Friday junior Thursday 🙂
Blog post number two for Eating Disorder Awareness week is per suggestion/request of two of my favorite humans. One friend suggested talking about bloating and body changes and then another about “tolerating discomfort/moving through discomfort” – this post gets into all of it.
There are a lot of uncomfortable things one experiences both during an active eating disorder and throughout the recovery process. And these things change throughout the experience as well. For example, bloating may be more common during a re-feeding and/or earlier stages of recovery but it’s also not mutually exclusive to this time point. Whereas tolerating discomfort can be seen more as a general concept as, well, real talk – life regardless of an eating disorder (ED) history can be highly uncomfortable at periods. Discomfort isn’t only physical either, it can be emotional/mental, or all of the above.
Without making this a LENGTHY post (it’s still lengthy), because I easily could write a novel on this topic… I’m going to try and highlight the major “discomfort points” that I see based on my own experience and also in the recovery community into three broad “categories”: active ED, early recovery, later recovery. Keep in mind this is fairly generalized and someone may experience something I only list in one “category” during a different time. Everyone is unique (and this is a good thing 🙂 ). I’m also not placing any definition behind early vs. later recovery, again, every single person going through this journey will have their own experience.
– Comments such as: “you don’t look like you have an ED” or “I wish I had your discipline”.
Literal face palm here.
– Physical complications such as digestive symptoms, loss of menstrual cycle
– Loss of interest, depressive moods
– Anxiety and hypersensitivity
– The amount of time and brain space that goes into the thoughts and behavioral patterns during an ED
– Isolation and feeling alone
– Deep emotional and mental turmoil
– Extreme hunger
– Comments such as: (e.g “you gained/lost weight”, “you look so healthy”
– Dealing with acute physical complications (e.g blood sugar, blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, etc., etc.)
– Body changes (literal weight gain/loss, redistribution of weight, overall body composition)
– How clothes fit
– Not knowing how to cope and feeling as if you’ve lost part of yourself
– Being witness to co-workers/friends/family following various diets and exercise routines
– Dealing with chronic physical complications (e.g long-term digestive issues, bone mineral density, etc.)
– Body changes
– Having/finding/maintaining a support system (usually the support being extended is greater during earlier phases of recovery)
– Major life transitions/trauma and managing recovery/remission while minimizing risk of relapse or lapses
– Managing lapses
– Needing to be on any form of “diet protocol” for a specific illness/disease
– Navigating “exercise”/”fitness”/”movement”
– Diet culture
That is NOT a comprehensive list. I couldn’t even possibly give a comprehensive list because I’m going from my own personal experience plus those I know who are in this process and what I see in the recovery community. Which is still all my own perception.
The varying degrees of discomfort are real.
They are extremely valid.
Eating disorders are all consuming,
They don’t just affect someones mental health.
It’s not just about the food.
It’s not a body-image problem at the core.
Relationships (family, friendships, intimate), school, work, cognition, emotion, connection to self and the entire world, ability to feel joy and ease and safe, physical well-being, trust.
It’s a rabbit hole that is incredibly hard to dig yourself out of.
Cyclical. Painful. Intrusive. Terrifying.
When in the process of writing this, I was having some memories pop up from very early stages of my ED. 11/12 year old Sarah feeling completely inadequate, untrusting, unsafe, and unable to express this. Being terrified of the voice in my head that didn’t seem to be mine, but that seemed strangely safe and comforting. 13/14 year old Sarah engaging in self-harm behaviors because the starving and purging wasn’t enough of a numbing. I remember I would lay on my bedroom floor some nights and just cry, deep deep cry, and write (writing has always been helpful), and cry, and try to be as quiet as possible because I didn’t want anyone to hear me… because I felt like there was no way to help, that it wasn’t that “bad”, and therefore I would just be a burden to everyone around me. I could storytell a lot more but that’s not the purpose of this post.
For now, I want to focus on how to deal with and manage the discomfort.
*And this is entirely from my 26 year old, almost 7 years in remission, perspective.*
Just like everyone will have various discomforts and sticking points at different stages, the ways to manage these will vary too. What works for one person could potentially be triggering for another. Recovery as a whole is a giant grey area and as one progresses further on their path, the grey becomes a little less murky and hopefully reaches a point where you understand yourself pretty dang well as a human being.
The early stages are HARD because the primary coping mechanism is “gone”. It’s getting your feet wet again. Learning what is helpful and what is very much not helpful. During this stage, things can be very uncomfortable… kind of like you’re trying to run in deep thick mud. I’ve discussed this previously but it’s relevant; for about a year after being weight restored I dealt with substantial bloating. This was incredibly challenging because I already felt out of element and then I also needed to continue to fight any ED thoughts that came up and keep taking care of my nutrition/care needs to heal. Which was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. Honestly, beyond grateful to have had a rock solid support system at this time point.
That’s an example of “early stage” from my story.
There’s also re-establishing some form of routine. Integrating recovery practices into daily life. Figuring out boundaries both for yourself and for your relationships. Learning how to express your needs vs. shoving them down until you spontaneously combust. “Early stage” can have a strong emphasis on risk management – the risk being lapse or relapse. Honestly, in my opinion, I think doing what YOU need to do for YOU in this stage to NOT fall back into the rabbit hole is key. That said, relapse does NOT mean you’ve failed. At all. Ever.
I think, to a degree, all of the discomforts of the earlier stages can set someone up to effectively manage future hurdles and speed bumps in a way that feels safe (still uncomfortable, but safe) and supportive of ones’ process and recovery. A lot of the work is really in learning what were the initial reasons (even if not all of them) of the ED’s development. From here, doing the work around this; because it never really was about the maladaptive behaviors in the first place.
Being gentle when things pop up, because they will. Heck, as I was writing this post memories popped up from the intense emotional pain I experienced in the early stages of development of my ED. And I just sat with them, gave them space, and was like this is apparently important to include in this blog. And so I share, and I’m gentle with what comes up.
Another thing I’ve found helpful is breaking down why something is uncomfortable. There are obviously circumstances and situations that are deeply painful or traumatic, these are a whole other thing. But the things that can be broken down quickly, in the moment, like comments people make/feeling bloated/seeing diet ads/intrusive thoughts/clothes fitting different/situational anxiety – break it down.
Why is it prompting discomfort? Where’s the root of that? Is it fear? Shame? Guilt? A brain pathway that needs some “re-wiring”? What is it. Get curious and either rationalize it, re-context it, or change the story around it you currently have in your brain space.
For the bigger discomforts such as major life transitions, I’ll say what has worked and continues to work for me. I recently wrote a whole post titled “managing continued remission”, where I talk about the strategies I find helpful. Read that if you wish, but I’ll make a cliff notes version here:
– Love and appreciation for everything I’ve been through, even the dark stuff, because I have gained A LOT of knowledge about my inner world and can now use this to be a better helper/healer/empath/person
– Self-care pyramid/hierarchy of needs – making sure the basics are being covered as much as possible
– Therapy as needed. I think having a therapist during transitions/major life changes is helpful. Sometimes in later recovery stages the support system isn’t as supportive because well, you don’t need it to be, but during major transitions you might need that extra support
– Continuously checking-in with where I’m at, how I’m showing up, and being very honest
– Acceptance that whatever is going on is another piece of the puzzle
On the hard days remember:
The uncomfortable moments will pass.
You will survive this. Whatever the ‘this’ is.
You are strong. Resilient. Capable.
You have value.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout all of this, from age 11-26, is that:
I wouldn’t be who I am today without the deep, ugly, icky, terrifying, uncomfortable. And so I give it respect. I give it space, not power. And keep going.
“Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that, without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember…you may not want to endure what they are enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you, looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.” Nikita Gill