December’s an important time for me. Four years ago, in December 2012 when I was 28, I finally sought help for my binge eating disorder. I did so after a decade of spiralling further in despair and getting sicker and sicker year after year.
In December 2014 I was discharged from outpatient treatment. Now, two years on, I’d love to tell you that living my post-treatment life is effortless. But it’s not. It’s still hard every day, and especially at this time of year. There is still much work to do.
That first Christmas, and even the second one, I felt a bit cocky. I thought, because I’d done so much work on myself, that the festive season would be a doddle. As far as I was concerned, it was a chance to prove myself and to be (yep, here comes that word that plagues many of us) perfect.
Even though I knew Christmas was typically a time when my ED behaviours had gone wild in the past, I truly believed everything would be flawless this time. Of course, it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, and I really did beat myself up about that.
It was like I expected myself to be an entirely new person when I started to kill off my ED. But I’m not a new person. I’m the same old me, and sometimes I have some pretty messed up thoughts about my body and about eating. But this time I’ve got some weapons. They’re a bit blunt, but I’m working on them.
Actually, just humour me a sec while I expand on this (totally unfestive, admittedly) weapon analogy. We get given some weapons by our treatment teams, and then they help us wield them and start to sharpen them. But then it falls to us to practise with them and to start to use them on our everyday challenges. The weapons feel very heavy to us at first, and they’re still not all that sharp. So it takes a load of effort to win even the smallest battle at first.
Then, perhaps a few months into our training, along comes boss-level, hulking beast of a challenge in the form of Christmas. And we wonder why the battle doesn’t quite go as planned.
Now, actually, I deep-down love Christmas. It’s not my nemesis, or an enemy to be vanquished. But it does present some challenges to myself and many with an eating disorder. And so I believe the answer isn’t to expect or demand perfection from ourselves, but to extend the seasonal spirit of goodwill to ourselves.
I plan on doing this in several ways. And I fully expect to fall down numerous times in the process. And when I do? I won’t beat myself up!
I’ll be celebrating the little things and being kind to myself. I’ll be patting my own back every time I can see something’s got slightly easier for me, or when I achieve even the smallest victory. Small steps add up. Also, I’ll be reminding myself that it’s okay to relax and unwind. Humans have been scheduling in some winter relax-and-party time for centuries, after all.
I’ll be giving myself credit and acknowledgement. It doesn’t matter no one else found the annual family get-together an anxiety-fest, or if that night out shouldn’t have been triggering. If something was difficult for me, I’ll be giving myself acknowledgement for that, and for surviving it, even if I didn’t quite deal with it in the optimum way.
I’ll be checking in with myself. I find mindfulness incredibly hard, but it’s useful and I’m going to persevere. It’s a useful way of checking in with myself and noticing those feelings that I used to bury with bingeing. I can then do my best to express those emotions in other ways. This concept is still sadly a bit alien to me, but I’m doing my best.
I’ll be asking for / seeking out what I need. My parents and I have stopped going to big family Christmas meals because we all enjoy a relaxed and quiet Christmas day. And I must admit, this really helps me too from a recovery perspective. Also, I book in quiet time with myself as I’m an introvert who gets stressed at the thought of too much socialising. And I’m going to try to call on the support from my friends and family. I really do think most of our loved ones wish we’d stop trying to be so strong and would share the burden a little with them.
I’ll be reaching out for support. While I’m enormously grateful for how amazing my support network is, we can have the most supportive friends and family in the world, but try as they might, they can’t understand what it’s like to have an ED. So I’ll be checking in with Beat and other sources of eating disorder support such as blogs and social media communities, so I can remind myself that I’m not alone.
I’ll be giving myself a holiday routine. I’ve struggled in the past with the lack of routine that the holiday season brings as I find a daily rhythm somehow just makes me feel better. This year, I plan to put a sort of loose routine in place, with things like walking my dog in the morning and maybe a Christmas film or a craft session in the afternoon.
I’m hoping these things will help me to experience Christmas with a greater sense of wellbeing this year. I hope one day I can look back on these messy, experimental, challenging years and feel proud of myself for pushing through to happier days ahead.
Here’s to kinder, happier holidays for us all.
Contributed by Meg
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.
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.