Christmas can be a difficult time for many reasons, but it can be especially challenging when you live with an eating disorder.
Two December’s ago, I entered a day patient treatment programme for my anorexia, after reaching a crisis point following a very rapid relapse. I have struggled with this illness for most of my life, and it often has a way of sneaking up on you. It took control of me very quickly and I deteriorated faster than eating disorder services could keep up with, meaning that by the time I was offered outpatient treatment, I wasn’t in a position to be able to do it.
I had started feeling stressed about Christmas around September time. I have always loved this time of year, but anorexia has stolen it from me at times, and that’s never been truer than it was last year. I was completely fixated on how I could avoid social events, stick to my routines uninterrupted and how to get out of the many, many occasions that food would be at the centre of.
I sat with my dietician a few days before Christmas, trying to work out what I could eat in what quantities without increasing my risk of refeeding syndrome. We agreed a plan for me to try and stick to over the festive period that felt completely impossible, and some of it was. I spent Christmas morning with family, completely absorbed in my own anorexic world, overwhelmed with anxiety about trying to eat something that resembled a Christmas dinner in a desperate attempt to please other people and make the day feel somewhat normal. I ate what was agreed on my meal plan and I cried for most of the evening, feeling suffocated by guilt at ruining the day and making it about me, when I wanted nothing more than to disappear.
I joined day patient thinking that I would never get better, and I couldn’t have dreamed to be where I am today. Things are still hard, but in March of this year I finished my treatment journey for what I hope is my final time. I have more freedom around food than I thought I ever would again, and I finally can now allow myself to rest without guilt. There are many sneaky ways in which anorexia influences my decisions, but these times are so much fewer and in much less significant ways than this time last year or the year before.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been excitedly planning Christmas dinner with my boyfriend. We’re talking about eating foods I thought I’d never be able to eat for the rest of my life, and I am doing so mostly free from anxiety. I’m thinking about the Christmas tree shaped crumpets that I’ll be having for breakfast, and the festive snacks I can share with my mum in the evening. I’m imagining how nice it will feel having a Bucks Fizz while opening presents and toasting to a better future over a glass of prosecco.
Sometimes, it is hard to recognise the progress I have made, because I still haven’t made quite as much as I would like. But at times like this, when I am forced to reflect, I realise how far I have come from the woman I was before, consumed by her eating disorder and hopeless about her future.
Recovery takes time and it isn’t a race – as long as I’m on the right track it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to reach the finish line. I’ll get there eventually, and next Christmas perhaps anorexia won’t be invited at all.
Contributed by Cara
Isabella discusses navigating Christmas with an eating disorder and Beat's support services over Christmas.
In the run-up to Christmas, there is a lot to juggle. The gifts we need to buy, the plans we have to make to see loved ones, how we might manage disruptions to our routine - all of these things can be difficult to handle at once.
Whatever this Christmas season is like for you, I want to give you hope for the Christmas future. I can't tell you that recovery is linear, or that five years on I don't still have wobbles and moments of doubt. But I can say that all of my efforts, all of the hard work and fear that has gone into my recovery has been worth it.