The Evolution of ED
Let me preface this post by saying: this set of experiences should not be generalized and thought of as the way anorexia progresses for all those who suffer from it. It is simply a reminder to myself or what to look for when I suspect ED may be building his army. This is not meant to be precise or scientific it is meant to be honest.
The question arose in my head a few nights ago; in that space of restless wakefulness that occurs between really good, deep sleeping; how and when did I know that something was wrong? Like many eating disordered people who look to the past to piece together the puzzle that fell apart so rapidly, it's difficult for me to name one behavior that stopped me in my tracks and take stock of what I was becoming, but that is not to say that I was oblivious to the fact that something was amiss. At this moment, I'm not talking about looking back to elementary school and searching for signs of obsessive behavior or trauma that may have, in a round-about way, caused ED to rear his ugly head. Instead I mean: what did it feel like when I began to restrict in the fall of 2009? My reason for this bit of "research" into my own mind is this: when I am honest with myself about what the beginning of a relapse looks and feels like I will be more prepared to prevent myself from gradually spinning out of control in the future.
Here are the emotions, keywords, conflicts and physical feelings that pop into my head when I think back to my campaign to avoid the freshman 15: expectations (high-expectations for myself, a school that did not live up to those expectations, the misconception that my family expected my to seamlessly transition into adulthood, etc), health (look at the cover of any magazine any you'll be told that health is simply a combination of eating differently and moving more), adulthood, isolation, unknowns, restlessness (ok, I'm at school, what now?).
The most daunting of these keys is the idea of unknowns. Right now my life is chock full of unknowns: where will I be studying this fall? When exactly are we moving to Columbus? Where are we going to live once we all get there? Will I be able to afford school at all? Do my parents support my choice of which school to attend? Do they believe that I'm ready to go? Will ED always be here? Have I come as far as I think I have?
Wait, that was the first major step to avoiding a crisis, as I see it atleast. I identified my source of stress: unknowns, or that which is out of my control (classic anorexic, right?). It is no longer an ambiguous entity allowed to grow into a many-headed monster. In naming the primary stressor I disconnected it from my still (very) fragile concept of self-worth and gave myself the ability to talk about it, write about and think about it more clearly.
Even now, knowing what is most likely to send me running to the edge of my own personal (and solely figurative) cliff, I still have to deal with the behavior. I start to restrict, add on another mile or a few more minutes at the Y. What now? This is the toughest part. I've struggled with this on and off for the past year...when I start to slip and know it, what can I do to stay on course? Here are some of the tactics I'm using now:
1.) write a meal plan (personally I hate meal plans; ED can use them against me just as easily as I can use them against him)
2.) record my interactions with ED. If he starts screaming write it down and write down the ways in which I challenged the negative thought. This is uber-tedious, but if I'm diligent he'll give up eventually (I have yet to experience this gratification, but I'm told that it will happen).
3.) I came up with this part of the battle plan on my own - at the end of the day, when my anxiety is the highest and I am most vulnerable, I write down three positives. Anything good that happened in my day - I read a good book, laughed until I cried, chatted with a friend, tried a new recipe, enjoyed my work day.
An eating disorder becomes a habit. ED's rules quickly became my new instincts: unconscious and powerful. In order to counteract that I need to dedicated time and energy (and quite a few notebooks thus far) to learning new habits.
I know this post is getting a bit scattered, but bear with me. I recognize what events and emotions are likely to send me off track, I know what I am supposed to do when I start to deviate, but what does it actually feel like? How, on a gut level, do I know that I'm not heading in the right direction? The word "secrecy" just jumped into my mind. At the heart of so many anorexic behaviors is a need to both be noticed and, ironically, a desire to disappear. This dichotomy is filled with secrets - kept from yourself, your friends and your family. I knew that something was going wrong when I spent hours on the phone with Supermum each week, but couldn't articulate my feelings. This wasn't because I was unsure or confused about what my emotions were, it was because I was stuck in the middle of web. I was keeping secrets from ED and ED from me; my natural reaction was to call out for help, but from what did I need to be rescued? Myself. It's not secrecy exactly, but to me, it feels very similar.
I've been told to eat more lately, warned that I was losing weight, straying closer to the edge of my cliff, but after compiling this checklist and sorting through my memory, I am confident when I reassure my family that I am not falling prey to ED. He wants very badly to gain control, but I am too aware and too dedicated to the life that could lie ahead without him. My mind is busy and filled with hopes and positives alternatives to his irrational jibes - this sense of mindfullness will not allow ED to get the upper hand.