So here's the thing with Eating Disorders. They don't want to be discovered. They want to hide in the corners of your mind, taunting you, whispering to you, judging you, dictating to you, and, most importantly, making sure you keep their secret- because once that secret gets out there is no going back.
Obviously, being in treatment for my Anorexia there is no more pretence; likewise, having this very public blog! However, the Eating Disorder still likes to stay quiet. It and you develop a relationship. The sweet nothings it chuckles in your ear are told to no one. In recovery you're trying to fight it but it's like a hydra; every victory for you is a head cut off- but that grows back with a companion to go with it. You eat in secret, afraid that people will be disgusted by your gluttony. You try to chew in silence, sickened by the sound of the food in your greedy mouth. You try to eat slowly, defiantly, to prove that you are in control, not It, though this is just further proof of the depth of it's control over you. Eventually, your voice and It's voice merge- you can no longer tell what thoughts are your own and what are the Eating Disorder's. In Recovery, you are forced to sit in groups for all your meals and snacks. There are no sneaky corners for you and your uninvited ally to hide. You must cut your food into normal sized pieces. You must eat within a certain time. You must drink and chew and swallow within ear-shot of others and it is imperative that you make conversation while doing so to 'normalise' eating. Obviously this is difficult in the beginning but you really do adapt to it very quickly. So there you are, seven of you on the unit, all eating together in your cocoon of 'normalised' eating, nurses buzzing around encouraging conversation, taking away your plate the second you finish your food, putting your glass of milk down in front of you. You choose all your meals on a Sunday evening so you know what you are going to be having for lunch and dinner every day. Obviously I don't get a choice because there is only ever one vegetarian option, but that suits me down to the ground because I can't make decisions to save my life (apparently a symptom of the Eating Disorder, but I'm pretty sure I've always been this way).
Over breakfast this morning the senior nurse comes in looking delighted with herself- "Guess what girls?! We are all going out for lunch today! How exciting is that?!"
I was not at all excited about this. In fact, I would rather have swam the Liffey, but that would probably count as exercise, which is, of course, not allowed. There are day-patients in the programme on certain days as well, so they were coming too. So there we are, twelve patients and two nurses and we honestly look like we are going on a school trip. I was half expecting to be told to pick a partner and hold hands. We went to a cafe I've been to before and actually really like because they do decaf and they do soy milk- I have simple needs.
I don't have an issue with eating out, I'm quite happy to sit and look at a menu and have someone take my order. I can sit out of the way, nice and inconspicuous, and I don't generally have to make much of a choice because, again, the veggie options are usually pretty limited. However, put me in a carvery scenario/ queue up with a tray/ self-serve scenario, and I am like a fish out of water. Now imagine twelve of us, twelve little fishies out of water, overwhelmed by choice, no one wanting to be the one to go first, no one knowing what the protocol was in this awkward school-trip scenario. I felt like everyone was looking at us wondering what we were doing, why we all looked so nervous, why there were so many of us and why none of us were actually paying for our food. Of course, no one was watching us. In my head, it was highly obvious to everyone that we were a group of Eating Disorder Patients being brought on a day out, skinny little bodies holding trays that felt too big, carrying huge plates of food that were definitely too big. I had to remind myself that most people in the group weren't actually Anorexic and we probably looked quite normal, just a group out for a meal together. There are actually only a couple of us that are suffering from Anorexia and are underweight on the unit at the moment, most of the patients are suffering with either Bulimia or EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) and are a healthy, 'normal' weight. In a few weeks there could be a majority of Anorexic patients, it's unpredictable, constantly changing and depends on the waiting list and who needs the space most at the time.
Anyway, I made it, I didn't enjoy a minute of it, but I did it. I get why they wanted us to do it, that it was like practise for going out and eating a normal meal in the Real World, but I don't think it achieved that. In the real world you aren't shepherded from table to counter like a seven year old in Supermacs on the school tour. I'm perfectly able to go out to eat, it's when I'm on my own that I tend to restrict. Today was the toughest day I've had so far. I've been struggling the last few days mood-wise, but I've been ploughing on with my meal plan and sticking to all my food goals and going to all the group sessions. Today was the first day I wanted to say shag it all, climb under the duvet and refuse to come out, but I know it was because the meal out; the way it was done, was extremely triggering for me. My anxiety levels were high, and once we got back to the hospital I just felt very low, especially knowing that I still had so much to eat before the day was over. I'm especially anxious because I know that anxiety makes me lose weight and tomorrow is weigh day. (I know that a few hours of anxiety will not affect my weight, but the brain is a silly thing sometimes.) I have no idea if I've met my weekly targets or not. I've been feeling so positive up to this point, but today I'm feeling very nervous, disproportionately paranoid and generally crap. I'm conscious as well that this was in part due to the anxiety of the other people at the table with me- being an Empath I am like a sponge for other people's emotions and I just feel exhausted after the couple of hours of all that agitated, uncomfortable energy.
Tomorrow needs to be a new day for me. I'm going to do some meditation before bed to clear everyone else's energy out of my system, and in the morning I'm going to get up and do some more meditation to ground myself and find my centre. I know that I'll feel better then. Today was a surprise I wasn't prepared for and I allowed it to take my centre, causing all the upset and anxiety. Nothing can take your centre unless you allow it too, but sometimes things come at us out of left field and it takes all our energy to keep up with what's going on, let alone stay centred and grounded. Tomorrow is a clean slate.
As always, mail me or drop a comment if there is anything you want to ask me. Again, thank you for all the support and kind words, keep sharing, it's all about getting that snake that is all Eating Disorders out in the open, breaking the silence surrounding it, and just speaking frankly and openly about it as we would with any physical illness.