A few weeks ago, my friend Laura asked me to make a blog post on how to be supportive during my relapse. I’ve thought about it a little bit since then, and I have a few ideas. But first I need to show you where I’m coming from.
2015 was a great year for me. My recovery process skyrocketed throughout most of it, I made more friends than I ever imagined possible and the entire year was full of self-discovery. I successfully transferred to a 4-year institution to finish my undergrad and my career has already begun to take root. I was (am) doing really good. On the surface, anyway. That’s why this relapse surprised me just as much as it did everyone else.
I’m not necessarily unhappy with my weight right now, although I still haven’t reached the “I love my body” part of recovery (it’s more of a ‘my body is not my biggest concern’ stage right now). This is why it’s important to understand that eating disorders are not all about weight. I may not look “anorexic” like I did before, but appearance is not a reliable indication of one’s condition. I’m struggling, and that alone is cause enough for concern.
So if it’s not about weight, what is it about? Control. Stress. Fear of not living up to my own expectations. All of these things can trigger ED behaviors. The weight thing is really a side-effect. The difference between someone who goes on a diet and someone who has an eating disorder is that the former loses weight for the sake of doing so while the latter loses weight as a coping mechanism for some deeper issue. Stress causes me to lose my appetite, and I’ve never had a strong appetite anyway. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know when I’m hungry, which stresses me out even more, and sometimes leads to binging later on.
What does relapse feel like? Well, at first I was actively restricting again. I wasn’t compensating, but I was avoiding caloric intake. After winter break started and a lot of the stress from school was gone, it was easier for me to tune out the ED voice and eat regularly. My mom’s supervision helped, too. Now, I’m eating 3 meals a day and snacks in between. So I’m back to healthy habits, for now. The problem is the thoughts are still strong. I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt every time I eat. The good news is I’m not giving in to it.
Now let me re-introduce you to Ana. It recently occurred to me that it’s been a while since I used Ana in a post, and many of you have no idea who she is. Ana is the name I give my eating disorder to personify it.
*Disclaimer: “Ana” is named strictly based on the pronunciation of “anorexia.” I have a dear friend named Anna. The two are not to be confused.
It helps me to make sense of it and separate myself from the illness. Think of a mean girl that tells you that you’ll never be good enough, points out all your flaws and makes you feel like a failure simply for doing what is necessary to survive. She also lives with you and sleeps with you and follows you everywhere you go. That’s Ana. And yes, she’s a b*tch.
Now, what can you do for me? The answer is very simple. Be there. I don’t need you to understand, nor do I expect you to (hey, I don’t even fully understand what’s going on with me). I simply need you to be supportive. I don’t have a list of demands. Whatever your heart tells you to do is up to you. There may be times when I need a check-up. Ask me how I’m doing, if I’m eating regularly, how my stress levels are. Hugs are always nice, too. But the most important thing you can do is not give up on me.
I have survived the holidays, thankfully. Now I’m just waiting for all the hype about diets and weight loss that come with the New Year to subside (here’s my article from last year on New Year’s resolutions). Soon I will be heading back to uni. That’s when I’ll need you the most. It’s easy to feel like I’m on top when I have nothing stressing me out over the break, but I may need a little more support as I go back to all the books and classes and extra-curriculars and resume builders.
I will beat this. It will be a lot easier with you in my corner.
Also, please check out this Buzzfeed article: