Silver Linings: How Lockdown
Has Helped My Recovery
For some people the solitariness and monotony of lockdown is daunting and may seem like an obstacle in recovery. However, at the beginning of our second lockdown in the UK, I have found this bizarre situation challenging yet helpful. Anorexia and bulimia can alter your sense of personhood in that the hours filled with behaviours has left me with a sense of self that seems like a never ending exhibition of Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’. Being in recovery in lockdown has forced me out of this exhibition into real life. I could step away from that fountain on to dry land. My sense of self takes three forms: mental, physical and social. And quarantine has led me to explore all three.
I found being alone in lockdown forced me to confront myself mentally. My kitchen became like a tiny ship which I could sail or wreck depending on my mood. I would stand at the stove stirring a bowl of lentil soup like a ship wheel. Initially, it got worse. The freedom of being alone meant I could spend hours in my turbulent bulimic waters. But one day I got bored and melancholic. As the only crew mate, I had to take responsibility. I listened to a song called ‘To Binge’ by the Gorillaz. “Just don’t know if I could roll into the sea again” made me see this addiction as the ocean: enticing but exhausting. I was sick of being overwhelmed and started to keep a diary, rating my days from 1-10. I was inspired to have more good days. Keeping a diary can also help you maintain a sense of routine. When I moved on my own the days all blended into one. Eventually I was able to wean myself off the diary and develop normal eating habits - recovering from an eating disorder is like learning to ride a bike, sometimes you need stabilisers to keep you safe. In this case, the diary was my stabiliser. Without a guardian to affirm my mental state I could materialise my progress. This helped me with mental self-acceptance in that my results of recovery were visual.
After confronting myself mentally, I started to confront myself physically. I became more physically connected to my home. I encountered an ant infestation and demonic spiders climbing along the walls. In this situation I almost felt more connected to nature. Instead of worrying about my own physical appearance I became fascinated by the changing seasons around my small flat. Even if I had a bad binge eating period I would fall asleep looking at the glowing moon feeling like nature was watching me. The roads and skies were abated of their motors, the birds sung instead. I would look at the sky change colours from scarlet to blue and realise that my body was like the sky: it needed to change to heal.
I would also find physical acceptance by writing poetry. Although I was still uncomfortable in my physical body and angry that I couldn’t express myself through movement I found movement in words. I could move the physical world and my emotions onto paper without having to worry about my body.
For me social-acceptance is the most difficult part of recovery. Society has ideals and images that can shape one’s expectations. However, lockdown in many ways has taken me away from this and reminded me of my personal values and relationships. As other people moved away externally I found my heart opened up to more people internally. ‘Mind’ Charity published research which stated: “Feelings of loneliness have made nearly two thirds of people’s mental health worse in lockdown.” (June 2020). So although loneliness helped me in lockdown, others may suffer. Ways in which I found social connection without leaving the house was by searching for online zines (such as this one) to read about other people’s experiences - even if not connected to mental health finding a project that you can be involved in can give you a focus away from food. I combined my love of literature with a need to socialise to discover new voices and find a new daily purpose.
In conclusion, I have found mental self-acceptance the most important obstacle. Without mentally accepting myself and my situation through dairies and writing poetry I wouldn’t have been able to move on in my recovery. The less I worried about food the more I thought about my loves in life: both nature and people. Food is not a tool of punishment: there was no reason to punish myself with it because there was nobody else to moralise me, which is why I found social isolation helpful. In terms of physical self-acceptance I would recommend that this is a process and not instantaneous: like the weather changing it can be uncomfortable, but like the fact that lockdown shields you from the weather, acceptance of my physical body was made easier by the fact that I was in a quiet peaceful home.
If you don’t live in a supportive home, try and make sure you have access to support networks. If you have access to NHS services you can find links to therapy and groups. Make use of social media if you can: the internet can be a great way to find social acceptance for inhibited people like me. Lockdown has led me to find a better sense of self in so many ways, so if you are able to try to make the most of it: embrace being alone for your recovery.
Agatha is 22, and has experienced various eating disorders and mental health problems. Having studied Anthropology at University, she has a keen interest in the social aspect of eating disorders She also enjoys writing poetry, which helps her make sense of her experience and share with others. You can read her poetry on Instagram @deux_ex_agatha.