilst you fool yourself that you are in control, you are actually losing all control. The eating disorder is controlling everything you do, slowly but surely gaining territory in your mind. It gets more and more difficult to fight with it. All the while the real problem that was pushed to the back of your mind, gets shoved further and further back.
I think the most important thing to realise about an eating disorder, or any kind of mental health problem, is that it is not something the person can just ‘get over’ or decide to be happy or just ‘cheer up’. Many people seem to have an idea that it is somehow more of a choice than a physical illness.
And you can’t simply choose to eat. It just isn’t that simple. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, not a lifestyle choice. The thing is, when you are in the midst of an eating disorder, you often can’t see that you have an illness. There is no distinction between your own mind, and the eating disorder thoughts.
My experience of this, over the last six, or probably more, years is that the ONLY way to recover, the only way to begin to push the illness away, is through talking. Challenging. Challenging thoughts and behaviours and rules, every day.
I am going to be writing more about these experiences, as I think it really resonates with the phrase ‘Live Loudly’. Talking, and sharing your struggles. Mental health is NOT something to be ashamed of, or to speak in hushed tones about. We need to discuss these issues and let people know that it is okay to feel like this, and that you can recover and feel better.
Thankfully, after three years of therapy, I am on the right track. Just because I am weight restored does not mean I am ‘recovered’, but I’m getting there. I’m learning how to challenge the anorexic thoughts, and behaviours. I know that the more we talk about these things, the easier it will be for others to start and continue with recovery.
Don’t ever feel embarrassed or ashamed to speak up about mental health. Our minds are just as important as our bodies.