Eating Disorders Never Really Go Away
For a long time, I've said "I had an eating disorder as a young teen," but the truth is, my eating has always been disordered and, even though I don't restrict or punish myself in the same patterns anymore, my body image hasn't really improved much. Sure, I'm no longer suicidal (I never really wanted to kill myself, but anorexia is a slow form of suicide). I haven't been in any eating-disorder-specific treatment in nearly two decades (though I am in therapy and we've only recently started discussing my body image and food issues), don't count calories, don't own a scale, and am an average weight, I still hate my body. It still makes me feel not good enough.
Like many people, I've gained weight during the pandemic. I haven't been able to play soccer and hockey once a week, as I did pre-Covid, or snowboard (we've opted to just cross country ski this year, due to health/safety concerns). I've thrown myself into cooking (and snacking), sometimes elaborate and not-the-healthiest things like onion rings and monkey bread, and, though I do eat plenty of veggies, calorie-heavy food became somewhat of a regular thing during the pandemic. I've also been drinking more beer than is probably recommended. I can barely fit into my snowpants.
I find myself constantly staring at myself in the mirror or the reflection of the glass door, and I don't like what I see. I've been trying to eat healthier, cut out sweets, do more toning exercises and ski most days, even if just a few laps in the backyard, chased by our dogs. Still. I feel weak, pathetic, unworthy of love.
But I'm also not thirteen anymore. I have better coping mechanisms, ways of managing my intense feelings. I've been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, finally something to help me make sense of my wild and sometimes debilitating emotions. I don't hate myself for the burden I put on my family anymore. I don't want to cease to exist. While feeling isolated from friends and family has been hard this past year, I'm lucky enough to have a husband whom I love fully to help me through it. I also have a great therapist whom I Zoom with every week and friends who check in regularly. My life is full, despite all the changes and stress.
But still, there are triggers that can be as simple as seeing beautiful bodies on TV or social media and thinking I don't look like that. And (the kicker) I should. Pre-pandemic, it was a guy asking me if I ever finished a plate of food in grad school (rarely, why do I always have to leave something on the plate?). Or my ex-boyfriend in college teasing me about the weight I'd gained my first year in college, poking my softer belly. Or the impossibly skinny, gorgeous women in my family, whom I always feel less-than.
There's a reason we're called eating disorder survivors; we've fought intense impulses and self-hatred, mental illness that makes us feel like we shouldn't exist, impossible standards for ourselves, intense fear and loneliness. We've survived. Are surviving, and yet, are still disordered. Though the behaviors and coping mechanisms for triggers and self-awareness and confidence may improve, those feelings never really go away. Recovery is a process, often a life-long one. I will never be recovered, but always recovering. And I will continue to recover, every day.