Mental Relapse… That’s A Thing, Right?

Sometimes we've got to be our own calming manatees.

Sometimes we’ve got to be our own calming manatees.

Happy eating disorders awareness week, folks! Although really, for anyone who has, has had, or knows someone with an eating disorder, the idea of there being a week at any time in which we just weren’t aware of eating disorders is kind of nonsense. But it’s great to see resources, support, statistics, and awareness pouring out onto the interwebs this week. For those of you who were able to join me in the #AdiosED Twitter party on Monday evening, thanks for your support. It was a huge success, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

NEDAwareness week came at an oddly ironic time for me this year. Yes, I know it’s the same week every year, but it landed straight in the middle of a… well, I’m not really sure what to call it.

What exactly do you term a sudden preoccupation with your weight and the amount of food you eat, if you’re determinedly not weighing yourself and you’re eating maybe even a little bit more than you ordinarily do? Can it still be considered a relapse if to the outside observer, you’re doing totally fine, but inside you feel like everything’s falling apart?

Disclaimer: I am fully aware that outside stressors in my life are taking their toll on my mental health, and they are doing that in the way they have decided to do since my mid-teens. At the moment, I am working two jobs, taking a full load of university courses, trying to raise almost $1500 to publish a literary magazine, navigating at least three university bureaucracies, trying to figure out how to spell bureaucracy, learning how to do basic html code, and finish a 335-page senior thesis in the next three weeks. Oh, and find out what to do with the rest of my life post-graduation. I recognize that my inherent inability to say “no” to anything is beginning to wear on me, and I’m coping with it as I usually do. But knowing that this is the case doesn’t make it any easier.

Instead of going back down the eating disorder path physically, I feel as if I’ve been taking the opposite road. I cannot actually motivate myself to do anything besides my (not-insignificant) walk to class and to work every day. The gym? Forget about it. Healthy eating? Okay, but once I’m through with dinner I’m going to barrel through that ice cream, because I’m stressed, okay, and sugar makes me feel better.

Briefly. Until I realize that I’ve felt this way before, during the early stages of recovery, when I was rapidly gaining weight like nobody’s business. It’s the same feeling of fear. Of being out of control. Of disgust and shame and wanting to talk to anybody about it but not being able to because I’m supposed to be better.

I had to stop and look at this image for at least five minutes when I first saw it. This is actually scary accurate. That's why it gets included in this post, and you get a bonus image. Puts things in a really visual perspective.

I had to stop and look at this image for at least five minutes when I first saw it. This is actually scary accurate. That’s why it gets included in this post, and you get a bonus image. Puts things in a really visual perspective.

Is this a rant-post? Partially. But I also think that there should be more attention paid to relapses that don’t involve resorting to behaviors. I haven’t stepped on the scale in over two weeks, admittedly partly because I’m afraid to but also because I can’t see what good that would do. I haven’t skipped a meal in months – in fact, I just came from a snack. To all intents and purposes, these are the fluctuations in the eating patterns and exercise habits of a recovered person. Vegetables and time logged on the treadmill take a back seat during the final semester of university, when there’s more things to be done than there are hours in a day. Maybe that’s normal. But I don’t feel recovered. I feel just as out-of-control and afraid as I did months and months ago.

And yet, because physically I’m healthy and functional and not losing weight, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who would treat this as a relapse. I don’t need to go speak to a medical professional. I don’t need intervention. What I need, most people would tell me, is a nice long nap and a dose of perspective. But that’s not helpful in the midst of this.

Those are some of the complications of recovery that I never thought about until I experienced them. People expect you to be “better” once and for all. Particularly in my position, when I spend so much time writing about eating disorders, talking about recovery, organizing recovery-based events, and what all. People assume that once you’re “recovered,” you no longer need support and your mental state will take care of itself. This is not always the case.

During #AdiosED, one tweet particularly stood out to me, and I bring it back for you here because it’s the most honest thing I’ve read in a long time.

True facts. But the need for a hug doesn’t stop after you’ve been labeled (or have labeled yourself) recovered. Hard times still show up. There are still days when it’s hard to think about inhabiting your body, or look at it, or move around in it in certain ways. I had hoped that there wouldn’t be, but sometimes there are.

If you have a friend in recovery, and you’re comfortable talking with them, ask them how they’re doing from time to time. Be prepared for celebrations if they’re invited, but also be prepared for an honest, open discussion about how sometimes things are still hard.

And if you’re in recovery, and you’re feeling like you’re having a rough time, either mentally or physically, don’t lose hope. This will pass. It won’t go on forever. Because you are stronger than your eating disorder. It puts up a hell of a fight, but you don’t have to take it. Even though it’s hard at the moment, I don’t plan on taking it.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so honest. I thought I was the only one who experiences ‘mental relapse’

  2. Totally a thing, Allison, thanks for bringing it up. I’ve been having a similar time these past couple weeks or so… not necessarily engaging in physical behaviors but definitely in mental ones. I think we both also have enough experience with this to remember that we’re not doing anything “wrong”, to remember to be gentle with ourselves and to remember that the storm will pass. That being said, I could definitely use a hug right about now. Hang in there– I’m so proud of everything you’re doing and of your ability to be incredibly wise and introspective even in dark times. xoxo.

    P.S. The second image is GOLD… I might steal it.

  3. Just breathe, honey. Remember to breathe. Perfection is unattainable and attempting to reach it is damaging to your soul. You will get through this time, doing what you have to do. Dear old ED doesn’t like being crowded out of your thoughts, so it may reassert itself just when your attention is intensely focused elsewhere.
    I just read a posting by Geneen Roth, in which she recommends that we view those nagging, scary, shaming thoughts as a bunch of tiny, screaming mice. They only have the power we give them.
    Thanks for your honesty. Hugs to you and all who are struggling.

    Nancy

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