Described to an alien (who shares our values system) point by point, my life now is so much better than it was before. I’ve just returned from the best holiday I’ve ever been on with my boyfriend; I love my friends to bits and I’m surrounded by supportive people; I’m entering the first winter where I’m not absolutely freezing cold all the time for years.
I also feel jealous and ashamed.
It’s difficult to explain the range of feelings as you recover from an eating disorder (and, I’m guessing, other types of mental illness too). In my case, I used my anorexia to hide from feelings, and so I’ve been unused to feeling anything at all, really. It’s taken some time to learn that the best way to deal with feelings is to accept them, and let them happen whilst still eating food. For me, this is the only way I’ve found to untangle the two. Sobbing over a Yum Yum has taught me nothing if not that food and feelings are unrelated.
I’ve become used to expecting the unexpected. I never expected to feel jealous that other people were being admitted onto eating disorder wards, but it happens. I was more prepared for feeling ashamed of my body – you’re warned about that one, at least – but I was less ready to still be feeling that way after six months of living with it. Sometimes, I feel nothing but the desire to curl up on the floor (it has to be the floor; sofas just aren’t going to cut the mustard) and I’m not at all sure what emotion I’m feeling at all.
Sometimes, it works for me to unpick the reason behind the emotion. I feel jealous because anorexia gives you the gift of rose-tinted spectacles. I only remember the good bits from inpatient; all of the crying and wishing I were at home and missing out on things I should have been there for have vanished. Maybe what I actually miss is being able to spend all day every day with my friends; being in an environment where people look after me and not having to organise my own dentists appointments (I know it sounds silly, but one of the hardest things once you’ve been discharged is having to start arranging your life again.)? Maybe I’m jealous that people are being looked after by the same staff who looked after me? This makes sense if you think about it: the people who saved my life are saving other people’s lives these days. For me, it was life-changing; for them, it’s a job (which they do spectacularly well – I’m not criticising). It’s also OK to miss people; I spent over a year with them – I think it’s understandable.
Feeling ashamed about my body is more difficult. I know that my body is a good weight for my height; and I know that other people think I look better now. I am grateful for the fact that I’m substantially less likely to drop down dead at any moment, and for being warm and able to do the things that I enjoy with the people whom I love. However, that doesn’t seem to prevent me hating myself when I can feel my hips jiggle as I run, or that my tummy isn’t totally flat. It doesn’t stop me from wishing that my thighs didn’t touch at the top, or being embarrassed when I pick out my clothes size.
I haven’t got an answer to this: it’s something that I struggle with and will probably struggle with for a long time yet, if not forever. What I have found, though, is that this is where the real fighting starts. I’m on my own (save, obviously, for my therapist, family and friends, but – wonderful as they are – they can’t make the thoughts disappear) and I can’t change the thing that my head tells me would make all the thoughts disappear (it wouldn’t, and I have to keep reminding myself of this) because losing weight would defeat the point of the object. The most effective way of tackling the shame that I have found (and please let me know if you have other techniques!) is to buy and wear clothes which fit and that I love; realise that everybody has negative body-image, as sad as this is, and that I’m not supposed to love my body, wonderful as that would be; and keep repeating the things that I learnt in hospital: even if I feel ashamed, I have no reason to. Sometimes, perversely, I feel this way because I am hungry, even if I don’t realise it. There are times when my body image is better after I’ve eaten, simply because I haven’t got low blood sugar.
I think that not being ashamed of feeling jealous and ashamed is probably quite a good place to start. I can’t control my feelings because that is not my job, but I can treat them nicely, and respect them for what they are, and then move on from them. They are not a reflection of me as a person because they are transient and my personality is not dictated by my emotions.