Eating disorders are a matter of life and death. They can and do kill. Let’s not forget that.
But they are also, for many, a matter of life and half life. I’m talking about the people for whom having an eating disorder turns from a year into a lifetime. The people who sustain themselves just enough to live a half life. A life that is greyed by the constant inner battles around food, exercise, and eating.
These are the people whom I often refer to as “functioning” eating disorder sufferers. They almost look okay — there maybe tell-tale signs of thinning hair, brittle nails, pasty, yellowed or paper-like skin, tooth decay, a tendency to feel the cold, more hair on the arms and neck than usual — and they for the most part seem to function okay too. I was one of them for five years. I was desperately unhappy, but maintained just enough weight that complete strangers didn’t stop me in the street anymore and ask me if I needed a ride to the hospital. Some days I wished they still did that, because I felt just as sick as I ever had done but even more hopeless.
Trouble is, it is difficult enough for us to know that we are sick due to anosognosia, so when we present as looking “okay” and other people stop treating us as if we are unwell, we doubt even more the extent to our illness.
Why is it a half life?
Because you can’t eat a bite of food without your eating disorder screaming at you.
Because you can’t take a day off exercise without feeling guilty.
Because your life is plagued with routines and rules.
Because you are unable to relax.
Because you are never truly present. You don’t connect with people they way that you used to. It is as if there is a glass pane in-between you and those you love now.
Because you spend your entire life on a knife edge. You crack easily. You are mean when you don’t want to be. You lie about things to hide your eating disorder.
Because some days the anxiety feels like it is going to break you.
Because you know that your body is failing, it needs more than you are giving it. You never give it enough fuel to do anything more than get through the day, and it hasn’t had a chance to repair and relax properly in years. It is exhausted. It is hungry.
Can you stay here?
I thought I was going to be stuck halfway for the rest of my like. Staying there seemed easier than battling my eating disorder further. But only for so long. After a while it felt like a special kind of purgatory.
I could have stayed there. I could have taken the risk that my heart would hold out on a diet that for most people would be considered starvation. I could have hedged my bets against my soul holding out on the depression that malnutrition wants to force on it. I could have hoped that I wouldn’t suddenly crack one day and want to end it all.
That’s not me being dramatic, most common cause of death from Anorexia is actually suicide. I contemplated it myself when I was sick. In some respect, if I had not chosen full recovery I think suicide would have been the better option. A half life was not a life worth living for me. The loneliness, the confusion, the mental anguish of never making the right decision as far as my eating disorder was concerned was too much for me to sustain. I came to a point where I had to make a choice.
I chose full recovery.
Continuing all the way with recovery meant I can now be totally being relaxed and present with a loved one — there are no food or exercise thoughts taking up the space in my head where that love should have been. My eating disorder never allowed me to fully connect with other people. It was threatened by that. A half life for me was a life of loneliness because of that.
Go the whole way
What does that look like?
Relaxation, you can sit in a chair and not feel guilty like you should be moving.
Colour. Seriously, in full recovery my eyes must have started working better or something, as the world literally got brighter.
Laughing more often. Eating disorders don’t like fun, or humour. I do. I love that I can laugh a lot again.
Enjoying food. I mean really enjoying food. Mindlessly enjoying food.
Days off. Eating disorders never give you a day off. You can take a day of work (but even that is difficult, right?) but when you do, you are driven to do something. A full recovery means you can take a day off and sit on the sofa with a good book, a box of chocolates, and the dog if you want.
Enjoying family. Okay, so sometimes families are a pain in the butt whether you have an eating disorder or not, but at least now you can look forward to Christmas and other holidays without the food anxiety.
There are a million other reasons that I could fill this blog post with.
Do you really have a choice?
I don’t think so. If you are reading my website you know you have an eating disorder and you want to recover. Even if you haven’t said that out loud to anyone yet, you know it is true deep down. I don’t think you have a choice really. Unless you like the idea of staying as you are … and I don’t think you do.
No, your life is your life. You get to call the shots, not your eating disorder. It has already been in the driver’s seat too long. Enough already.
You can fully recover. I did it. I know hundreds of others who have done it. You can do it. You just have to chose the full life over the half life.
That really is the hardest step.
Now that you have made that decision, what can you do?
Oh, this part is easy — you get help. You will do this so much faster if you involve other people. Talk to a loved one — if they don’t “get” eating disorders then get them to call me and I will give them the lowdown. Find an eating disorder specialist. If you don’t have anyone close to talk to (and that is not surprising or anything to be ashamed of because eating disorder make us push people away) or you have trouble finding professional help then reach out to me and I will help you work out what your treatment team should look like.
The door is open. Walk through it.