How 2020 Has Impacted My Recovery
Hands up who had a great 2020?
...that's a collective no-one then.
It's been a unique year full of challenges and uncertainty. The word 'unprecedented' has now lost all meaning.
When we stayed up until midnight to welcome in 2020, could anyone have predicted what was in store for us all? Certainly not me.
Without a doubt, it's been a terribly difficult 12 months for anybody with a mental health condition as fear and anxiety swept the world, causing even the hardiest of characters to wobble. Those with eating disorders certainly weren't exempt.
It's been the perfect storm for both those in recovery and ones who manage their ED unaided. A pressure cooker with all of the right ingredients to wreak havoc!
Each individual sufferer will know which elements of lockdown caused them the most difficulty, but on reflection, I think the following five tripped me up the most...
Nothing induced panic like fearing my 'safe foods' would be unavailable.
Rice, pasta and tinned goods are staples of my daily trusted edibles and unfortunately also popular amongst the stockpilers.
Going food shopping is stressful enough without worrying about my safety items being out of stock and I would feel apprehensive about finding appropriate alternatives to satisfy my needs.
Similarly, when we were told to only visit our local supermarkets, I missed the foods I usually bought from other shops further afield. A friend was kind enough to post some to me as she lived closer to those stores than I did. What a bonkers time!
However, I coped. I built those alternative foods into my daily plan and hardly bat an eyelid about them anymore. It’s funny how something so initially scary can turn out to be absolutely fine.
2. Nothing to lift my mood
I don't know about you, but when I feel like my ED voice is in the driving seat, it helps me to go out and take my mind off it.
I try to socialise more, I make an effort to say ‘yes’ to invitations to do things (rather than politely decline as per) and attempt to make myself feel positive and worthy in other ways.
It was impossible to do that for several months of 2020 - even illegal at times! I felt the effect of losing those social distractions and opportunities to lift my mood by spending time with people I love. It helps you to see the world outside your own bubble and get a broader perspective to keep your worries in proportion.
I felt that without those comforts, the demon voices shouted louder and I had more time to ruminate on my fears, food choices and weight. Not ideal.
3. Lack of control
It is common for people with eating disorders to feel they need a sense of control over something, namely their shape, food intake and exercise levels. This overwhelming instinct usually kicks in when there are elements of our lives we feel powerless over or that seem much bigger than we are.
Throwing a highly contagious, novel virus that is wreaking havoc all over the world and killing people in their thousands creates a breeding ground for those out of control feelings to run riot.
I found myself becoming even more obsessive over daily exercise totals and calories as the result of little else being within my circle of things I could 'sort'. Not properly anyway.
My therapist did some work with me on the locus of control - a tool that demonstrates what is in your reach to have control over and what isn’t, and it really helped. I actually learnt I could control more elements of life than I first realised and was able to let go of those other things more as a result. It's worth a google!
4. Restricted access to support
As I've said in previous posts, I have a fantastic therapist and I rely on her a great deal.
I've often told her that she is like a 'fixing machine' and that my chaotic, irrational, disordered thoughts and worries tumble out of me and into her much more logical way of thinking. She literally transforms and retrains my brain and I've improved so much as a result of my appointments with her. She's quite remarkable.
It's the great relationship we have that made it so tough to lose touch a little this year when arguably more support than ever was needed. I was fortunate to have phone calls and the odd socially distanced, face-to-face appointment in the summer but it hasn't been the same and I feel progress has stalled somewhat as a result. I'm hopeful that some regularity can resume when the vaccine is rolled out.
When you're living in near constant fear, it can feel pretty hard to focus on recovery and stamping out disordered behaviours. Eating difficulties commonly manifest as a coping strategy and we've all needed lots of those this year!
I'd have days when my anxieties and worries were so huge, I couldn't have eaten if you'd have paid me. I also felt that I often wanted to eat but my thoughts were so negative I couldn't allow myself to. It was quite hard to navigate my way through such uncertainty at times. I have to be in the right head space to eat properly and on very few occasions this year was that possible.
With any luck, 2021 will provide more hope and an exit strategy from the hardship of the pandemic.
I'm sending lots of positive vibes and good wishes to everyone reading this. I hope you're well and finding ways to self-care at this turbulent time.
Georgie is a communications specialist currently working for a mental health organisation and volunteering for a charity helping to run community support groups. She has recently embarked on accessing treatment for an eating disorder and anxiety, documenting her journey on her personal blog and Instagram account @start.over_my.darling.