Skinny Love: Dealing with an anorexia relapse while planning a wedding
Mental illnesses are a strange beast. During the darkest throes of an episode, it is notoriously impossible to ever see a way out of the suppressing disdain. In contrast, during the beautiful journey of recovery, it is equally as difficult to fully recall and relate to every detail of one’s previous demise.
*TRIGGER WARNING – this article contains references to eating disorders*
The fear of relapsing is something that everyone who has ever suffered with a mental illness battles to contend with every day. The worry is always there, looming at the back of the mind. No-body wants to go back down that path.
It is common knowledge that an eating disorder never truly leaves you. I was always fairly opposing to this statement – I spent almost four years basking in the liberty that my eating disorder had finally spared me. Any negative thoughts had been kicked to the curb during my intense recovery, and being free from The Voice was the most incredible feeling I had ever experienced. I craved more of the freedom, instead of pining for the comfort of my old, injurious ways.
During the months leading up to my December wedding, I heard a voice in my head that had been absent for quite a few years, and I suffered a brief relapse. This is the first time I have written about it, however, now back on the right track, I am happy to continue to share my experiences. Being transparent about my eating disorder is something I have always found important – far too little is known about the triggers and finer details of the disease, and if just one person can relate to my individual story, then I feel being open is worth it.
I never thought I would ever relapse. Realising that you are in the midst of a relapse is terrifying and heartbreaking. All of the hard work that you put into your journey of recovery suddenly feels quite irrelevant. It’s totally normal to feel demoralised, violated, and even betrayed.
I have always emphasised that my anorexia was never triggered by a desire to lose weight. Far too many people still consider this to be the leading cause of anorexia, when really, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Anorexia, and indeed eating disorders on a wider spectrum, can be triggered by a million different reasons, including as a reaction to grief, and a need for control.
Eating disorders don’t always start with a fixation with weight, but unfortunately, that is how they often end.
Stress is a massive trigger for me, and everything that could have possibly gone wrong before my wedding did, and I found myself feeling really miserable and burned out. And that’s where my obsession with exercise and diet reared its ugly head yet again.
Suddenly finding myself lacking control in every other area of my life, I turned to the one factor I knew I could control and get an instant success from: exercise and restricting. The pride I felt upon the completion of every long distance run in record time was enough to suppress The Voice that strived upon reminding me of the things that were fast spiralling out of my control.
I was walking home from work multiple times a week (six miles), and forcing myself on 14 mile walks and jogs at the weekend, disguising it to those around me as ‘stress busters.’ Exercise once again quickly became a chore and something I dreaded.
Now four months into my marriage, with the relevant stresses now absent, I once again feel stronger and in a much better place. I’m relieved that my second battle with anorexia was significantly shorter than my first one, which lasted two long years.
If you find yourself relapsing in your battle against a mental illness, there are a number of things that you need to remember. The most important thing to remind yourself is that you have been here before. This is not new territory, and you are more than capable of climbing out of hell again. That voice does not rule you, or the decisions you make, and it has absolutely no right whatsoever to stand in the way of your happiness.
Try and pinpoint a time in your recovery that made you feel empowered. Was it the first time you stood up to The Voice? Remember what that felt like. Recall the electrifying power that surged through your veins as you took back the controls on your own life. Take that feeling and use it against The Voice to remind it of the strength you possessed the last time you met.
I wrote the below extract in October 2019 – two months before my wedding. I haven’t shown the contents of the piece to anybody, or even disused it out loud until now…
I have developed a knack of hiding my eating disorder from the world when I feel the strangulating grasp of The Voice again, and I am particularly skilled in glossing over my bad days, so the period of time before my wedding was a somewhat dark and lonely one.
Not anymore. I’m ready to share my experiences and beg that others going through the same open up. Please do not fight The Voice alone.
Although now six months on from the evening that I penned the piece below, I feel it is important that I publish exactly what I wrote at the time to further raise awareness of how it feels to be slap bang in the middle of a deliberating disease like anorexia.
I also want to show those currently suffering and relapsing how quickly things can turn around. As stated, I wrote the below just six months ago, and have been in quite a different mindset for at least three months now.
So here goes…
It has taken a lot for me to convince myself to write what I am about to write. Within this article, I finally feel ready to admit that I am struggling, and will reluctantly hold my hands up and say that I am really not in control of myself or my wellbeing at the minute. I’m done with fighting this battle inside my own head again, and I don’t want to live in the wilting naivety that suppressed me last time until it was too late.
I have a problem, I have recognised this, and I am working towards stopping it in its tracks.
I hope I have the strength to break free of its clutches after the wedding. I’ve done it before, and I know I can do it again. I am determined to break the cycle before the cycle breaks me.
It is a common theory that once somebody has suffered from anorexia, they will always be susceptible to its tendencies. Up until recently, I was quick to flummox this hypothesis, proclaiming that I no longer gave my eating disorder a second thought.
I have since learned that a revisit to anorexia can creep up at any time, whether it be weeks, months, or years down the line. Unfortunately, I have now realised that a past sufferer will never totally be able to walk without the persistent shadow of their past perpetrator.
You can turn a blind eye and live in contented ignorance, but you can never outrun it altogether. It’s all about learning to manage The Voice, and let me tell you that days are harder than others.
At present, I am caught up in a tumultuous tennis match of feelings inside the cell of my own head. I constantly bounce between detesting how skinny I look and yearning for a fuller figure again, to relishing the warped empowerment and control excessive exercise and restrictions give me.
My impending wedding has proven to be a massive trigger for me.
Not only is the build up to a wedding a notoriously stressful time for any bride, but there are also additional pressures that can present themselves as one hundred times more prominent to somebody who has previously suffered from an eating disorder.
I’m stressed. I have a million and one things to do, and time is slipping by faster than I anticipated. Everything is going wrong in relation to the wedding and various other areas of my life. The pressure is immense, and and my fiancé are arguing constantly.
I’m finding myself turning to extreme exercise and restricting again purely so that I can claw back some control.
Throw away wedding comments from ignorant individuals are often the hardest bullets to contend with.
A common one goes something along the lines of, ‘Ohh, you shouldn’t be eating that before your wedding! You don’t want to put on weight!’
Yeah, thanks for that.
A simple wedding staple such as a dress fitting has been partly responsible for instilling fear into me. A few weeks ago, my seamstress advised me not to ‘fluctuate my weight’ from the first week of October onwards
I KNOW it’s stupid. I DON’T gain weight – I never have – so why should I suddenly just balloon five stone overnight just because some woman at the dress stop has warned me against it?
But deep down, I can’t help but feel somewhat fretful.
I fail to see how a disposition as such would present as anything but disabling for somebody who has previously battled an eating disorder.
I’m stuck in the quicksand, desperately fighting my way out, one step at a time, as the void of recovery inches itself further and further away from my flailing arms. Right now, truthfully, I don’t even know if I want to reach out and grab it.
Anorexia defines a vicious circle as it entraps one within its disorientating maze. It is hard for a sufferer to explain the method behind the madness, attributable to fact that they are the last person able to even begin to comprehend the war that has broken out inside their own head.
Cara Jasmine Bradley