The past few weeks have been difficult for me both in terms of my practical recovery progress, but mostly in terms of my overall well being. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to articulate this well but I want to try. I don’t know if I’ll post this but I think it’ll be useful for me to reflect regardless.
Through therapy and the effort to not restrict or self-harm, I’ve gained a little insight into what triggers me to act in these ways. I’m not claiming that I’m totally self-aware now and that I have all the answers and reasons behind my mental health difficulties because I don’t and I know that I’ve probably got a fair amount more to do until I can safely feel on top of these behaviours. Right now, I’m only really beginning to confront them, but it has been causing me to reconsider some areas of my life that haven’t been proving helpful to me and have become situations likely to make me want to run away into self-destructive behaviours. They don’t cause me to restrict or self-harm – these impulses now exist regardless of outside influences – but I have been using these behaviours to ignore difficult emotions in all walks of my life and now I am in a place where I have to deal with these emotions rather than run away into the security of avoiding them. This might not make any sense so I’m sorry if it doesn’t.
One of these difficult situations has been the boy. I started seeing the boy right at the start of my undergraduate degree. I met him on the first night of uni and we’ve basically been together since. At first, our relationship was lovely. He made me feel safer than anyone ever has and he loved me despite my ongoing depression and social anxiety. He was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it and I’ll never forget that. The problems started when my eating disorder began to present itself. He was more aware of the developing scenario than I was and he watched me slowly, but surely withdraw from him and the rest of the world, getting sicker and sicker. I would tell him it wasn’t a big deal and I was in control whilst he witnessed the blatant evidence that this was not the case. At first it was just “I want to lose the first year weight gain” then it was “just to X weight – it’s still healthy”, then I promised I would keep in the healthy b.m.i. range, and eventually I just lied to him about my actions, my weight and the food I had eaten. He was still there, loving me and making me feel cared for, but I wasn’t able to do the same for him. I knew what I was doing was not ok, but at the same time I didn’t think it was that big of a problem. I thought I couldn’t possibly have anorexia. As sad as this is, I thought I wasn’t lucky enough to have a real eating disorder and was just acting out the symptoms. In my mind, it was all to easy to eat and gain weight so I couldn’t really be ill and therefore should keep up my restriction efforts so to not undo all my hard work. If I had an actual illness, I wouldn’t want food, therefore I wasn’t ill. I went to my G.P. as the boy requested, where I was weighed in my coat and shoes and told that I wasn’t too underweight and that I may have some signs of disordered eating and was put on a waiting list for counselling. This confirmed that I wasn’t ill, so at the time I didn’t push for more support. Counselling came and went, but I was no better because really, I wasn’t sick.
I will always feel immensely guilty for what I put him through. I am just so sorry for doing this to anyone. I can’t imagine what it’s like. All I know is that he didn’t deserve this and this wasn’t what he signed up for. And I’ll always regret never knowing what would have happened had I never suffered with mental health problems.
My withdrawal into my eating disorder just continued and my weight dropped. I became less and less able to engage with the boy and more and more isolated when he wasn’t around. He became more of a carer than a boyfriend and we stopped being a team. Not wanting to watch me get sicker and disappointed that I wasn’t complaining and seeking more help from the NHS, our relationship fell apart and he left me. I never blamed him for this, but I was devastated and it eventually led to the horror of binging and purging. It was only then that I realised I wanted help. I didn’t want to gain weight or eat more, but I wanted to stop the binge/purge cycle and I wanted to get him back so I complained and cried and got an advocate to chase my case and ended up getting an emergency assessment at my EDU. I honestly think this whole process would have taken a lot longer if the boy hadn’t left, so in many ways I’m grateful.
With the start of treatment, me and the boy started to tentatively see each other again. I loved him entirely and I wanted him in my life. I couldn’t see how I would be ok without him. I told him I would change and be everything he needed. I would be happy and more social and get well and be independent and less withdrawn and not rely on him when I’m having difficulties and keep my illness and recovery separate from my relationship with him. At the time, I genuinely thought I could do this – I was coming out of the binge/purge cycle and felt on top of my life and illness. Slowly, our relationship normalised and eventually, I began to be more open with him about my emotions and struggles, but I held on to the guilt of not being perfect for him like I’d promised. I fell for him all over again and just wanted to do everything right for him. I spectacularly failed at this, though he rarely held this against me. He supported me through the beginning of my recovery and I am entirely thankful for that. He showed me there was good to be found through reconnecting with the world and through getting physically and cognitively healthy, whilst providing me with the reassurance I needed that even though I felt like I was destroying my identity and happiness, recovery could lead to a better existence. He will probably never realize just how crucial he has been to my recovery and how grateful I am that he was here when I needed him. I don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t come back, but he has helped. Immensely.
Over the past few months though, I’d started to feel like he wasn’t really here. I realised it wasn’t like before we broke up and I didn’t feel secure and loved anymore. With the help of the psychologist, it became apparent that whenever I registered these feelings, there was an automatic upsurge in destructive avoidance urges, and until relatively recently, I would engage in them to some degree. Now I’m trying more actively to challenge these behaviours, I actually have to face these feelings. And with that, came a “talk”.
A part of me was prepared for this as I’ve known on some level this has been coming for a while, but I held on to the hope that the outcome would have been different. I thought I would be told that I was wrong and that we could work on some of the problems in our relationship. I wasn’t wrong though. No matter how much I love him, he tried but can’t love me anymore. I don’t want to be in a relationship in which I love someone who doesn’t feel the same, so that was that. And you know what, I’m actually ok.
It is really sad because I honestly think he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. He ticks all my boxes for what makes people good and I wouldn’t be able to describe someone better. He is my best friend and I’ll miss him being around. It hurts to think that he won’t be such a huge part of my life. He’s become my normal and it’s hard to imagine what I’ll do without him. I desperately want to continue to know him and really hope that’s achievable, but only time will tell I guess. Sometimes, someone can be good, but just not good for you if that makes sense.
Our relationship had become too caught up in anorexia and recovery. I think he struggled to see my progress and continued to label me as “too sick” for many things – like going to his house or meeting his friends (in his defence, I do struggle with social anxiety). I felt as if, to him, I would always be seen as the girl who lied and lost control and needed a carer instead of a boyfriend. I felt I constantly needed to be more for him. For me, my recovery has been completely tied up in him. I’ve wanted to be what he wants me to be. I’ve held his opinions as higher than my own and let his actions have too much negative influence on my self-worth. Each time he told me that my ongoing mental illnesses have made him miserable or make me boring or make him not want to see me, I’ve taken it as prove that I am boring and make everyone miserable and shouldn’t be seen. I’ve allowed him to confirm my inferior status. He doesn’t feel that me, as I am, is enough for him and on some level I’ve known this for a while. I’ve tried to be enough, but I can’t instantly cure my anorexia, I can’t magic away my depressive mood and I can’t use will power alone to stop my anxiety problems. He struggles to understand why this just isn’t possible for me and I think he finds it difficult to accept that I can’t just be better. I am working towards recovery and I am beginning to see real improvements in my mood, behaviours and overall health, but there isn’t a quick fix and the length of the process is something I can’t estimate. I’ve never done this before and I don’t know how long it’ll take. All I know is that feeling like I have to improve in order to be enough for someone else and fit someone else’s needs isn’t helping this process. The continual effort to become perfect (even if right now, that means perfectly recovered instead of perfectly small) isn’t good for me. All it does is batter my self-esteem repeatedly.
I’d been avoiding all of this as it’s difficult and hard. And not just through disordered behaviours, but also through physically running away to the sea. It didn’t make it go away.
I thought I would freak out entirely and am still worried I might. I had a 48 hour period of spinning and feeling out of control, burst into tears in Tesco and have now calmed. I could end up binging, and that would probably send me straight back into relapse, but right now, I’m not having those urges. I’m beginning to think that the previous binges were more down to the fact that I was actually starved rather than purely emotional outlet or my lack of self-restraint (as I viewed when more actively engaged in disordered behaviours), so maybe now, with a whole load more food in me and actually being in treatment, I might not have to worry about them so much. Maybe I haven’t processed the whole thing yet, but I am actively trying to and keep thinking about how I’m feeling and what urges I’m having and how to deal with them and I think I’m realising that this is ok. I actually feel happier now than I did and although I am sad to lose someone I care about, feel stronger in myself and stronger in my recovery. I’m actively trying to see people and pushing my comfort zone a bit as I’d become too dependant on the boy as my main social contact (much to our detriment) so am actively trying to reconnect with people. So far, this has actually been a really positive experience. Like yesterday, getting intoxicated with the brother then drinking in Shoreditch with old friends, and today, I met up with a uni friend for lunch and coffee, and have someone coming over for wine and chats this evening and at on my way home from lunch, I actually really realised I felt happy. I haven’t recognised that in myself for a long time.
It’s early days and I’ve probably got a lot more sadness to work though, but I hope I can recognise it for what it is and work through it in an appropriate way. All I know is that right now, I finally see the opportunities recovery gives me. Everything feels like opportunities. I can find out who I want to be for me. I can struggle and find it hard, but that doesn’t have to define me. I can learn to reconnect with the world as an independent individual rather than as part of a couple. I feel like so much pressure has been lifted and that I’m more able to find out who I am without my illnesses. I was suffering from depression and anxiety when I met the boy, so there is no time in our relationship where I can really identify feeling stable and at ease with myself. Hopefully as I continue to work to find these things, I can reach a stable place, find out who I am without the constant noise of mental illness and then, when I’m ready, find someone who wants to be with me for what I am, rather than some hope for what I can be. Hopefully I can be enough just by being me. It’s actually really exciting.
The past few nights, I’ve slept better than I have in months.