Am I having a good day?? Eating disorders and confidence
Upfront warning- the blog post I’ve written below is coming from someone who has been incredibly lucky during this pandemic. I have a job, which I’m incredibly grateful for, a safe place to live and a boyfriend and two flatmates to talk to. No one in my direct circle has had Covid-19. So what you are about to read is very much coming from the perspective of someone who has had the privilege of sitting at home pondering about their life.
Some of you may also have had that experience and may identify with the questions I’ve been asking myself. Some of you may be too tired and worried about important basic needs. If you want to close this tab and watch Queer Eye on Netflix instead, I understand and can recommend that. Otherwise, read on.
Are you having a good day? What makes it good?
A day where you can say ‘Oh boy! BIG burrito’ would probably be a good day right?
What would you do on a good day?
Would you read for a while? Listen to music? See family or friends? Neither?
What about exercise? Would you go for a run, play football?
Does your good day involve working or doing nothing? Some people love their job.
Where would you be? Where you are now? Or somewhere else?
I’d love to hear what you think makes a good day for you.
What makes a day good for me? It’s so nice of you to ask!
I have NO FUCKING IDEA. HELP ME!!
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot since Andy and I spent a weird night in a French hospital a year and a half ago. And now the Covid-19 lockdown has been like a warm oven for these kinds of thoughts- they have risen and are overflowing the bowl.
This question has been in my head so persistently. Why has it been niggling at me for so long?!
Why this question? Why now?
I think my obsession with trying to understand what really matters to me was started by that night in the hospital- a short bizarre confrontation with death.
And then it grew in significance whilst living in France because I started to recover from eating disorders that had been part of my life for decades. Recovering from an eating disorder is not like recovering from a cold. More like being a recovering alcoholic. A slow grind towards health of all kinds- mental, physical and emotional.
When we first arrived in France in November 2017, I still had some very bad days. By the time we moved to London this January, I no longer had any more days of disordered eating. I felt in control of the compulsions to binge, starve or make myself throw up. Miraculously, I felt very happy with my body, my diet and my exercise routine. I would go as far as to say I felt confident. Confidence is not an emotion or perspective that people with eating disorders are very familiar with. I’m very excited to finally be experiencing it. Boy is it amazing!! A bit like the giddy head of alcohol on an empty stomach.
The problem is it’s a bit like cleaning your windows- they look wondrous but the pristine sunlight highlights how dirty everything else is in your apartment. Now I’m only more aware of how little confidence I have in my ambitions, my determination and my capabilities.
And I’ll be 40 next year, which must play into it. I don’t give a shit about being seen as old but I do care about time running out before I…. well I can’t finish that sentence that’s the problem.
I am closer now to contentment than I ever thought I’d be and yet the question is there every day, slope-shouldered and whistling the same tune.
Age is a high price to pay for maturity.
Have I wasted this day?
What did I do that was enjoyable? What did I do that was useful? Always the same configuration of questions. What have I done for me, what have I done for you.
For the past year and a half, usually at the end of the day, I feel terror wash over me. I hate going to sleep because it is another day gone. I can see the days I have left lined up like products on a supermarket shelf, abundant and limited.
Not fear or anxiety. Actual terror. Not because I am going to die, although I’m not thrilled at that idea and I’m negotiating a different ending, but because I realised that one of my sticking points is that I do NOT know what makes a good life.
Not for you, you’ll have your own version. Everyone has their own personal recipe.
I have no fucking idea what makes a good life FOR ME. In fact, I still don’t even really know what I like, so many of my preferences are based on past boyfriends, past and current friends, social pressure, and an over indulgence in romantic comedies and Seventeen magazine at a formative age. I am Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride tasting a whole load of differently shaped cooked eggs.
Weirdly, this end of day panic is the reverse of what I used to feel- morning dread. I consider it an improvement, at least the night terror is helping me to decide what foods I really like (I’m vegan so my ‘eggs’ are now scrambled tofu. If I had chickens then scrambled eggs all the way).
I wasn’t aware of my morning dread until I lived with Andy and moved to France and found myself unexpectedly happy. Then I noticed that I woke up every morning feeling dread, dreading my day ahead- my job, my work colleagues, socialising in pubs I didn’t like with people I didn’t care for. Only, in a city I loved, with a person I loved, with friends I felt admired and felt comfortable with… I no longer had anything to fear in my days. Yet the feeling loitered, keeping the niggling questions company.
The morning dread was a habit and now I could see it. I have no idea how long I’ve been feeling this way as soon as I wake up, but long enough for it to feel second nature to me.
Do you have the morning dread or the evening panic? Or maybe you’re rocking both and just want to exist at lunchtime.
The dread that accompanies me every morning is the result of years of instability- always moving from place to place, always changing jobs, always having to get to know new people, never having a home, a group of friends, or any money. My body was in constant fight or flight mode. In constant dread and reluctantly do it with a bad attitude mode.
You know what makes me happy? Unexpected phone calls in the middle of the day. Remembering what I liked at that one restaurant we went to that one time. Half-dead grocery store flowers just because they were on sale. A good morning text that says, “have a good day and try not to burn anything to the ground in a furious rage.
I know that this sort of change and fragmented experience is no longer that unusual for my generation and the generation below me. My precarious life was tied to having an eating disorder, or several different ones, overlapping over the course of my whole adult life, starting in the summer I was 14 about to turn 15. (Also exacerbated by all the socio-economic issues that make all lives difficult now: a despicably over priced housing market, no job security, and the consequences of climate change, to name a few.)
What do most people think about eating disorders? Maybe they think that they are about self-image, lack of confidence in how you look?
Eating disorders are about a lot more than that, they are only the visible point of a problem that consumes the whole person and goes right down to their very core: what you think of yourself, the messages you’ve learnt and chosen about the world, the way you view relationships, what you believe life is for.
They take over your life, because they are a way of living life at a safe distance, which means they control everything and keep everything numb and, paradoxically, in chaos.
Most people I know probably don’t think of me as having eating disorders. I’ve always tried very hard to appear functional to everyone apart from a select few. I started to recover from my eating disorders 4 and half years ago, when I met Andy. But I didn’t properly start recovering until a year and a half ago. That was when I really, deep down, started to believe that I could handle the emotions I’d been suppressing for two decades and that living without the eating disorders might be better than living with them. That I might be better without them.
The first few years was a huge mess of emotions that I’d been keeping at bay. That meant pain, shame and anger just taking control sometimes, appearing out of nowhere. Alcohol was not my friend during those year. Andy had to deal with a lot of sudden, seemingly irrational, outbursts. Including one where I punched him on the side of his head (very weakly, thank god) and one where I threw a whole load of chips (french fries) at him. Poor chips.
My parents have similar stories from my twenties when I was trying to function in London with anorexia and binge eating. Most memorably, a picnic in St Regent’s Park where I completely lost control and, sobbing, ran from the park and across the road without looking, my Mum chasing after me. My Dad and sister left stunned and surrounded by small tubs of food.
I didn’t understand the relationship I had with eating disorders then. My emotions erupted and the eating disorder pushed them away. It took me until my mid thirties to see the cycles I went through, the traps I set for myself, the self-perpetuating behaviours I was caught in.
As soon as I knew I loved Andy, I knew I wanted to get better and be better so that we could have a chance. By then I knew that my disordered eating and depression were about numbing my feelings and I didn’t want to hide from my life with him. So I started trying to detach from the eating disorders instead.
I expected there to be outbursts. I hoped that he would understand and stick with me through them out to other side. I don’t think he does really understand but he is understanding. And patient. And accepting. And still here. Which is not to say that my parents and my sister weren’t all those things. They absolutely were. FOR YEARS. And still are. But they are also my family and, through no fault of their own, that comes with normal emotional baggage that usually prevented me from hearing them.
I didn’t expect, however, that once I’d started going through that, I would also completely panic about who I was without an eating disorder. Obviously, it makes sense now that I write it out, but I hadn’t thought about myself that way. I believed that I was a fully formed person trapped underneath eating disorders, self-loathing and sadness. I just needed to liberate myself. Uncover my TRUE self, which was there all along. Except it wasn’t.
I had invested so much energy and time into managing my eating disorders- to deal with pain- and creating a fake persona to disguise my eating disorders. Very few of my adult experiences were straightforwardly about what I liked and what I wanted. Everything was tied up in conditional verbs- should, could, might. The hypothetical not the real.
Hence the arrival of this question in my life- what makes a good day? It encompasses several questions that I now realise I can’t answer: what do I care about? What do I enjoy? Who am I?
In typical fashion, I panicked. I tormented myself with regret over wasted time and berated myself for not knowing the answers. I don’t think it’s unusual to wonder who you are or what your purpose is. You may often do the same. Some of that is a normal awareness of our mortality. Our time is limited, what are we going to do with it? That sort of thing. My friends and family would say that I’ve been asking those questions since I was a teenager.
This feels different though. Maybe because now I might be able to do something about the answers I decide on, whereas before I never trusted myself. Except…do I trust myself now? I trust that I can survive on my own and exist without my eating disorder. I don’t think I trust myself to answer the question- what do I love and care about? For a long time I’ve felt ashamed of this. I should know what matters to me and I should be putting all of my energy into that.
Writing about all of this has helped me to realise that’s it’s not surprising that I can’t see myself or the world this way YET. My perspective has been fragmented by my eating disorder, by the ensuing depression and even by the recovery process which required that I say ‘FUCK OFF’ to the world sometimes. I don’t know that I feel ‘whole’ now, or ‘free’ or something cheesy like that. I was always me. Now I just feel like I have a different perspective and more confidence that I can be useful and contented.
HOW DO I ANSWER THAT QUESTION???
Have you experienced any of this before? Or something similar?
What do I do next? Can it involve getting a dog?