When I started this blog, I promised (if not to anyone who may happen upon the site, to myself), that it would be real.
There tends to be a view, made worse by the media, that Anorexia – if not a lifestyle choice where people eat cauliflowers moulded into different carbohydrates and crack vegan eggs with their six packs – is a delicate condition reserved for the waifs and sylphs, who inhabit some ethereal plain of pale beauty. This is not helpful for people who do not have an eating disorder because it gives the wrong impression of what living with the beast is actually like, but also not helpful for those who are living with Anorexia.
This isn’t real.
When you believe that you’re always only one step away from achieving society’s perception of the perfect Anorexic, it’s motivation to eat less; to exercise more; to strive for it. It doesn’t matter that you’re staring at your petechiae splotched face in the mirror, wondering how to hide the husky purging voice and wishing you could just sit down without sitting directly on bones that are never supposed to make contact with skin. It doesn’t matter that your throat aches with emptiness and the thought of another Sugar Free Red Bull makes your heart quiver and your tastebuds despair. What matters is that you make that leap, from run-of-the-mill Anorexic to perfect 90’s supermodel size 0 flat chested prominent cheek-boned beauty.
This isn’t real either.
What is real is that recovery isn’t perfect. It isn’t eating comfort food whilst your mum offers you unending support and buys you special treats when she does the weekly shop. It isn’t having unlimited support from the NHS or suddenly being able to eat a ‘normal’ amount of food without wanting to claw your own internal organs out.
Recovery is based on compromise. This is incredibly comforting to me. It’s comforting to know that it’s OK to still feel, to not have to be impervious to the thoughts, or the pain, or the sudden belief that I have made the ‘wrong’ choice in pursuing weight gain.
This might not make sense to anyone who doesn’t – or hasn’t – had an eating disorder: the choice between feeling empty and being able to go out for the morning is incomprehensibly simple, unless you’ve convinced yourself that being empty is what you deserve; what you need, and the path to happiness.
Often, people say that recovery is a choice, and it is true: you do have to choose to get better. It isn’t enough to hate the illness or want to have a different life – you actually have to make choices concurrent with gaining weight, and you have to make them whatever pain they cause, because there’s no anorexic who wants to suddenly gain pounds, just ones who dig their heels in, experience the pain and refuse to quit.
I think that recovery is actually a compromise, and that is what makes it human and real. It’s all too easy to fictionalise and romanticise the idea of ‘getting better’, but the magic of recovery is in the growing awareness of your own strength.
I compromise every day with the knowledge that I will undoubtedly feel absolutely terrible, but I will carry on doing what will let me live a normal life. I compromise that I will eat something when I desperately want to feel empty. I eat when I’m not starving. I wear clothes that don’t envelope and swamp me. Because I know that, despite the negative impact that this has on my mental health in the short term, and despite the pain that this causes at the time, these compromises with my own happiness, with my own contentment, are going to create a life that is worth living; that is full of opportunity and a happiness far deeper, far more important than the temporary ‘happiness’ that is created by achieving a deeper level of starvation.
I suppose that recovery is really about compromising short term happiness for long term contentment.
I suppose that what I’m saying is to hold on for now, because the only way out is through.
I suppose what I’m saying is please keep trying: the best is yet to come.
Because the real pain is not in the recovery; not in the compromise; not even in the reality of having to buy bigger jeans (although it’s bloody hard to do that). The pain must, surely, come from realising that you’ve missed your life because you were too busy waiting for it to be the ‘right time’; waiting for recovery to be ‘easy.
It ain’t going to happen: you might as well get cracking on.