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What Nobody Told Me About Loved Ones and Eating Disorder Recovery


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 741741.

I’ve been in recovery from an eating disorder for just over four years now. I wouldn’t say I’ve been in “recovery” from depression and anxiety because I’m more just learning to handle those.

When I decided to do something about these problems, I was told a few things:

“Recovery is not linear.”

“It’s hard, maybe the hardest thing you’ll do, but it’s worth it.”

“If you make a mistake, keep going.”

“It will lie to you, but you are stronger and you know the truth.”

“If you stumble, it’s not a failure; it’s just a hiccup in your journey.”

So really, I was told everything I needed to know about my own thoughts.

What I wasn’t told?

I wasn’t told that other people may not understand.

It wasn’t what I expected when I had a “good” day. For me, I felt relief after many days of just trudging through. Others, however, seemed to extensively search it for meaning.

To those observing, I was suddenly “better” and not sick anymore. If I was smiling, or if I laughed that day, my depression was gone. If I ate a meal without obvious concern or anxiety, my eating disorder had ceased. In any sign of progress, they saw complete healing.

This in itself is not terribly problematic, only a perception caused by little knowledge of mental illness. The real issue comes from the manifestation of these beliefs into actions. Believing someone is “fixed” is different from acting as if they are “fixed.” Believing is internal, whereas the actions of those beliefs affect those around you.

When people act as though I am “better,” they expect me to continuously display that. It’s a pressure for me to be happy, level-headed and calm all the time even though they don’t place these expectations on others. Who can be happy all the time?

Therefore, when I slip up, have an episode or somewhat relapse, blame is placed. Because I’m “better,” all movements toward undesirable behaviors seem to be a “choice” I make.

Although no one chooses to be mentally unwell, this is a concept that seems to be hard to grasp by those who aren’t directly affected.

If I start to fear a certain food again, or abstain from eating (in a panic), those around me don’t see it as a “down in the roller coaster of recovery.” They ask why I would do that, why I want to go back to that and why I want to be sick. Similarly, when I wake up feeling utterly down and depressed, they ask me why I chose to act like that instead of going out and enjoying myself.

It’s something I’ve had to learn to deal with (and man, am I still learning) because it can somewhat discourage me from trying to get better. After all, it seems as though my triumphs are classed as “normality” and my slip-ups “disappointments.”

Though it’s important to acknowledge those around you, sometimes it’s also important to block out that which is unhelpful because, as much as people want to help and always have input on your journey, some things have to solely be your choice.

And though sometimes people “don’t want to hear about it,” it can be important to tell them what you need from them. What sort of support, which comments are helpful, and when they need to just sit beside you in silence.

It’s usually harder for people to grasp the concept and progression of an invisible illness (mental and physical) because they often can’t see a physical manifestation of it. It requires patience from both sides.

But in recovery, as much as you focus on those around you, your main focus has to be on you. Only compare yourself to you, focus on your progression and management, have patience with yourself and do what is helpful for you, even when others don’t understand.

Photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash