When 'What If' Thoughts Take Over Every Part of Your Day
Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.
I am standing in the supermarket, agonizing over what I’ll have for dinner. I know in my heart that, for the third time today, I’ll choose one of my “safe” foods — the ones I always eat — but whilst I’m there, the possibilities always seem, well, possible. I contemplate the juicy “meat feast” pizza with its cheesy crusts and BBQ sauce and thick toppings — it is Friday after all, it’s been a long week, it would be a treat… but at the last moment, I choose a plain cheese pizza. It’s safer – after all, I am out tonight. It’s not letting my anxiety win… is it? Is it?
I’m standing in the kitchen, trying to remember what I last touched so I can work out whether I can touch this food, or if I did would it mean… I wash my hands again, just in case, though the soap says it’ll last two hours. I know my hands are clean because my house is clean and my kitchen is clean, but I have a housemate and what if, what if, what if…
I’m standing in the lounge, one palm scrunched to keep it “sanitary” as I turn on the TV, in the hope a little distraction will numb my mind enough to allow me to eat my dinner.
I’m standing by the bin, scraping half a pizza into it and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t just eat. I know this isn’t “normal.” Oh god, I’m not normal. What if this is a spiral? What if, what if, what if…
I’m standing in the bathroom, over-consciously listening to my stomach gurgle and pleading with my mind to calm down so the inevitable doesn’t happen. I feel sick. I leave the house anyway. A little victory. Jessie 1-0 brain.
I’m standing in the pub later that night, trying to concentrate on what my friends are saying, my mind flickering between a mantra of “you’re fine, you’re fine, you’re fine” and “oh god, what if that food is making me ill, what if it does, what if, what if, what if…” I agonize over the drinks menu, trying to choose something “safe” and hoping my friends won’t question why I am not drinking. I’m not trying to be boring. I don’t think I can help this.
I stand outside the chicken shop, stomach rumbling angrily. I hear myself tell my friends “no thanks I’m just not hungry” as they gorge on a late night snack. I envy them, stuffing chips into their faces mindlessly. They’re not even thinking about it. I’m hungry but I pretend I’m not. They don’t notice.
I stand in front of my bathroom mirror, removing my make up, quashing the niggling “something’s wrong” feeling, contemplating taking something to settle my stomach — you know, just in case. After all, I had that pizza earlier, how do I know it won’t… but no. I resist. I turn off the light and lie down, trying to drift into a dreamless sleep. It’s 3 a.m. by the time my brain settles.
6 a.m. comes and the cycle begins again.
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Thinkstock photo via Dimedrol68