Growing up, Christmas was one of my favourite times of the year. I loved the excitement of singing Christmas songs/carols, giving and getting presents, playing family games, and indeed, Christmas dinner. It was a time I felt happy, relaxed and loved being with my family and friends. However, in 2012, the year I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa..Christmas was one of the toughest times to cope with.
You see, at this stage, I was weight restored and physically stable, but mentally I was really struggling. I had depression, I felt anxious about ‘seeing people’ (even my close friends), I was fighting this Eating Disorder day after day and struggled big time with the guilt I felt when eating, and also had body image concerns – when my irrational ED thoughts told me that eating a particular thing was bad and would result in me putting on a certain amount of weight.
Taking all of this into consideration, when Christmas came around and what is commercially seen as a time for ‘happiness, fun and food’ – that terrified me. Number 1 – I was struggling with depression and ‘happiness’ was something I longed for but didn’t feel could be a reality for me at that point, Number 2 – I was struggling with anxiety and ‘fun’ was something I wanted to have, but what a ‘normal’ 14 year old saw as fun usually involved social situations where my anxiety and panic levels increased and so, I tended to avoid this sort of thing, and Number 3 – I was struggling with Anorexia Nervosa and ‘food’ was something that I used to love, but at that point scared me and caused me great distress. Therefore, it wasn’t an easy time to cope with.
I remember seeing photos on Facebook of my friends in Christmas jumpers at school or nice dresses going to Christmassy events, looking lovely and happy…I wanted to ‘be like them’. I wanted to be living life, having happiness in life, enjoying life – but at that stage, I was fighting through and ‘getting through’ life.
Another thing I struggled with that year was the fact it was my ‘first Christmas with an ED’. The previous Christmas I was a happy, healthy 13 year old, going to school each day, with no signs of mental health problems. In 2012, I found it hard to cope with how much had changed in that year. I was ill and couldn’t see much, if any, hope that I could or would get better.
One thing that can be very difficult at this time of year is that people often make many comments about food and weight. These comments can a) cause a lot of distress for someone battling an ED as they can ‘confirm’ the lies which their ED is telling them, and b) be a trigger for someone who is already developing or is susceptible to developing an ED. I’m not highlighting this to make people feel guilty or worried about things they may have already said…but I am saying this to make people aware of comments that can be triggering to someone who has/had/will have an Eating Disorder, in the hope that people will think and stop before making statements like these…
- ‘I’m being good’ – This is a comment made all year round, but can be even more prominent around Christmas due to the focus around food at this festive time. When people say they’re not going to eat something because they’re ‘being good’, what does that imply? It implies that eating is a bad thing which is not true. Eating is something which every person needs to do in order to live and survive. Yes, overeating is a problem..but so is under-eating. Implying that eating a particular food is ‘bad’ can make a person with an ED feel even more guilty for what they’ve eaten that day, and make their ED thoughts that they ‘shouldn’t be eating’ even stronger than they already are. Eating is a normal and necessary thing to do – it is not ‘bad’.
- ‘My excuse is that it’s Christmas’ – I’ve noticed these past few years the amount of talk about it being ‘okay’ to eat something ‘because it’s Christmas’. The thing is, you shouldn’t need an ‘excuse’ to eat. My view is that everything can be eaten in moderation – that is key to being both physically and mentally healthy. December is just another month…it isn’t suddenly a time where everyone needs to eat double the amount, but that is how it is sometimes made out, and that can be frightening for people with Eating Disorders. Also, when people talk about how much they have eaten over the festive period, or how much weight they’ve put on over Christmas, this can be unhelpful for people dealing with an Eating Disorder. This may not actually be true (because eating more than usual on Christmas Day isn’t going to dramatically affect your weight!!!), and these sort of comments can be triggering for people with EDs.
- ‘I’m waiting until January and then the diet will start’ – Oh yes, the dreaded January dieting talk. I remember one of my therapists warning my mum about this sort of thing at the end of 2012. At the start of a new year, there is often a lot of talk about ‘needing’ to lose weight. Not only people you know, but also the media, advertising different weight loss methods. I’m at the stage where I just try to ignore all of this, but in 2012/13 this was a whole different story. When you have an Eating Disorder, which makes you think on a day to day basis that you need to stop eating and lose weight, and then hear all of this talk about weight loss and dieting everywhere you go in your day to day life…it’s overwhelming. So maybe this new year, stop and think before you start a conversation about dieting because the person who hears you may directly or indirectly have problems around weight/food, and dieting talk can just add to the problems they’re trying to cope with.
The way I tried to cope with Christmas during my early years of recovery was by trying to remember it’s ‘just another day’. Yes, Christmas is a very special time of year…but to cope with the fact that I couldn’t feel happy, and couldn’t relax and enjoy food, I tried to just get through it, fighting my battles like every other day. Yes there’s Christmas dinner to eat, but that’s just like the dinner you ate the day before. When you have an ED, Christmas isn’t an excuse to eat less than you need, and it also doesn’t mean you have to eat more than you need…you just need to eat the same as any other day.
If Christmas this year is tough for you/your family because of the battles you’re facing at the moment, try not to let that make you feel bad. As hard as it is, try to think positively, thinking, ‘Yes this year was hard, but I’m going to fight this illness so that I can see progress by next Christmas’. The little steps of progress I made between 2012 and 2013, and then 2014, 2015 and 2016 is unbelievable! In Christmas 2012 I would have never have believed that in 4 years time I would have progressed this much (and this year I am genuinely looking forward to my Christmas dinner in 3 days time!), and to be honest, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be sitting here writing this blog post to help others – because then, I was so entangled in the grips of Anorexia Nervosa/Depression/Anxiety, but now, I have found freedom!
Living with mental illnesses like these are very tough, but there is hope for a better future. For people struggling now, there can be a future for you when Christmas can be a time again to feel true happiness, have much fun, and enjoy food. It really is possible, if you keep fighting your illness.
Finally, ‘Happy Christmas!’ from Naomi at Freedom and Hope:):)
| written December 2016 |