Eating disorders are incredibly complex illnesses because they take over your entire life.
Every waking minute consumed by anorexia is absorbed by thoughts of food and calories and weight, until your only purpose for waking up in the morning is to make yourself disappear even further. It’s all you can think about, it’s all you can talk about. And as other people get concerned, it becomes more and more enmeshed and embedded, until it is all you are.
How then, when something takes over your entire being, do you even begin to separate it from yourself? This, for me, is one of the most challenging parts of recovery, particularly because I have had an eating disorder on and off for most of my life. This is now coupled with the fact that I talk so openly about my eating disorder and recovery, which has made detaching myself from it an even bigger feat this time around. Anorexia and me are entirely intertwined.
For me, there are two things that are helping me do this. One is reminding myself that I have had periods of wellness, and during those times I am able to talk and think about other things, and take enjoyment from various activities, and thrive in my career and social life.
Secondly, I had a realisation during therapy, in which we were talking about identity and me not really having a sense of who I am, because the only time I existed entirely free from anorexia was as a child. My therapist had an interesting take on this, which is not only that I get to recover some parts of myself that are buried under my eating disorder, but that I get to discover new traits and passions, and develop who I am further than I ever have before. I have entered a new phase of my life: recovery, turning 30 – what better time to get to reinvent myself as a person freeing themselves from the shackles of anorexia?
An activity I did in treatment was to write down who I am already without anorexia, and also who I would like to be moving forward. I also asked my friends words they would use to describe me which was really eye opening – it turns out people think I have a lot of qualities that I would never even have thought of. With all this information I have been able to build up a picture of future Cara, living my life free from the confines of anorexia. I don’t think it will ever fully leave me and I if I’m honest, I’m not sure I want it to. As much as living with it has been hell, it has impacted huge parts of my life and has obviously had a key role in shaping who I am today, for better or for worse.
So today, and every day, I remind myself: I may have anorexia, but it is not all I am. I am Cara. I like cats and travelling and pyjamas. I am a nurse, a blogger, a business owner. I have tattoos and rainbow hair and piercings. I horse ride and make crafts and watch Drag Race repeats in my spare time. I have a partner and friends and family who love me. Other people describe me as quirky, intelligent, independent and determined. None of us, no matter how all consuming and soul sucking it may feel, are purely our eating disorders.
For all of you out there struggling right now, please hold on to the fact that deep inside, under the calorie counting and body checking and anxiety, there is a whole, wonderful, magical person, and that person is good enough right now.