Over the past 6 months, I have struggled with successive depressive episodes which has not only impacted my ability to get on with life but also, my relationship with food.
I think I knew when I made the decision to recover in 2018 that there was always a chance that I would have a recurrence of the kind of severe depression that I experienced several years earlier. It was in fact the severity of that depressive episode that led to a complete descent into eating disorder hell as I sought to find a way to escape the thoughts which were plaguing me at the time.
For the first two months of my recovery last year, I did not experience one depressive episode. In fact, I had not had one episode of depression in the previous 7 months. Hallelujah, I said to myself. I thought that perhaps, I was free of it and perhaps the joy that recovering from the eating disorder brought me would be the thing which freed me from depression.
Unfortunately, this has not played out as I had hoped. I have experienced more depressive episodes in the past year that I have ever experienced in any one year in my life and this has inevitably led me back down the rabbit hole of the ED.
One of the key features of depression for me is that it leaves me feeling unable to stomach food. It also increases my anxiety around eating because the distress brought on by eating sometimes worsens the depression. I tend to feel calmer when I am not full and I guess for me, I have used not eating or restricting as well as binging and purging as a way of helping me manage my moods. I have used it as a way of helping me function.
The first two episodes I had of depression last year occurred in the early stages of the refeeding process. I was still experiencing a lot of extreme hunger and my weight had been climbing pretty rapidly. Once the weight gain stopped ( I put on about 40% of my current body weight in about 5 months) and the extreme hunger stopped, I lost interest in food in a pretty spectacular way. My appetite lessened and I went from 6 or 7 meals a day to about 4. At times, my appetite would return to me and I would honour it but once the third episode of depression arrived at the end of last year, my appetite completely went south.
It almost feels as though the only way my mind knows to protect itself is to begin to reject food. Almost like a choice needs to be made between food and suicidal thoughts. It is not so much something I will into existence as something which seems to happen quite naturally. And so begins a return into the eating disorder. I think that human nature is such that we will always choose to fight for life, until we can fight no more. I will always choose to fight for my life but I do realise that I cannot continue to use restriction as a way of dealing with mental distress.
After the refeeding process stopped for me in the autumn of last year, I started allowing myself a meal off here, a snack off there but only when I wasn’t hungry. Whenever the depression kicks in, a meal off here and a snack off there turns into more meals off here and more snacks off there and less food on the plate and a general return to restriction.
So a lapse begins to morph into a relapse. And when this happens, my mind generally begins to have a less rational relationship with food and my body such that I can see that clearly, this is a recurrence of the eating disorder. So now, I am managing two things rather than just one.
What I have noticed in the past month is that for two, every fortnight, I begin to experience extreme hunger. I am always inclined to honour my hunger but this begins to set off alarm bells in my mind and I start thinking of returning to purging which is a hellhole like no other. And so this then increases the depression because I become very tired of the endless cycle of depression and eating disorder.
I tried for a long time to force myself to eat mechanically as I have heard it said so many times in treatment and for a while, I was able to do so but there comes a time when fatigue sets in and ‘je baisse les bras’ (I give up). I stop willing myself to eat when I don’t feel like it, I keep myself busy just so I don’t have to think about food or deal with it, I avoid eating around people I don’t know, I avoid eating outside of my home because I cannot make choices about what to eat. It all becomes so ugly and all-consuming once more.
I am at least grateful for a few things. In fact, I am grateful for many things since I started recovering but more specifically, I am glad that I am still honouring my hunger, I am glad that I am not throwing up anymore and that I am a year plus into that state of being, I am glad that I am still receiving some support from my brother and I am glad for the friends who encourage me when I am with them, to eat in their company. I am glad that I have the mental space to write from time to time and that my life feels fuller some days.
I do find that eating with people I am comfortable with, who know me, who I don’t feel in anyway judged by, helps me manage any distress I feel around eating but I am also aware that the ability to nourish myself independently, without support is still something I struggle with.
I want to be able to live a full, expansive version of life rather than a redacted version. I want to be able to eat freely, be free and just be. I also desperately want to be free of depression and it is the depression which induces a fear like no other. It is the latter that makes relapses of lapses.
I know I have a long way to go. As I am often told, recovery is not a linear process. I know. Now please give me pound coin.
But I think I oftentimes end up choosing the calm of not eating over the distress of eating simply because I want a break from the depression. In the long-term, this cannot and will not be the way forward.
If I end up with a complete relapse in terms of the eating disorder, I will inevitably end up in a very dangerous place mentally and that is not something I want.