Looks can be so deceiving when it comes to mental illness and distress

Today is the first day I have had some clarity all month. It feels nice to feel like myself even if only for a day. It feels nice to have a mind which is not plagued by the weight of my thoughts.

An honest friend will always be better than a friend who just wants to stay on your good side or make you happy

In recent days, I have had an email exchange with a friend today who is well versed in eating disorders. She stressed to me the need to let others in my life know how bad things are at the moment with my eating and overexercise. I feel I have done this to some extent, probably not as firmly as I ought to (in part to protect the things that help me cope with life) but I also know that the thing which spoke loudest in the past was emaciation.

Looking unwell provokes a reaction from others

When I looked unwell, no one would encourage my exercise in they way they do now. When I looked unwell, my intake was monitored more closely by others. When I looked unwell, there was generally more concern. And that is a shame. Because mentally, I am a big mess at the moment but on the outside, I look fine, good even as people tell me from time to time, with annoying pleasure. When people have seen you looking really awful, the fact that you look good becomes a block. It is a wall which blocks others from seeing and sometimes hearing the truth about where you’re at in the present moment.

In all honesty, I kind of don’t mind it. I have spent more years looking well than I have looking unwell and looking well comes with many benefits (some good for the person, some good for the illness). Looking well allowed me to hide my eating disorder from my family for about 14 years. Now, it allows me to continue restricting and exercising without others commenting. But in the longterm, all these things which I use to manage the worst of my depressive episodes, only serve to plunge me deeper into my eating troubles.

Dispelling myths about eating disorders

People sometimes have the wrong impression about eating disorders. Let me dispel a few myths.

  1. People who restrict do eat but don’t necessarily prefer salad. I don’t care for clean eating or veganism or any other fad. I love me some butter on my toast. In fact, at times, I don’t really care what you put in front of me. If I am doing good mentally, I can pretty much manage most foods. Unfortunately, doing good mentally has proved somewhat elusive for me over the past year.
  2. Sometimes it is not concern about one’s body that makes the ED become entrenched, it is an inability to manage the anxieties of life or the fear of becoming a full-time depressive.
  3. A person may look perfectly fine but be close to death. Bulimia leads to low potassium. Low potassium can and has been fatal for many in the past. I have ended up in hospital numerous times for this condition, hypokalemia. A 16 year old girl, Libby Rose died of it in August 2017.
  4. Most people with eating disorders are at a ‘normal’ or ‘above normal’ weight. Only 8% of people diagnosed with eating disorders in the UK are considered anorexic (underweight). That means that the majority (92%) do not ‘look’ like the stereotypical image of a person with an eating disorder.
  5. Bulimia will eventually lead to serious dental issues: erosion of enamel, decay in one’s teeth and loss of teeth.
  6. Going from underweight to a normal weight does not signal recovery. It just means a person has done the physical work and now they have the mountain of the mind to climb.
  7. People may need just as much support when they are underweight as when they are at a ‘normal’ weight.
  8. Independent and flexible eating will take a lot more time than it takes to restore weight. I spent 9 years underweight and restored my weight in 5 months. Not only has this been a shock to my body but it has also been a shock to my mind. I need just as much support with meals now as I needed then because it is impossible to undo 20 plus years of an eating disorder in 5 months. I thought if I could just eat normally then I would be fine but that is not the case.
  9. Appetite is regulated by mood for some. With every episode of depression, my appetite takes a massive hit. This in turn reignites my eating problems. I sometimes have just about enough time to recover from one episode before another hits me.
  10. People frequently move from one ED to another. In recovery, it is likely that you will fit no diagnostic criteria. I am not anorexic (though I restrict at the moment) because I am not underweight, I am not bulimic (because I don’t throw up at the moment). I exercise a lot but not to lose weight but rather to manage the depression. I am not orthorexic because I don’t care for clean eating though I do exercise a lot (for my mind not for my body). I have in the past been both anorexic and bulimic. Eating disorders are fluid in nature. They morph into one thing or another depending on where a person is in life and in their mind.

Taking responsibility for my own recovery

My recovery is my business. I cannot and will not blame where I am on anyone else. At my current weight, I would likely not be eligible for any NHS support with my eating and I am okay with that funny enough. I think I am okay with it because I made way more progress with my brother’s support than I ever did with NHS support.

My brother helped make this happen only because I took responsibility for my recovery. I set up a meal plan, I read up about what to expect in recovery, I bought books and read blogs to help me restore my weight and deal with it mentally and I engaged in after dinner distraction.

I think I am struggling to take responsibility for my eating at the moment. I met up with a friend on Friday. I knew after talking to a profession earlier on in the week that I ought to use it as an opportunity to have lunch with said friend. Instead, I avoided any talk of food. When this friend eventually asked me if I would have lunch or at least share something with her, I completely backed out. I am allowing the depression to dictate my every move because nothing scares me more than the thoughts which come with depression. I have always feared a lifetime with depression more than I fear a lifetime with an eating disorder.

Nothing, at least for me, endangers my life more than depression.

So where now?

I think the first thing I must do is seek more support for the depression, which I have been trying to do since last year but it is hard to find good longterm support. Waiting lists, incompatible therapists, incompetent organisations, waning motivation are some of the things which get in the way from time to time. But I am hoping in the coming year, at least before this year is over to find more support to help me deal with the thing which triggered the depression in the first place.

I think confronting the depression head on is the way I will learn to eat better and manage life better.

I also know I have a lot of healing to do in relation to the grief which comes at times to steal every ounce of joy I have about life and living.

I am a work in progress and that’s just fine.

And as a final thought, consider this:

What exactly does a person with depression look like?

This? Anthony Bourdain

Image result for anthony bourdain bipolar

This? Kate Spade

Image result for kate spade

Or this? (Gary Speed the night before his suicide)

Image result for gary speed match of the day

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