Recently I hit a major milestone in my life: I finished counselling.
Odd place to start my journey as a ’blogger’ but bear with me.
I have been in the firm grip of an eating disorder since the tender age of 14. Binge eating, which progressed into bulimia. I have been in recovery for the past four years and it has been the hardest, most miserable battle of my life.
My experience of recovery was not pleasant and I can imagine the same can be said for pretty much everyone who has had an eating disorder. It is a gruelling and exhausting journey, filled with doubt, feeling as if it will never end, like you will be stuck in this limbo with food forever. You have so-called professionals judging you and not understanding why you can’t ‘just eat’ or can’t just ‘stop eating’, and then there’s just the general population shoving mental health stigma in your face telling you to ‘just get over it’ or ‘it’s all in your head.’ Of course it’s all in my head – it’s a mental illness! But of course all of those discouraging words have a massive impact on someone who is already so vulnerable.
So yeah, you feel as if the whole process is against you right from the get go, but you keep going, you find someone to help you and cling on for dear life. You have a few stumbles. Sometimes they’re huge and all consuming; other times it’s easier to get back on track. The blips are okay – they are what make you human. You keep seeing your counsellor, or your psychiatrist, or any other number of people that know what they’re talking about. Then slowly (really slowly) you start to feel a bit more like you again. You manage to get out of bed on the awful days instead of sitting at home and wallowing; you start to get a hold of your triggers and note what makes you go back to that dark place. For me, it’s change – I just couldn’t deal with it. Any form of change would suck me right back down the rabbit hole and I’d stay there for days, weeks even. But you work it out; you find other ways to channel the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. You plod on, even on the days when it feels as if the world is against you, and then bit by bit the world gets brighter, you notice the small things that warm you from the inside out, you start thinking less about food, more about life.
For me the turning point was when I could go into Marks and Spencers on my lunch break and I wasn’t feeling sick and light headed at the thought of picking out food unplanned. Then I realised I wasn’t waiting for each Monday to come around so I could ‘start again’ and not engage in my bad habits. I kept noticing all these small things that were building up over time, all the things that were indicating I was firmly on my way to recovery. Of course I doubted it; of course I freaked out and sabotaged myself. My counsellor was a godsend. She has pretty much built me back up from the rubble I was when I entered her office all those years ago, and she kept building me up when I fell back down. Not once did she tell me I couldn’t recover, not once did she doubt me and for that I am so grateful. Because that’s what you need, someone to show you the right way when it starts getting grey.
Then it gets to the point where you have to start trying on your own, the scariest thought. How did I know when it was right to stop seeing my counsellor? I felt content. For years that is all I’ve been searching for, the feeling of contentment, to know that I will be okay in the long run. No, not happiness, for that can come and go, whereas being content, once you’ve got it, pretty much never disappears again.
So here I am, nearing the end of my journey, with a small feeling of loss, which I guess you wouldn’t fully understand unless you’ve been in some form of my shoes. How can you miss something that nearly destroyed you? Because it was something that comforted me for so many years and to unlearn those habits and those feelings is a hard slog. But it is doable and when you feel like running back in to the arms of something that has comforted you for so long, just remember those moments of triumph, even if they are only small, those moments are building you back up into something great.
Eating disorders come in many different shapes and sizes. Some people have it their entire life, some people limit themselves so much that their bodies starve, some people have binge eating disorder.
Through a lack of intervention, I have moved from one eating disorder to another over the last 11 years. This is why it is imperative to seek help for yourself, or for someone you care about, because it isn't going to end on its own.
Growing up, Christmas was my absolute favourite time of year and now that I am rid of my eating disorder, I am free to enjoy the festivities once again. However, I spent two awful Christmastimes, the first with bulimia and the second with binge eating disorder.