How My Eating Disorder Promised to Protect Me From Abuse
As much as we hear about mental health and as much as we are encouraged to reach out and try to help others who are struggling, there is a lack of explanations and a lack of understanding when it comes to the “why” behind certain mental illnesses. Meanwhile, I know just like every person’s brain functions differently, every person’s mental illness works differently as well.
We as a society have made a decent amount of progress in terms of helping and understanding those who struggle with their mental health, but I still believe there is an enormous lack of misunderstanding when it comes to understanding why certain mental illnesses “serve a purpose.”
While I have been diagnosed with multiple illnesses, I want to explain the correlation between my eating disorder and my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One of the biggest misconceptions is that eating disorders are all about weight. This is false. Another misconception is that all eating disorders are completely about control. This is also false. You may be thinking I am incorrect, but bear with me.
Over the years, I have relapsed countless times. I have spent countless therapy sessions talking about what purpose my eating disorder serves. I have come to the conclusion that the reason I cannot and will not find “the reason” I keep relapsing is because every relapse served a different “purpose” for me.
I was originally diagnosed with just an eating disorder, when I was younger, but many more issues and diagnoses popped up over the years, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While at first I believed this was from events that happened in my teen and young adult years, I later began to understand these problems stem from events long ago, back in my early childhood. Memories I did not know existed are resurfacing in my brain. They helped me make a lot of sense of my eating disorder and depression in the past. But with these memories come so many different negative emotions: sadness, regret, anger and most prevalently fear.
As much as it hurts me to admit this, I am relapsing in my anorexia nervosa. But it was not until recently that I realized what purpose this relapse serves: to protect me. This may sound absurd, but my eating disorder promised and continues to promise me it will keep me safe.
Starving myself feels like it helps me control what goes into my body and what happens to my body. When I was abused, I had no control over what happened to my body. By restricting my food intake, my eating disorder promises me I am in control of what happens, how my body acts/reacts and how I feel mentally and physically. Hunger is the only thing I can think about at night when I restricted throughout the day, so there is no time to focus on night terrors and anxieties.
I have been struggling with overexercising, which the voice of my disorder promises me will help make and keep me strong and will help me build muscle, which will, in turn, keep me safe and help me to protect myself if (when) somebody tries to hurt me again.
Purging is my way of shutting off my brain. There is no off switch up there, but making myself sick is currently the only way I feel able to stop the memories from flooding my brain and help prevent the flashbacks from happening over and over again.
Lastly, while this is another symptom of my eating disorder, it is the symptom I am most ashamed of and talk about/disclose to people the least: Binging. My eating disorder promises me this is a way to be “disgusting.” It promises me that anybody who would ever see me eat would think I was a horrendously disgusting human being and would automatically be turned off by me. The eating disorder tells me that eating, whether “normal” portions or binges, makes people feel disgusted by me and keeps them away from me.
Disclosing this feels embarrassing. It feels painful and this is quite possibly the most difficult topic I have ever written about. It may not sound rational or make sense to most people, but I am hoping there is at least one person out there who can relate to this. One soul who will understand and find hope in the fact they are not alone in this struggle. Mental illnesses are so complex and intertwined in each other — there is rarely just one diagnosis, so everyone’s struggle is different. And yes, relapse happens. It is a normal part of recovery. But what I am hoping to get people to understand is that even within the same person and the same illness, every relapse can be so different from the previous one.
Ultimately, what I and so many others who struggle with their mental health need is patience. Bear with me, listen to my rants and listen to me babble even when I am making no sense to you whatsoever. Hold my hand as I cry. Comfort me when I dissociate (or mentally leave my body). Tell me everything is going to be OK, even when at that moment it doesn’t seem likely and I don’t believe it. Just have hope for me, patience with me and faith in me.
Photo by Jacob Andrews on Reshot