I am seeing a lot of memes etc on social media pointing out to the rest of the world that this pandemic is particularly difficult for people with eating disorders. This post isn’t doing to be like that. I just don’t believe that sort messaging effectively helps anyone. Maybe I am wrong there. Maybe the sympathy inspires people in recovery to work harder? I’m just not personally wired that way. And more importantly, I think people in recovery are stronger than this sort of rhetoric paints them to be. Sure, the pandemic is difficult for everyone. What is really is not, is an excuse.
The bigger thing that concerns me about all this “poor people in recovery, aren’t they suffering” posting, is that I know how eating disorder brains can work. I know that when I had anorexia, had I seen such messaging, and had I not actually struggling that much with the changes in the world due to COVID-19, I would begin to wonder why I wasn’t struggling as much as apparently I should be. I would begin to think if I wasn’t struggling awfully then maybe I wasn’t sick enough in the beginning. I would think I needed to restrict more and exercise more as I obviously wasn’t finding this as difficult as other people with eating disorders were. Eating disorders can twist any message, for sure. I think the best overall message for people in recovery is: “You can do this. You have to do this. Get on with it.”
For some people in recovery during these COVID-19 times things are, indeed, worse. You may be trying to recover with a stay-at-home order which leaves you locked in with an abusive partner. You may have lost your job, and be feeling financially insecure. You may live on your own, and be stuck inside with only the internet. You may experience spikes in anxiety and depression if that is something that you also suffer with. For anyone in these circumstances, my message is still that you can and you will do this. You can recover. Because if there is one thing that all people with eating disorders have in common it is that we are utterly badass stubborn and infuriatingly strong willed people.
For the many of you reading this, COVID-19 is not actually making your recovery attempt more difficult. The panic buying in many grocery stores has not left you without food. It is not true that you don’t have as much to eat. The increase in general anxiety has not led to your appetite dropping. The stay-at-home order hasn’t meant anything other than it is easier for you to rest, actually. You’re okay, and this is absolutely not a bad thing for your recovery. Unless you choose for it to be.
Allowing COVID-19 to cause a backstep in recovery is a choice. Ouch, I know. I’m mean. I’m also honest. It isn’t like you don’t know deep down that thought telling you to hoard and restrict food more than usual in case the world runs out of Maltesers is a disordered thought making a grab at you. You do know that. I know you know it. You know you know it. So let’s not mess around pretending you are completely ignorant as to how this dynamic works.
Knowing that you know your eating disorder is making a play, here comes the choice part. Do you:
a) Restrict Malteasers.
b) Restrict Malteasers and buy and hoard food
c) Ignore that thought and carry on eating Malteasers
Now, don’t tell me you don’t know what the recovery-orientated answer is here. You do.
It was never that you didn’t know the answer. Knowledge isn’t the issue here; fear is. It is that the answer might lead to weight gain, and you are afraid of weight gain. It is never that you don’t know what to do, and always that you are afraid of weight gain. Ninety-nine percent of my dilemmas when I had an eating disorder were due feeling threatened by weight gain. Fear can have a blinding effect but you don’t even need to be seeing clearly to know that you are restricting. You always know. And if you are in recovery, you cannot be restricting.
The problem you have to solve if you are in recovery during COVID-19 is the same as the problem you had to solve when you were in recovery before this pandemic. And the question is how to always do the recovery-orientated thing, despite your fear. How to not allow your fear to hijack your recovery. Overcoming fear is always at the core of recovery. That was the case before Coronavirus, during Coronavirus, and will be the case after Coronavirus. Recovery is about facing the challenge of eating and resting and embracing your unsuppressed bodyweight while your brain is throwing the feelings of fear, shame, guilt, disgust, and anxiety at you.
Your brain is afraid of what you have to do. Because it is afraid, it will use anything it can to convince you that now is not the time to challenge the thing you are afraid of challenging. If it is not COVID-19, it will be something else. I can already tell you that when the restrictions are fully lifted and gyms are reopened and everyone is on social media shouting about all the lockdown weight they have to shift, that your brain will try and use that as a “trigger.” I know it is going to happen. You know it is going to happen. So prepare mentally and make the decision now that you are not going to allow the post-lockdown madness to affect your recovery. In the same way you are not going to allow the lockdown madness to affect your recovery now.
If you have decided to recover, you will find a way regardless of the shit 2020 throws at you. Coronavirus, locusts, murder hornets, Trump getting re-elected, aliens … whatever … you will recover. I’m not going to tell you that it is okay if you try less hard because we have experiencing a global nightmare right now. I’m going to tell you that you are strong and you can handle this. Because you can.