It’s okay if you’re not okay right now.
Having your routine overturned, not being able to work, having more time than you know what to do with it – this has been a time of trial and for many of us, it’s new territory. We’ve been dropped down in an ocean of uncertainty, crazy things are happening, and we keep hearing how important it is to take care of ourselves. Take care of yourself. On a good day, that’s one of my favorite things to do. A day full of painting, reading and walking my dog sounds like the perfect day to me. So why have multiple days of this lead to some not-so-good days, lots of apathy, stagnation, and the return of some disordered thoughts? One of the hardest parts of this time of isolation has been working with my eating disorder.
I’ve considered myself recovered for a few years now, and it still gets tough sometimes. I don’t think that being in recovery means never having a bad day or never having a disordered thought anymore. It’s not the destination you reach after years of self work where all the bad thoughts are gone and you are completely healed. Here’s the thing: living with a mental illness means just that – you’re living with it. You can put in the work, unpack all the trauma, create better habits and have long stretches of good days – and still have a bad day creep in. I know that it’s not always going to be sunshine and happiness because I am human, and humans are flawed. Reminding myself of that helps me let go of trying to obtain something that isn’t possible – perfection.
I’m going to share a conversation with a friend of mine who is also navigating recovery while in quarantine. If you are finding yourself consumed with disordered thoughts, my hope is that you can find some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. This is a weird, challenging time for all of us, and it’s okay to not be okay.
My name is Megan, I am 27 years old, and have been “recovered” from ED for 5 years. I was first diagnosed with EDNOS, eating disorder not otherwise specified, when I was a junior in college. I have always been curvy and was not the athletic type growing up, so I always seemed to have more meat on my bones. On May 5, 2011, which was during my freshmen year of college, I went out with a few friends for Cinco de Mayo. I ended up giving my number to a guy and woke up the next morning to the most scarring voicemail I will ever remember. This dumb fuck ended up calling me a fat pig, and it literally ruined me. That summer, I stopped eating, worked out all the time, sometimes even multiple times a day, and began to be extremely depressed and anxious. The patterns continued during sophomore year of college and then went into junior year as well. It wasn’t until I transferred to ASU, and took a semester off, that I finally went to look for help because a friend advised me. I had gone to a primary care doctor and therapist before, but was just diagnosed with IBS and nerves because of changes. I was in out-patient care for about 6 months and saw a nutritional therapist who specialized in ED for 1.5 years, all while living on the other side of the country from my family. I am now a fifth-grade teacher, yoga teacher, blog writer/ eating disorder activist, and living in sunny Charkeston, SC. While I am fully “recovered”, I still battle my inner demon when life gets tough.
Do you think those with eating disorders ever fully recover? What do you think that would that look like? I feel like mental illnesses are part of us. We don’t really choose to bring it upon us. We can be in recovery, but it’s still there. For me, recovery feels like having a lot of good days, some okay days, and few days when you feel like you’ve completely regressed and can’t seem to come back. It’s like, I know I’m driving the car, but sometimes my ED will try to shove me aside and take over for a bit. Reminding myself that I can get back into the driver’s seat helps me separate myself from my ED.
I don’t think we are truly ever recovered, unless you believe in a force or something larger taking away all the pain from you. I think anyone struggling with ED or other mental health issues have their “big” battle, and then as you mentioned ebb and flow after. One of the biggest pieces of advice I ever received about my ED was from my nutritionist, she said that we have to remember the outside forces around us. If our world around us is not good then we are not going to feel our best and those voices might come back more easily. One my low days, I really try to remember this. I take a step back and just try to see what is off around me. Especially in quarantine there has been a lot of underlying depression and anxiety, so having ED try to come back was no surprise. We can have the best day with feeling great and loving our body and then wake up the next day and shit has hit the fan. I think what is important to remember is that we ultimately have the power to control how much ED has on us. So while he might always be peering through the peep hole or riding in the passenger side desperately wanting to take over, we just have to accept that he is part of us. Who knows, maybe he is there so that we can help others! Always try to find something positive about the situation to allow yourself to take full control and embrace the life long recovery.
What are some struggles you’ve dealt with during this quarantine period?
The biggest struggle I dealt with during this quarantine was my mirror. Truly, one day my ED thoughts came rushing back when I woke up and stared at myself in the mirror. The not-picking of my fat, the stretch-marks, the voices, all came rushing back just from looking at myself in the mirror. I have had a hard time not letting those voices take over my life again, but I let them enter for a good day. Another struggle I have been facing is food and exercise. I am a school teacher, so when in school, I eat my snacks and lunch there. Since I am home, I have been finding myself eating what seems to be more, but really isn’t, because I just have all my food in one place. I laughed and joked that I would get skinny during this quarantine, only to realize I put pressure on myself and allowed the door to crack open for ED to visit. Not being able to go to the gym has also been a huge struggle. I don’t have weights at home, so for a few days I literally made myself do yard work all day just so I could feel exhausted and like I moved and worked my body. Lastly, a struggle I haven’t admitted out loud, is my roommate. I love her to death, but having someone who also isn’t body positive in the house and being confined with them is a fucking nightmare. I have to hear her say “we don’t need that” or “we need to workout”, all the time. I am trying with each negative thing that comes out of her mouth to just train my brain and say this is not about you. It hasn’t been so easy. Before the quarantine I thought I was pretty much stable with my mental state, but being confined and not having my usual distractions completely pulled the rug from under my feet.
I feel you! It’s so easy to hear someone say, “It’s time to stop sitting around all day and get healthier!” and immediately think, “was that directed toward me? Do I need to get healthier? That would mean that I’m not healthy enough now. Which would mean that I’m not good enough right now.” What are some ways you’ve been able to keep busy and stay present during this time?
To do lists have been my number one source of remaining in the present moment these past two weeks. If I get wrapped in my head, I end up staying there all day. This has happened three days so far, and I felt guilty afterwards. The morning after those dark and down days, I just picked myself back up. Took my bike ride, since I am grateful to have access to the greenway across my house. I’ll just bike and listen to my music or all the nature around me. I’ll bike to the water, which has been helpful. I am an ocean girl and whenever things were tough before quarantine you could find me at the beach. Unfortunately, they closed the beaches so I have had to find ways to get my water feels in still. I am also leading yoga classes, which helps me come out of my head and allows myself to be there for others during this time. Reminding not only others to breathe and remain calm and strong during this time, but letting those words also sink in to my head when I speak them. Remaining in the present moment has been very difficult lately but also it has made me think of how much I wasn’t living in the present moment before. I was always on the next five things while still working on the first task. This quarantine has really opened up a lot of emotions because maybe I was subconsciously trying to constantly distract myself so I wouldn’t have to be alone with my thoughts and ED. I think this time is crucial because listening and truly fighting those voices is going to make us so much stronger. We don’t have the means of normal distractions we normally would have, so we have to muster up a lot more strength to fight through the dark days.
I feel like identifying your triggers is always a great first step. Do you have any particular triggers that have risen? How do you work through them?
My mirror is probably my biggest trigger. After that morning of just negatively staring at myself, I had to take my mirror off of my door and put it in the corner of my room. I cannot see a full body image of myself, I can just see my legs and even that makes me want to throw my mirror out somedays. I had my mirror up for probably 10 minutes one day, because I was feeling good, but it came down as quickly as it went up. Besides that, I cannot allow myself to just sit and think. It is in those raw moments that I begin to have nasty conversations with myself. I have been making to-do lists everyday just so that I am busy and going, not allowing myself the opportunity to sit and sulk.
During the first couple days of quarantine, upon realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to go to the gym, my first thought was “you can use this time to get in shape at home.” What started out as motivating and making the most of the situation soon turned into a lot of pressure. My ED would try to convince me that these home workouts weren’t as good as my regular workouts and didn’t really count, therefore I should compensate by eating extra “good”. How do you navigate those internal dialogues with your ED?
Those damn conversations! Navigating those conversations with ED have certainly been a struggle. I went through similar conversations, he told me that because the gym wasn’t an option that I would have to eat good, then he told me since I didn’t have any gym equipment at home that I should basically just eat all the food I wanted because I was going to get fat anyways. I have combatted those conversations by finding ways to keep me and my mind active. I go on a 13 plus mile bike ride everyday, which I am SO blessed to live in an area where the sun is shining right now. I gather the strength to show up for me and others to lead an hour of yoga every day. Unfortunately, I have had a lot of patience and understanding of how my ED works that I have really tried to make myself stronger than he is. This was not an overnight thing, because I still cave somedays to him. You just have to remember that that voice is YOU, and YOU are so much stronger than what you believe!
A lot of us aren’t able to see our friends and loved ones right now. What are some ways you’ve been able to outsource and get the support you need during this time?
I am so thankful I have a wonderful community and support system behind me that is willing to just listen. My main support system is all the way in NH and Mass, but my family and friends check-in and are willing to listen if I just need to vent. I have also been very open with people since quarantine and have let them know that my mental health has not been good. I have many friends who have just checked in with me to see if I was feeling okay or friends that keep me distracted with silly memes and messages, knowing that if I needed to talk they would be there for that. My way of outsourcing though has just been writing. If I can get it out of me, I feel as though I am no longer holding it in and letting it control my thoughts, this has been such a powerful and emotional process.