I’m annoyed with my mental illness. I’ve been trucking along in anorexia recovery for about a year and a half now. I’ve worked really hard to get better, re-feeding my body, re-learning how to listen to and oblige my body cues for food, rest, and movement, digging under the thick layers of pain and distorted beliefs to root out the truth, and traversing through an emotional healing journey with my dad. I’m better, and sometimes I even feel like I am all better.
Until a random trigger crops up out of no where and rolls around my brain like a pebble in my shoe. I don’t know where the pebble came from, and when I try to shake out the pebble to get on with my life, I realize the damn thing is still in my shoe.
My mom graduated from Linfield College this past Sunday. It was a challenging and exhilarating six-year feat that my mom conquered with graceful (and coffee-fueled) perseverance. We took lots of pictures, one of which was this sweet shot of my brother, Carl, my mom, dad, and me:
I love this picture. I hate this picture. The joy and pride and love we have as a family and for my mom is real. Genuine. My heart is happy and warm when I look at this photo as a whole portrait.
But my brain, which has wonky wiring that I’m working hard to reprogram, is spewing all sorts of terrible lies about how I look in this picture. It has triggered up the volume on my eating disorder voice.
You need to know that I hate writing about this and didn’t want to because I am feeling a lot of shame for feeling how I feel. But in an effort to help you (and me) understand the eating disorder, I need to unpack this fresh, real-life moment inside the illness. Because I thought I was better. And I am, but I still have this pebble rolling around in my life called anorexia.
The eating disorder tells me that in this picture:
- I look fat and mis-shapen
- I haven’t been paying attention to my eating
- I can’t trust my body to intuitive eating
- I am a fraud with all this intuitive eating shit
- This body happened without my knowing, without my control
- I need to lose weight
Shame is telling me:
- I’m selfish for focusing on myself when it’s my mom’s big day
- No one wants to hear about my disorder because it’s boring and getting mundane
- I have become complacent in my recovery
- Why can’t I just be better already?
- It’s ridiculous to let an innocent picture trigger me into a tailspin
I spent Sunday fighting the urge to restrict and battling the voice that told me I was weak when I did eat. Monday I tried to work out my anxiety through yoga and running… swearing I wasn’t running to work out my body but to work out my angst and find my healthy voice. I was able to grasp on to enough positive truth to propel me through a good date-day with my husband, who, by the way, was at a loss as to how to help me. He thought I was fine too; this trigger sent us both flailing.
Thankfully I had therapy yesterday, and while my coping strategy with yoga and running worked okay temporarily, my therapist helped me see how the eating disorder manipulated running into a “healthy” choice when my actual healthy self had already questioned the choice as a healthy solution.
“I wonder,” said Tamara, “how things might have been different if instead of running or doing yoga to get rid of the ‘yuck’ you were feeling, you would have… what?”
“Sat in it,” I filled in the blank.
Sometimes in my illness I try to run away from it. Literally, I guess. When I feel bad, I don’t want to feel bad so I do things to distract or feel better… like running and yoga and cleaning and organizing and even cooking. It’s me trying to “shake out the pebble”– to shake off the shame and shake out the eating disorder. Please understand these activities are perfectly fine when I do them from a healthy space. But when doing them in response to trigger, none of these activities are helpful and can just feed my disorder.
It isn’t until I sit down, still, and let myself feel–usually in prayer–that I uncover what is really going on–why the trigger was such a trigger. I have to take the pebble out with my hands, examine it, figure out where it came from, and decide what to do with it. The process is hard, and after a year and a half of being in recovery… doing this so. many. times., sitting in my feelings feels mundane and annoying because I think I should be all better now. I am better. And what I am going through right now is also normal in recovery. I’m not sick but I’m also not all better. There is no clear box for me to stand in, and I suppose that’s also annoying since I like things organized in their own little boxes.
I don’t have a neat ending to this post. I haven’t yet sat still. I’m fidgety and anxious today, struggling to keep in touch with my body cues. I haven’t approached God yet, and I don’t know why. I usually run to Him first, but I think I am afraid. My brain tells me God is going to tell me I am selfish and self-centered or that I have done something wrong. This trigger is my fault. My heart knows these are lies, but the illness makes me uncertain, and the illness is really loud right now.