How My Struggles With Chronic Illness Brought Back My Disordered Eating
Editor’s Note: If you’ve struggled with an eating disorder or experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 and the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
Chronic illness can make you feel like some days, everything is completely out of control.
Your body doesn’t work right. Your pain levels, even though you have a ridiculous high tolerance for it, are through the roof. No one seems to understand how yesterday you were fine and yet today you’re not, and that’s incredibly frustrating. Simple things like showering feel like someone has taken needles and shoved them into your skin. Sleeping is impossible because there are no comfortable positions, because sitting and laying down are more painful than standing. Everything feels like it’s out of control, and regaining it feels impossible.
For years, I went without a diagnosis. Living with undiagnosed fibromyalgia, Sjogren’s syndrome and Raynauds is a nightmare. My body would be in so much pain, and everything I would do to try and alleviate it didn’t work, simply because I didn’t know what it was I needed to do. I didn’t realize though that once I had gained a diagnosis, and once I was on the right treatment, things may still feel out of control some days.
That is how my disordered eating began so many years ago. It stemmed from trauma; I was raped at 19. Everyone seems to want to tell survivors how to deal with their trauma – to just go to therapy and talk about it and you’ll be just fine.
Well, that’s not always how it works. Some of us just can’t. And because of that, our trauma may manifest in us in different ways.
I began to fixate on my weight. I truly believed my physical appearance was the reason why my rapist decided I was unworthy enough as a human being for him to assault me. And so began my years of struggling with disordered eating in an attempt to alter my appearance, which was the only thing I felt I could control.
Controlling my eating was the only thing I could control after I had been raped. Everything else had fallen apart.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.
I didn’t enter therapy until five years after I was assaulted. Dealing with my trauma was unthinkable until that point. But that also meant I had to deal with my disordered eating as well, something no one knew was even going on. Disordered eating, for me, was easy to hide. I barely spoke about it in therapy as well. At the time, I never made the connection that when everything felt so out of control, I was controlling my appearance and my eating.
It was only after I was diagnosed with my chronic illness that I began to feel the same feelings again and truly began to understand and acknowledge what had happened in my early 20s. The problem was, even though I could acknowledge I had been experiencing disordered eating, I couldn’t make it stop again.
Last year, I truly struggled again. What everyone could blame on the “stress” of a diagnosis and ultimately a divorce, I do not excuse away. I was trying to control a controllable; I was trying to control one thing that is easy to manipulate, that is ultimately stemming from unaddressed and unresolved pain. I was put on methotrexate, which made me nauseous my first few months. It gave me an excuse to restrict my eating again so if I did vomit, I wouldn’t have a lot to throw up. It’s amazing how I would justify it to myself, that I was just “being smart” or “looking out for my health” when in reality I became fixated on my body and appearance again. It had nothing to do with my actual health or feeling better.
But then one day, I wasn’t fine with it. I was in therapy, and I got mad. I got mad that I was doing this again. That I was letting my autoimmune diseases do this to me, just like I had let my rape. I didn’t want to fall into this cycle again, where I had let my circumstances completely control my life. I needed to let things be, I needed to be OK with things feeling a little out of control.
Every day is still work. It takes time. I still need to remind myself to eat. For a while, I needed to set alarms in my phone to remind myself to do so. I am happy to say I no longer need to do that.
Whatever your progress is, celebrate it. I do every day.
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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.