The theme of this year’s Eating Disorder’s Awareness Week is #whywait, on seeking help and support.
Since my illness onset was a long time ago and I’m now in a place where I openly talk and reflect on my experiences and recovery, I’m not sure I will be able to accurately put myself back in that headspace of the teenager who was constantly in denial and attempting to evade detection and interventions from the healthcare system. But I will give it a go, and hopefully it might be encouraging to hear that seeking help is possible and allowing yourself to reach out for support is hugely important step to take.
I have only ever been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and even within that, was someone who was able to access care after only around a year of struggling, which I know, sadly, is not the case for so many people. Therefore, my experiences will have been very different from so many people who have been left without intervention for a much longer period or have experienced different forms of disordered eating.
From my own lived experience as someone who has been a part of many group therapies, lived with others on an inpatient unit, and subsequently supported my own friends with a variety of disordered eating, I do know that seeking help as the person with an eating disorder is one of the hardest things to do. However, In the context of recovery, it’s SO important.
For me, seeking help was the turning point towards a successful recovery, and although I was presented with help before I was ready to seek it, when I felt ready to receive help, my recovery began. Without intervention from the people around me and the healthcare system, I don’t think I would not be able to call myself recovered today. I had a huge fear of people finding out about behaviours I was trying to hide, and losing control seemed like the worst thing in the world. I don’t think I could have broken the cycle without support or without people discovering my behaviour. Today I am so glad that I was able to relinquish that control and access help. People who have been able to seek out care amid struggling with an eating disorder are truly so brave.
Everyone will have symptoms and behaviours specific to them. Is it a thought pattern? A change in your physical behaviours? Have you become more withdrawn? Do you obsessively seek triggering images or information? Is it a feeling that you want to hide your behaviour? Being able to identify any unhelpful symptoms is important, and having the courage to disclose these and seek help when you notice these behaviours is also so important.
So maybe think today about who you could approach and how. Are you too worried about the implications of telling your GP? How about your parents? Could you confide in a close friend? Are there any anonymous forums on the internet you feel comfortable using? Is there a colleague or member of staff at school or university who is designated as being the person to approach about mental health? Is there a local recovery group you can attend? Can you call a mental health helpline? Identify a resource that seems manageable and take the leap. Is it too difficult to tell someone face to face? Are you unsure how to communicate how you are feeling? Is it possible to send them a text? Show them a diary entry?
There are so many people who want to help you, and you deserve to no longer be suffering from such a horrible illness. It is important to educate yourself on behaviours/thoughts that might be unhelpful and bring them up when you notice them, before your illness progresses seriously; however, I am hugely aware that sometimes it is so difficult to notice these in yourself, especially at early stages.
So #whywait? Seeking help is so difficult due to the nature of eating disorders, and I hope that through education and de-stigmatisation more people feel empowered to be a source of support to those around them who may be suffering. If you are worried about a friend or family member, offer them a safe space to confide in you, and remember that their own decision to access care or support is an important change in thinking towards their recovery.
If you are currently struggling, I know that it is so difficult to feel like you can give away the control and secrecy and share your burden with someone else, but I encourage you to break the cycle, because a life free from an eating disorder is both possible and such a relief and joy to be living.