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How My Eating Disorder Behaviors Became Toxic Coping Skills for My Psychosis

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I have dealt with psychosis for many years, but it was not until about a year ago that I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Trying to manage my hallucinations is frequently a challenging task, what with my having to deal with seeing dark figures watching me and running in front of me, feeling and seeing bugs crawl all over me, and hearing voices that often become so loud I am awakened from sleep. Sometimes I can differentiate what is real from what is not, but not always. Even when I am able to understand that my hallucinations are not real, they are incredibly stress-inducing and often make me feel like I want to crawl out of my body.

When I was 13, I developed an eating disorder that I am still struggling with now at 27. It was also at 13 that my psychosis began by way of hallucinations. Only through therapy recently have I discovered how purging has been a way for me to manage my hallucinations, particularly the voices I hear, because it seems to drown them out and allow me to feel more control over my body. While I do struggle with body image and that is a big part of my eating disorder, my need for control over my hallucinations and a way to manage the stress they cause plays a big part in my eating disorder behaviors. Over time I have discovered my hallucinations seem to be toned down, if only for a moment, when I use purging. This has since become a toxic coping skill that is hard on me mentally and physically, but that I seem to believe helps my symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.

With that being said, I do recognize that this is a toxic coping skill, even if it has been effective in the past. Having the distraction of my eating disorder behaviors has helped me to manage the overwhelming, and generally scary, nature of my hallucinations. The sense of control I receive from my behaviors helps me to feel as though I have some control over my hallucinations rather than feeling like my body does not belong to myself. Unfortunately, my behaviors have caused me to have a relapse with my eating disorder, and it now feels like my eating disorder and schizoaffective disorder are controlling me, rather than the other way around. This is why I am pursuing a higher level of care again, even though it feels scary. I know  I cannot fight my schizoaffective disorder symptoms by using my unhealthy eating disorder behaviors. While I understand that these behaviors have helped me in feeling as though I have more control over my body in the past, I know they are not the answer to managing my mental illnesses.

Psychosis from schizoaffective disorder is often scary and unpredictable in my case and needing to feel as though I have a handle on my symptoms is incredibly important. Even though I am now on medication and see a psychiatrist frequently, as well as a therapist, I still have breakthrough symptoms. Sometimes due to the intense nature of my hallucinations it is hard to use other coping skills because I am unable to think clearly in the moment. It is during these times of intense hallucinations, particularly those where I am being watched and the voices are shouting at me, that I sometimes resort back to purging to try and feel as though I have any control over my body. Even though I am learning more coping skills to try and manage my hallucinations I am not perfect, and I still have relapses.

Living with psychosis makes each day unpredictable, as I am not sure which symptoms might appear. But battling symptoms of psychosis with an eating disorder, and various other mental illnesses, feel as though it is a full-time battle. I may not be perfect and I may use certain behaviors when experiencing some psychosis symptoms, I know I am doing the best that I can with what I know now.

Photo by Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash

Originally published: November 17, 2021
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