One Year

CW: binge eating disorder, body dysmorphia

Exactly one year ago today, you decided you wanted to get better. 

How you came to that decision is still a mystery to you. There was a boredom, a tiredness, of being unwell. Of binging and feeling sick and feeling shit and not being able to move without pain and crying and getting into debt and apologising to and for yourself. Of thinking, obsessing, about eating every hour of every day, even in your dreams. Of not being able to go to a restaurant or cafe or a friend’s house without anxiety; what am I going to eat, how much can I eat, what if I’m hungry afterwards, will they all be looking at me eating and thinking about how much I’m eating and then make some kind of comment about it, what if I choose the wrong meal, what if, what if. Of hating yourself. 

The very first thing was admitting that you wanted to get better. You said it out loud, to yourself, to the people you love. It wasn’t always completely truthful, because to some people you framed it simply as “I want to lose weight” to make it…respectable. But in private, you could say that you wanted to eat regularly, to be able to stop yourself from binging, to be healthier and out of risk, to be in control, to be less anxious, happier. You simply didn’t want to feel that way any longer. You knew you couldn’t be cured, that there is no cure; it’s not that ED is a part of you, as you once believed, but that it’s a disease that will wax and wane and need to be controlled. Fundamentally, you believed that there is a “better”. 

Be honest; you did want to lose weight. You always feel so scared of saying that, because you champion body acceptance and fat bodies and their beauty and you feel everyone is going to hate you for it. But, movement was hurting you, and clothes and bras were becoming harder to find, and your body dysmorphia was having a fucking festival in your head. You did want your body to become smaller, just to make everything a little bit easier, and you weren’t abandoning any of your convictions by pursuing that. You’ll always be fat; remember, you’re from a family of Fenland farmers, built broad and resilient and low to the ground. 

The next step was medication. You weren’t a stranger to SSRIs; you’d only taken yourself off them a few months before, once you felt you could think about Dad’s death without bursting into angry, noisy sobs. But the anxiety had remained, steadfast and stubborn, both lurking in the background and screaming at the front. The anxiety wasn’t the cause of everything, it just helped it spread and grip. You needed help to become less scared, less stressed, about eating. There was the eating in public thing; the thing where you would snap at your nesting partner for not arriving for dinner immediately when called because it delayed you eating; the thing where you would go back round the supermarket again to get more food because you feared you hadn’t got enough first time round; the thing where any less than glowing praise for a meal you cooked someone would drive you into despair; the thing where you would hide food and sneak about and if anyone caught you, you would have to punish yourself; the thing where you would read the menus of restaurants you weren’t visiting because imagining eating the meals would soothe you. 

Recovery terrified you. Not just because all your instincts said you couldn’t get better (those in the thrall of your eating disorder told you not to even bother trying, those in cahoots with your body dysmorphia told you it wouldn’t matter), but because you knew how hard it was going to be; you knew there would be times you’d fail, crumble, take a step backwards, binge. And in the past, when you failed once, you failed forever. You hate failing, being bad at things. It’s a fundamental character flaw that drives your perfectionism, not starting things that you know aren’t going to be a complete success. 

However, in a quiet, conscious moment, you called the GP and asked for help, and you still can’t describe exactly why it needed to be that day. 

Then, it was about remembering what you’d been taught. There had been treatment before, lots of it: professional people who knew their shit who were both very available and very keen to help you. And you’d learnt it all and done the homework and paid them lip service, but not really followed it. That’s the thing about CBT and psychotherapy; you can easily pretend. If you’re not in that place where you’re ready and willing, we know you’re not going to do it. You’re a stubborn SOB. So that was over 2 years of your life where you were going through the motions, telling those lovely professionals all about imaginary positive impacts, while you’d continue binging and hiding and hating. 

You returned to the best thing you’d learnt, the most useful, the simplest, the one that didn’t need any emotional input, and started there. It provided a structure, a pattern, and you desperately needed that. When faced with a lack of control, you need to force control onto it; it’s your perfectionism. And it helped you to eat more regularly, to satisfy yourself, and to begin to enjoy the process. 

Finally, there was talking. And writing. You’re even writing about it right now and you fear that everyone will be thoroughly tired of it all and your self-indulgence, but that’s OK. Some people have responded to you with understanding, empathy, shared experiences, and that all feeds into your sense of being on top of this. You became more open about what you were feeling and how you were being affected. Now, when you snap at your nestie, you’re able to explain why; “I’m feeling vulnerable and anxious right now”, “I feel out of control”, “I have an urge to binge”. Your closest friends are now in the loop. You still talk about it with your mum in a different language, that more respectable speak about weight and body shape, rather than mental illness; it’s a work in progress. 

One year on, you are better. You’re not cured, or completely free of it all, but it’s better. There are still binges, there is still anxiety, there remains an urge. The dysmorphia still squats over you like a toad. However, there is control. There is light, there is more movement, there is more joy in eating, there is an enjoyment of exercise (where the fuck did that come from), there is less panic, there is less weight and more waist, there is honesty, there is communication. There is recovery. When I’m struggling, or I feel like there’s little point or progress, my nestie likes to remind me that I’ve been on this path for a whole year and I’ve sustained it. I like thinking about it that way. 

And there is more to come; there is more than can get better.

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