I want to say that my disordered eating habits crept up on me, but I remember giving this side of my disorder great thought and careful consideration. It was my disordered thinking that weaved its way into my mind and took hold. Pestering thoughts around body shape and size rolled around in my mind from a very young age. I just thought everyone had these thoughts – that we were all trying to achieve the same body goals. We do all have these thoughts at times but I mulled them over for long periods of time, rather than just letting them go. Let’s call it ‘disordered mulling’! I was a deep, thoughtful child who often got lost in her thoughts and imagination!
It’s not possible to narrow the origin of these thoughts down to one specific event or moment. For me, there were many contributors that led to my disordered thinking but I want to discuss one that everyone can relate to: family.
The side of my family that I spent most of my childhood years with were very good at ‘brushing things under the carpet’ rather than talking things through. It was a very old-fashioned approach to life that I feel has caused so much loneliness and pain for so many generations. It created a need for ‘secrets’ and taught me that some things just shouldn’t be talked about. As a child, it taught me a skewed version of what was ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and it wasn’t until I had counselling that I began to unlearn some of these unhelpful approaches to living. I now understand that this old-fashioned approach was constructed out of fear: the fear of people knowing who you really are, the fear of being judged, the fear of people not accepting you for who you are. Once I started to unpick these unhelpful values, I could create my own values based on fact and my own real experiences rather than anxieties from previous generations. Having the opportunity to reflect and reconstruct my values is something I will be forever grateful for. Many people never do this. They spend their whole lives guided by someone else’s patterns. Taking time to reflect on your values is an exercise I would recommend to anyone, at any stage in their life, to establish yourself and realign your purpose.
It was a combination of my experiences that caused my disordered eating. I grew up in a very sheltered, ‘family-focused’ world and attended ballet lessons from the age of three. Everything from the outside was ‘lovely’ but it was a world controlled very much by adults where freedom of speech or choice didn’t really exist. My parents divorced when I was seven and I was catapulted out of the ‘family bubble’ and into the ‘real’ world – the world that my family had been hiding me from my whole life. School and home life changed very rapidly without any transition and little old fear suddenly introduced itself, disguised as anxiety. Unfortunately, no one ever teaches you about the word anxiety let alone how to welcome fear; life felt very different and I didn’t know why. My disordered thought patterns taught me that ‘perfection’ existed and so I tried to keep up this idea despite my inner battles. The perfect grades, the perfect dancer, the perfect family and the perfect body were all things I slaved for everyday not knowing that none of these actually existed. It was a combination of many experiences and thoughts that led me to develop obsessions around food. It was a losing battle and one that finally took its toll when a tsunami of depression struck and took me under.
Before it hit, my mind was a radio turned on full: 20 hours a day, seven days a week. The few hours of sleep I got each night was my only respite. Small waves had visited before but I’d waded through, carrying all my luggage on my head and made it out the other side, on my original path. But this time the wave was so big it obliterated everything I had ever known. I was swept up, completely weightless; nothing mattered anymore as I floated down and settled on the soft sand at the bottom. It had gobbled me up. I finally found silence and there I stayed for a very long time. The weeks turned into months and my bed at the bottom of the ocean became my safe place, I never wanted to leave. Until one day I felt an organic yearning to draw. It had been so many years since I had felt an organic urge to do anything, for everything had become so robotic and false. I took my pencil and paper and sketched for hours. The sketching evolved into writing, the writing led to tears and the tears took me back to peace. But a new peace: a different peace, the sort of peace that I didn’t need my bed for. I continued to follow these urges, to communicate with myself. One by one I began to meet my fears and guess what? They weren’t scary at all. They just wanted to be heard. So, I listened and I listened and I found a new motivation to learn how to listen to every part of myself even more. I signed up for cognitive behavioural therapy. I discovered peace at the bottom of my tsunami and when I began to seek the help of others, I found my way slowly back to the surface and life didn’t seem so scary anymore. I knew what lied beneath me and I liked it. Cognitive behavioural therapy even taught me how to blow out all my breath and sink down to visit when I wanted to.
With great openness, acceptance and support from loved ones, I constructed my path to recovery. Many things happen to us but it is what happens from us that matters. Don’t be afraid to stop, it is when we stop that we start to hear ourselves again. You are in there somewhere and you will find yourself again. Fear is your friend, fear is yourself trying to communicate; so go and give it a hug.