There are better days ahead

Posted 09/11/2017

Looking back…

I’ve recently started to take personal development a bit more seriously, and I’ve spent a good amount of time reflecting on my recent past as a result. In doing so, I’ve realised how far I’ve come in the past few years. I suppose what I’m trying to do here is paint a picture of where I am now and hopefully provide a bit of a ‘sunshine story’ for anyone who’s being – or has previously been – affected by an eating disorder.

Then…

A couple of years back, I had just started a graduate scheme; I was doing a brand-new job, living in a brand-new town – 280 miles from my family, and 180 miles from my partner – and having to adopt a brand-new routine. There were a lot of variables, and, as such, a lot of uncertainty. For anyone who doesn’t know about eating disorders, or other compulsion-based conditions, an internal locus of control is really important; in conditions of high uncertainty, where there are factors that are out of your control, you often revert to tightly controlling what you can control. In my case, this is my physical appearance, achieved by manipulating food and exercise.

Now…

I’m not necessarily saying that I was in a bad place then, it’s just that, on reflection, I’m definitely in a better place now; I’ve even curbed some of the nervous habits that I used to have. In the past couple of years, a lot has changed for me. I’ve moved into the business area that I’ve always been interested in, and relocated to be much closer to my girlfriend and family. There have been some stresses and strains along the way, but I don’t really remember a time when I felt more ‘comfortable’, and less uncertain.

Job done, right? Well, no…

In the past, I’ve talked about my eating disorder as an ‘alternate stream of consciousness’, and ‘a relationship’; I even gave the condition a name, ‘Ed’. I also mentioned that I didn’t think that I’d ever truly be ‘rid of it’. I still think this is true. To this day, I have the occasional battle, and find myself worrying about the uncontrollable and irrelevant. That said, over the past couple of years, I’ve learnt a few ways of avoiding the ‘wobbles’, and even using some of the legacy effects of the condition to my advantage.

Creating sustainable and ‘healthy’ habits… I’ll just come out and say it – I find choices stressful, especially food choices. Even though I give myself much more dietary freedom these days, choosing a different thing to eat every day is just exhausting, and I’d spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it. Over the years, I’ve found that the best way for me to deal with this is to just be consistent. As a result, I eat the same thing every weekday – it’s nutritionally sound, tastes okay, is relatively cost-effective, and, most importantly, doesn’t require any thought.

I’m aware that this wouldn’t work for a lot of people –variety is ‘the spice of life’, after all – but it allows me to focus my energy on other subjects, such as my job. I still have different, more adventurous stuff at weekends, as I have more spare ‘thinking space’, but this one habit has benefitted me hugely. I started doing this about a year ago, and my productivity and general life satisfaction both rocketed, while maintaining an appearance that I’m okay with. Clearly, it’d be better not to be at all focused on appearance, but that’s probably a blog on its own, and I think I’m a fair way off that yet. That said, my perception of what constitutes ‘okay’ is continually shifting to a ‘healthier’, more sustainable version of me. Little victories.

I know me better now… I think, of all the things it’s taught me, the most valuable is the ability to really know myself, to be able to take an introspective view and understand what’s going on. I’ve spent such a long time scrutinising my thoughts, trying to separate those that truly belong to me from those that don’t, I’ve got to know myself really well. I know what I like, what I don’t, what I really don’t, and how much of the latter two that I can tolerate. For anyone who’s dabbled in self-awareness activities, such as the Myers-Briggs test, you’ll appreciate how advantageous it is to be able to predict how you’ll react to certain situations, and how you can get ‘comfortable’ with small adjustments. The more you know, eh?

The greater good… For brief periods of time, maybe a day or two, if there’s a compelling reason, I can ‘turn if off’ completely. This all started when I sustained a really nasty eye injury while playing football in 2015, and was prescribed a full five days of bed rest, followed by five further days without vigorous activity; I was told that I could permanently lose the sight in my left eye if I violated this. For someone that fastidiously exercises, this was a challenge. However, I did it. I was miserable at the time, but I did it. For the first time, I was able to really take a step back and prioritise. For the first time, there was something more important. This was something of a pivotal moment, and I can now let go completely for a little while. Christmas is a lot more fun these days.

The important bit…

So, there we have it, a swift canter through a couple of aspects of my eating disorder, how I manage it, and what can be taken away from the experience. I really hope that it’s been informative, and, in truth, I’d like for it to have been at least a little bit entertaining. However, most of all, I want this to really show that there’s ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

In the depths of the disorder, when you’re consumed by despair, it doesn’t feel like these moments will ever come, but they will. With the support of others, you’ll get there. You’ll probably come out a better, more focused, mentally stronger version of you – I sure did!

For anyone reading this that’s close to someone suffering from an eating disorder, or another mental health issue, it’s broadly the same message: there are better days ahead.

Contributed by Charlie