“The ability to imagine who we really are, and what we want to say, is the strongest weapon of them all.” -Genesis Breyer P-orridge
Burying my face in my hands, I allow myself to temporarily believe others can’t see me if I can’t see them. I want to hide and I am holding back tears. I am holding a spoon of yogurt and my hand is shaking. My dietitian encourages me to begin eating my snack because time is running out.
I cannot believe this is happening again.
After all the progress I made, and despite what I have been able to prove to myself and my team, I am reabsorbed by the eating disorder. At this point, all progress seems forgotten. It feels like I’m back right where I started.
With my head in my hands, nothing feels clearer than knowing I’m losing myself. The infuriating yet convincing thoughts seem cyclical.
The nonlinear model of recovery usually has a more unpredictable nature.
Are you enjoying this article?We are a nonprofit magazine. This means we depend on the generosity of others to keep our magazine running. If you are enjoying this article, would you consider making a donation?
For the love of everything (including all things I know can be delicious, like warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies), please don’t be relapsing.
Admitting a need for more support can be difficult. It often means reaching a certain level of desperation and fear before gathering the strength to do so.
Admission, though, is only the first step.
Subsequently gathering the courage to seek help and make use of it is the next challenge.
Asking for help when you have an eating disorder is challenging because of the vulnerability it requires. But, you also have to fight and defy the eating disorder voice screaming that you:
- don’t need help
- aren’t sick enough
- don’t deserve help
- are already too much of a burden
- are helpless
- are admitting weakness
- appear needy
- cannot be self-sufficient or independent
These thoughts act as concrete barriers towards feeling like I can ask for help.
Words themselves, like ‘neediness,’ are particularly shame-evoking. They cause a visceral, punch-in-the-gut sensation, making avoidance an even more enticing behaviour. Likewise, qualities like self-sufficiency and independence are ways for my eating disorder to continue seeking isolation. They continue minimising my pain and struggle by further invalidating its presence. My eating disorder is terrified of asking for help. In a very simple way, asking for help is also asking for connection.
Asking for help in the face of mental illness requires a certain appreciable level of insight. It requires the awareness that underneath the illness, your healthiest self exists and knows the truth.
Your pain is real, and no one should have to get through this on their own.
In fact, I’ve been encouraged multiple times to trust it is impossible to recover from an eating disorder on your own.
It’s moments like the incident with the spoonful of yogurt when the need for change is too blatantly obvious. Yes, the potential consequence of asking for help is scary, and admitting to relapse leaves me feeling self-defeated.
But I decide to leave a jumbled and awkward (per usual) voicemail asking about an assessment to return to IOP anyway. Step 1: done. Step 2: My hand hovers over the send button in an email to my therapist and dietitian. I feel anxious. What if I do this and I don’t get the help I need?
Holding onto the prospect and possibility help exists somewhere “out there” is often more comforting than not knowing how your request for help will be received. It seems easier to just keep the struggle silent, but reality-check: you’re staring at a spoonful of yogurt.
Asking for help, while often semi-torturous, is actually one of the bravest and most courageous acts you can do while you are in pain.
Despite the eating disorder commanding you to hunker down and deal with everything yourself, know it’s just another one of its many lies. To recognise you need help means you are able to tap into your most inner powerful voice. This is a testament not only to your motivation for recovery but a testament to the strength you didn’t think you had.