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A Change of Direction

The UK has been on pause now for three months, yet in such a short period of time life could not be any more different. My name is Alex, and I was referred to my local ED service a week before COVID-19 shut the country down. Like everyone who is currently under lockdown, my life has taken a complete change of direction. I was preparing for exams at university, my driving test was booked for the end of March, and I was planning to move to Canada to study for the next academic year. Now, however, everything has suddenly come to a halt, and I have been left with just my thoughts.

To be told that I have an eating disorder was (unsurprisingly) a shock, and initially it felt like the last block of the Jenga tower to bring my world crashing down. Has everything I have been doing for my health been a complete mistake? Was I really doing what was best for my body, or was it just a way for me to punish myself? How can I start recovery when we are all forced to remain apart, and services must be socially distant? The stark reality of my medical examination sent me into a panic, as I realised that my constant strive for ‘perfection’ – in food, exercise, and every other aspect of my life – was in reality sending me down a path of destruction…

I have not yet told anyone about my eating disorder, other than my immediate family. I understand that opening up to others is part of the recovery process, but I don’t know when I can voice this to those I care about. Not only am I still coming to terms with accepting it myself, but I don’t know if discussing this over a Zoom call or DM on Instagram would really be the most appropriate or comfortable way of doing it. So for now I have been isolated with this news, but I hope that by sharing my story here, others who are in the same situation as myself can understand that they are not alone. Despite being apart, we will get through this together – even if it means that things don’t always go to plan, or recovery takes longer due to the difficulties of this pandemic.

I have always been a perfectionist and obsessed over routines. For years I have stuck to the same patterns of studying, exercising and food, but the lockdown has now made this virtually impossible. Around this time of the year I would be sitting my last few exams before the end of the academic year, studying day in and day out, with plans for the summer ahead. Now however, with no exams and no clear indication of when life will go back to ‘normal’ (whatever form that may take), I have been struggling to cope with this complete change that I have no control over. Pair this with an eating disorder, and I am sure many of you can relate to the amount of anxiety that this can bring. One of the most difficult factors of having an ED is having a sense of control over our food, whether it be by how much, when or what we eat. Now that our routines have completely changed and we may be less active, I will admit that the temptation to restrict has sometimes been stronger than it ever has before.

Initially, I was really hard on myself for not being my usual productive self, for not taking ‘full advantage’ of all this free time and making it worthwhile by learning a language, baking banana bread or redecorating the garden, as I have seen so many people proudly display on social media. Not only this but I have also been frustrated with myself for making what I thought was ‘little’ progress in my recovery. However, I now realise that I need to stop criticising myself, and instead be proud of where I am today. We cannot compare our levels of productivity based on what they were like before this pandemic, because we are in the middle of a global crisis, and our lives are now completely different. I may not have completely recovered my weight or my relationship with food yet, but I am gradually coming to accept where I am right now and where I should keep striving to be. If we continue to be kind to both ourselves and to one another, we can get through this together.

Contributed by Alex