*If you are struggling with an eating disorder, you might find this article to be triggering. Consider waiting to read this and visit BEAT instead*
Sometimes I miss my eating disorder, and that thought makes me feel so ashamed. I look back at how things were when my biggest focus was making my body smaller and taking up less space in the world, and it feels easier. It feels easier than working to love my body. It feels easier than being bigger than other people and feeling self-conscious about it. It feels easier than regulating my own emotions and being responsible for my happiness.
But I don’t really miss my eating disorder because my eating disorder was killing me, so slowly that I barely noticed it. I don’t really miss my eating disorder because it stole so much from me; it stole time, happiness, passion, innocence and love.
When it feels like you miss this time of your life, when it feels like you want to go back to it, just know that you don’t really miss your eating disorder. Instead, you miss the following things:
Struggling with a mental illness, like an eating disorder, narrows your vision. It feels like looking through a sniper lens, as all you can see is the issue. Every day was spent thinking about my body and how wrong it was. I spent time staring at the mirror, zooming in on my flaws. My day revolved around food, or rather the lack of it. I was counting calories, working out how much I needed to exercise, dreaming of a day when I would no longer need to.
But that day doesn’t come. The focus will never stop as you’ll never be happy with it. And through that focus, you miss so much else in life. I look back on my high school years, and I genuinely barely remember them. Maybe it was the extreme calorie deficit that I was living in, or maybe it was that hyper-focus on my body, but I don’t remember much of my teenage years. I will never get that time back. I can never undo the damage I did to relationships.
With that focus comes a sense of control. You have one thing to worry about, and so that is all you worry about. There are many things that you can’t control in life. For me, it was my heavy depression and unhappy family. But I could control what I ate, I could log it diligently into a calorie-counting app (please never download one!), and I could spend hours exercising. I could control everything that entered my body, and it made me feel secure. There was a sick security to looking at the tiny portion on my plate, to planning how I could avoid food.
It felt like I was so in control. It was a feeling I had only ever gotten from self-harm, and I think that’s because a lot of my eating disorder was about punishing and controlling myself. But when I look back now, I realise that I wasn’t in control, my eating disorder was. I couldn’t control how much I ate because I should’ve been eating far more. I was under the thumb of my mental illness, skipping events to avoid food and lying to everyone who cared about me. I couldn’t control what I did after eating, it was like someone else was in control of my body and mind. I was the most out of control I had ever been, but my mind was sick enough to convince me that this was what I wanted.
My eating disorder felt like a bandaid over my struggles. I was heavily depressed and anxious, but for these small moments, I felt like I was okay, even though I was less okay than ever. An eating disorder can feel like a comfort blanket, something you hold as you convince yourself that everything is working out. It brings a sense of calmness, as you go through the motions of life and follow the same routines.
But there is no comfort in killing yourself slowly. There is no real comfort in torturing your body and mind. That comfort is fake signals sent by your brain as it tries to exist in starvation mode. Your body is struggling to function, and so you enter a false sense of comfort. Real comfort lies in caring for yourself, in fuelling your body and treating it well, in knowing that people aren’t scared for you, in knowing that you are enjoying your precious life.
As I mentioned, a significant aspect of my eating disorder acted as a replacement for self-harm. It helped to quieten my busy mind and provide temporary relief. The behaviours of an eating disorder can numb your emotions so that you feel momentary relief.
But that relief never lasts, and the feeling that follows is so much worse. The guilt carried during an eating disorder is exhausting. The guilt over what you’re doing to yourself and others lingers long after you’ve stopped. It’s too easy to enter a cycle of numbing yourself with eating disorder behaviours and then feeling guilty and needing to repeat.
You might feel temporarily good when you see the effects of your disorder, but it is never enough. You’ll always want more; you’ll never be happy, because your body isn’t the issue, your mind is.
When we think we miss our eating disorder, we think of all the brief moments of good feeling. We look at photos and think of how much smaller we were, something we can see now in recovery. But at the time, you didn’t feel smaller; you felt huge and unhappy. You were so unhappy, because your body was fighting for its life and didn’t have the energy to spare for good things.
You don’t miss feeling like your body was your only purpose. Like everything else in your life was less important. You don’t miss letting everything else slip away until you were alone and had lost too much. You don’t miss waking up one day to realise that you had done this and not knowing how to get back. The hobbies and passion you sacrificed. I’m a writer, and I barely wrote during this time because I physically and mentally couldn’t. It now feels like wasted time towards my goals.
You don’t miss feeling so isolated. You isolated yourself, because that was the only way to keep going with your disordered behaviour. People who loved you would try to make you stop, so you avoided them. People who loved you would see through your lies, so you limited your time with them. Birthdays stopped being fun and were a challenge. Time with friends was preceded by calculating how you could avoid food. Nothing was just fun anymore; it was a negotiation with your own mind.
You don’t miss the physical symptoms of your eating disorder. Looking back at photos, you know that you didn’t look good. You looked sick. Eating disorders cause dry skin, brittle nails, swelling around salivary glands, thin hair, dental issues and more. You know this, you remember this, you just used to think it was worth it and now know that it isn’t. Do you remember the dizziness? The struggle to concentrate? How cold you felt and how you always got sick? That’s because your body was breaking down, and nothing is worth doing that to yourself.
You don’t miss how hard it was to stop. It felt so easy to start, and yet stopping was one of the hardest decisions. The act of eating normally felt like the most foreign thing in the world. The act of not weighing yourself felt like a lie. It was so difficult, but you managed it, so don’t make yourself go through it all again.
It can be so tempting to romanticise your eating disorder, to look back with rose-tinted glasses and think that it’s somehow the solution to your negative feelings. But resist this urge, take off these glasses and remember it all. That voice telling you it was better is lying to you; it is trying to trick you into returning to the worst time in your life.
You deserve to eat. You deserve to feel good in your body and mind. You deserve to be healthy and happy. You don’t deserve to go through your eating disorder again, and the deeper you get, the harder it will be to escape. When it feels so tempting to reminisce and return, instead focus on everything you can do now, everything that you couldn’t do before.
There is no singular path to recovery, no day when you’re suddenly cured. But you’re not alone in this, we are all here, choosing to live every day. So make the right decision today, tomorrow and every day until it gets a little easier.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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