‘You’re okay now, right”?
A regular grocery trip on a Wednesday afternoon was interrupted when mum caught sight of a girl a bit older than me who looked ill standing in the butcher-shop line across from us. Then, as if a second nature response, mum looked at me and said “You’re okay now. You don’t do that anymore, yes?”. For a second, I froze up, not knowing what to say. For a long time, I tried to come up with a metaphor to explain my struggles with food, because it felt like the second people around me found out I was getting help, which in my case was regularly speaking to a psychologist and taking medication, they assumed how I thought about food was normal again.
Standing in the bakery aisle, I stretched my arms out. Of course, the following isn’t verbatim, but it was my intended message. “It’s like from the second I started to have a hard time with eating, I was put on this continuum. One I can’t see but I can feel. And no matter how far I am in my recovery, I’m still on it. It’s just that the more hours I log on this journey, the more comfortably I sit towards the bottom of the ‘scale”‘.
I remember moving my right hand slowly towards my left with the intention of showing mum that just because I moved downward the continuum along the years, I was still on it. Today, I am still on it.
Unable to process. Unable to voice.
Before proceeding, I’d like to give a quick disclaimer to each reader. The intention of this article is not to generalise my experience with that of your loved one, as I acknowledge each experience with an eating disorder is unique. Rather, I intend to put into words what I thought and how I felt as I sat towards the top-end of this continuum – thoughts and feelings I was unable to process myself, let alone voice out loud.
Visualise the continuum
When thinking about the right metaphor, a continuum seemed just right. I hope the following visualisation exercise will help you understand why.
Imagine a long straight line with an arrow pointing out at each side. On this line, is a dot that can freely slide up and down this scale. I want you to think about this dot as the journey that is recovery; there is no fixed point, and it is prone to fluctuation given the thoughts and feelings that your loved one has or is experiencing at any given time. The closer the dot is toward the right arrow, the greater the impairment your loved one is experiencing in their daily life as a result of their eating disorder.
Some days are more challenging than others
Speaking truthfully as someone who is currently in recovery, there are days that feel more challenging than others.
Days where the hardest task seems to be just labelling my own thoughts such as “It looks like you’ve gained a bit of weight around your thighs” and “It will be fine if you have a smaller dinner today” as merely some background noise in my mind. But guess what? That’s okay.
To the carer reading this article – that’s perhaps the most important thing to me that was, and still is, hard to communicate to loved ones.
That is – progress in recovery depends less on your capacity to rid your mind of body or food insecurity thoughts, and more on your capacity to acknowledge their presence and have the mental stamina to resist acting on them. It took a long time to even fathom thinking about resisting giving into these thoughts.
And – I feel the need to emphasise the point that there are still days I struggle because after having lived alongside a mind that encouraged me to eat too little or too much some days, it’s become second nature to give into those thoughts.
Journey to recovery has no time-limit
I’m aware of how ambiguous this article is. After all, I don’t mention the eating disorder I experienced, nor my recovery timeline. This was my intention. Why? Because regardless of the eating disorder your loved one is experiencing, their journey to recovery has no time-limit. That is, even if they reach a point where they sit comfortably at the bottom-end of the continuum and trust themselves enough not to eat too much or too little, there will be days where they question their ability to do so.
To my mum – I still have the same thoughts the girl that stood across from us has. It has been with your openness that you don’t understand what goes on in my mind, but willingness to just sit next to me as I move back-and-forth along this continuum that has transformed my metaphorical journey into a real one.
As a final note, if you’re wondering how mum replied, she simply said “Okay, what can I make you for dinner tonight?”.
An ‘Alex Articulates’ article by Alex Mruk