“Would you like some chocolate?” Three years ago, I would’ve been anxiously tapping my foot, my mind swarmed with calculations on “how many calories are in that?” Today, I eat for pleasure; to nourish my body with all the right foods that are a fuel to my brain; I am a fully-functioning human, actively involved in mental health work. I’ve battled anorexia and bulimia for nine years of my life. It’s not been a linear trajectory, often filled with roller coaster ups and downs. I’ve had a fair share of experiences with psychologists, psychiatrists, dieticians, cardiologists, GPs through therapy, group programs, hospitalisations—the list goes on.
Today, the pesky eating disorder voice occasionally creeps up. But I’ve learnt to turn up the volume of things in my life that matter most to me, and to notice those thoughts as temporary clouds-in-passing—and to not pay any attention to them. Importantly, I’ve learnt several key lessons along the way:
1) Keep persevering. It took my several tries before I clicked with the right clinician. When I did, it was immensely helpful to my recovery. I had relapses along the way. I began to lose hope in the entire process. Mostly I was filled with ambivalence, thinking that I was as “recovered” as I would get. Every time I challenged myself to something new, I became extremely uncomfortable; my eating disorder voice would ramp up, making daily activities exhausting. I was angry a lot for not being able to beat my eating disorder. But what I didn’t realise, was that recovery can take months and years before the internal battle would subside. Lapses and relapses didn’t mean I was back at Square 1; they gave me the opportunity to practice what I’d learnt in therapy, independently. I learnt something new each time; about a specific situation that triggered certain thoughts, or how effectively I used certain coping mechanisms. I had to keep persevering in being comfortable, so the uncomfortable became comfortable.
2) Learn to trust. It took me years to slowly start trusting in my treatment team, the process of recovery, and most importantly, myself. It took me years to trust that my treatment team were the experts in this area, that they were doing what was best for me. It didn’t seem like it, because they were going against my eating disorder’s wishes, not mine; and over time, I learnt to separate my identity from my eating disorder’s.
3) Know that you are healing. I found it incredibly challenging to reconcile with the fact I wasn’t seeing any other “tangible changes apart from weight gain”. For a long time, I’d cry everyday, not knowing why. I’d ask my therapist, “why can’t I stop waterfalling?” She’d reply with, “that’s because you’re not sitting back, riding comfortably along with it - you’re actively fighting the illness.” So it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of immense strength and bravery.
I’ve learnt that each little step I chip away at, is a win—and as my therapist always said, we aim for progress, not perfection.