It’s hard to describe to someone what living with an Eating Disorder is really like. A lot of people throughout my recovery helped me a lot and were able to sympathise…but not necessarily fully understand what it feels like to have this ‘thing’ living with you 24/7. And that’s okay! I would far rather people not know what it actually feels like to have an Eating Disorder – because I would far rather them not have to deal with the torture, the torment, the pain an ED brings.
However, if you were to ask me, ‘How would you describe having an Eating Disorder?’, this would be my response…
‘It’s a collection of very loud, very strong thoughts that are constantly in your head. These thoughts make you obsessed with food, weight, exercise – but also make you feel upset, worthless, trapped, hopeless. Sometimes these thoughts may be not as loud and not as hard to deal with – sometimes these thoughts may be extremely loud and very overwhelming to deal with – but they are always there. These thoughts twist everything that happens in your life to make you feel awful about yourself. They are deceptive, controlling, hurtful. But these thoughts are lies – the ED tells you lie after lie, yet deceives the sufferer into believing that every thought the ED puts into your head is the truth. When you are so entangled in the grips of the illness, it’s very hard to distinguish between healthy thoughts that are rational and speak the truth, and unhealthy thoughts that are irrational and only speak lies. Separating your thoughts from the illness thoughts is a very difficult thing to be able to do – but is a vital part of recovery, to enable you to break away from the Eating Disorder.’
When these thoughts are with you constantly, it’s like there is another living thing inside your head within your brain. The Eating Disorder becomes like another person in your life. An enemy that disguises itself as another friend. You become quite attached to it – because you are living with it every day, every night. It becomes so attached that you actually find it difficult to then distinguish which thoughts are coming from the healthy part of you and which thoughts are coming from the illness. Everything just melds together, creating confusion.
The ED makes it difficult to trust other people. This mental illness wants you to listen to ‘it’ and only ‘it’. It tells you that your family, friends, healthcare professionals are all ‘against you’ – it tells you, ‘Everyone is just wanting to make you fat – listen to me…I will make your life better. I am the only one you should be trusting.’
So, all of this going on in your head, mixed together with the voices of people wanting to help you get better – it creates so much confusion, tension, turmoil. Why should you not trust your family – they love you and care for you? But why should you not trust the thoughts inside your head – surely you can trust your own self not to harm you?
That is the problem. Because an ED is a mental illness, it causes the thoughts inside your brain to get a bit muddled up. You may not intentionally want to harm yourself, but over time, you probably will. And while the ED thoughts are in control, the sufferer can become more and more ill – both physically and mentally.
That is why getting help for an Eating Disorder is so so important. Having professionals who know exactly how to help a sufferer and their family fight against an illness like this is something that is so helpful in order to make a good recovery. You see, the voices of these mental health professionals, mixed together with the voices of your family/friends who want to help you, as well as the healthy part of your brain and the healthy thoughts that come with that – these all provide a good ‘army’ to fight against the Eating Disorder and the thoughts and behaviours it brings.
For a sufferer, all of these conflicting voices and thoughts can be quite overwhelming. The ED may get louder and louder, trying to drown out the helpful voices and thoughts – but a vital part of recovery is trying to push away the ED thoughts and listen out for the helpful thoughts, the helpful voices. These voices and thoughts will be the ones that will help you get freedom from your ED and get your life back. Eating Disorders will make the fight as difficult as possible – but if you listen out and trust the healthy thoughts and voices, while pushing away the ED ones, you will over time become so much stronger than your ED…and that strength will enable you to beat it!