Recovery in the face of uncertainty

Posted 18/03/2020

These are hugely uncertain times we live in right now. It is hard to make sense of all the information in the media and to take measures to protect our own mental health. It’s hard to not feel completely ‘out of control’ and to feel anxious as the news starts to ‘hit home’ that things are going to look very different for us over the next few months. I recovered from an eating disorder around 2003 and there were very different pressures and concerns in the world at that time. I remember being glued to the television when 9/11 happened and wondering whether a war was starting. I’m not sure we can compare national disasters; however, we can all relate to how uncertainty feels.

So, I’m going to say something hugely controversial and slightly uncomfortable:

How can we use this to move forwards in our own recovery?

I remember going on holiday to Corfu with some school friends when I was really unwell. Leading up to this time, I hadn’t really left my room for six weeks and had shut myself away. I was in the grip of bulimia and was only going out to buy food to binge on. I had booked the holiday and felt that I had to go and not let my friends down. My parents really encouraged me to go as they really needed a break from me. I can’t imagine how hard it was for them during that phase of my illness. I don’t know how I mustered up the energy to go on that holiday. I was completely out of control and my eating disorder was absolutely rife. When we got to Corfu, I was an utter nightmare to my friends. We were staying in self-catered apartments. I wasn’t eating, I was drinking lots of alcohol and then stealing the food they had bought for us to eat when I needed to binge/purge.

I was far away from home, sharing an apartment with the three of them and feeling absolutely awful. I could hear them whispering about how out of control I was. In some ways, I deserved it.

I had nothing and no one and I didn’t know what to do. I was trapped. I started to feel hugely depressed and my self-worth was at rock bottom. I cried and cried and cried. I remember calling my mum and dad from a phone box (yes, I am that old) and telling them how awful and unsupportive my friends were.

I completely reached the end of myself. There was nothing left. Despair started to ‘set in’.

I had a notebook with me and I began to write. I wrote pages and pages and pages and just laid on my bed in the apartment for days. I cried and I then I wrote some more.  I just tried to make sense of what was going on. The only person I had left was myself and this was the hardest person to face. However after a few days, something emerged from my writing. Whilst I was forced to face myself, I found a spark. A spark of fight, a spark of hope. I started to question myself and why I was punishing myself. I started to write down a plan and what I needed to do. I started to face myself and to accept what I needed. No one was giving me therapy at this time, no one was there. It was just me.

I wouldn’t say that I’m hugely special or amazing – I’m totally not. I’m sure a lot of you will feel like the situations you’re facing are much worse than I’ve described. I knew I had an ‘end goal’ and that I would make it home. For some of you, the end point of this crisis is unknown.

My hope for you reading this is that when you are faced with uncertain times over the next few days, weeks and months, you will find that spark. When faced with yourself, I really hope you find that tiny aspect of fight within you. I also hope that as a community, we can lift you up and support you where we can.

The truth is, I made huge progress in my recovery at the times of uncertainty. It made me face up to uncomfortable feelings and situations and I found my voice and fight. I really hope you do too. 

Jess Griffiths is a practitioner in the field of eating disorders and Clinical Associate Trainer for Beat. She will be running a Q&A from 5pm to 6pm in our new online support group, the Sanctuary, set up to support anyone with an eating disorder who may feel worried and isolated right now.

If you're worried about coronavirus, you can also look at our guidance, addressing some of the questions around the impact of the illness on eating disorders. In the coming days and weeks, we'll continue to produce more content to support you during this time, so please do keep an eye on our blog and main site.