As an individual who often struggles to verbalise disordered thoughts, attempting to engage in therapy and meaningful conversations is something I find hugely challenging. I believe it is also one of the reasons as to why I have felt stuck in partial recovery for several years, an experience I now hope to share with others who may also feel that full recovery is an unrealistic expectation. Alike many individuals who live with an eating disorder and associated mental health difficulties, I have often turned to the words of others as sources of comfort. I have spent years in search of emotional resonance with others’ experiences and have often acquired a better understanding of my own brain and felt less alone as a result.
I was adamant for years that quasi-recovery was all I would be capable of; I could not envision my life without it being limited in some capacity by disordered thoughts. I always hoped that there would eventually come a time where these thoughts took up less brain- and life-space, but I did not believe that this was something I could realistically achieve and in complete honesty, be content with.
For various reasons, much of my recovery has been self-led. I do see a doctor and take anti-depressant medication, but in the past, when I have consulted therapists and engaged with counselling programmes, I never really felt that I got anywhere. I think this is largely because I struggled to part with the information these people needed in order to help me.
Put quite simply, I did not actually want to get better.
I knew that this was an odd thing to feel and consequently believed that I did not deserve the help I was being offered because of it. I felt so ashamed to say that I did not want or feel ready to be helped, because it felt like I was choosing to stay this way. I can understand now that these thoughts are part of the illness. Not only can physical symptoms of an eating disorder be devastating, but the associated mental processes and comorbidities are extremely difficult to overcome and treat without early intervention (National Eating Disorders Association, 2016).
Rejecting the notion of wanting to hold on to my disordered dialogue, or needing to hold on to it in order to feel secure, was how I moved on from believing that I was only capable of partial recovery. My first experience with disordered eating was at the age of eleven, and I would say that I started actively trying to recover when I was nineteen. At twenty-one, I have now come to realise that I can do better than quasi-recovery. Or, as I should say as part of my continual challenging of my own disordered dialogue, I have come to realise that I am deserving of more than that.
Starting university was hugely influential with regards to my coming to this realisation. Prior to this, I had been in full-time ballet training. I stopped dancing in June 2018, the year before what would have been my graduation, and started studying at a university four hundred miles away that September. The reasons for why I stopped dancing are not relevant here, but the process of reframing my thoughts on the decision to leave definitely is. Instead of convincing myself that I failed, I now view that decision to leave as the first real step towards making a better life for myself. I counter thoughts of: ‘you still can’t eat normally having left dance, so you might as well have kept doing it’ by remembering that although there are still days where I struggle, in the past two years I have abstained from disordered behaviours for the longest periods of time since I was twelve. I no longer feel undeserving of moments to recognise my achievements, and that is one of the ways I know that I have made substantial progress in my recovery.
I am now in a position in my life where there is more to it than dancing and mental health problems. I have found a subject I am passionate about, which enables me to connect my love for dance and passion for helping others with something that has ultimately helped me to become the happiest and healthiest version of myself to date. I study dance science (think sport science but applied to the context of dance!) and am particularly interested in psychology. I feel very strongly that I want to help others and have used this in the past as my primary motivation to want to recover. However, to go back to what I said before about not getting much out of therapy, back then I did not want to get better for myself. Support is an aspect of recovery I have struggled to embrace in the past, and it was not until I had conversations with new friends who did not know me as a dancer and my programme leader at university, that I came to the realisation that in order to actually help others, I first had to value myself and recognise my potential to live a life that is not limited by a disordered voice.
And so, to anyone reading this who recognises themselves as in partial recovery: keep going. That turning point of realising that you have more to achieve is not something I was actively trying to reach; it happened because small, everyday challenges to my disordered voice began to add up in value and power, despite periods of relapse. I strongly believe that for many, once you have chosen recovery, you will not be able to justify turning back to your disorder in the same way that you did whilst you were first unwell. You must be stubborn, and you must keep envisioning the feelings, achievements, and life path that you were always worthy of.