The emerging blogger series is aimed at community building by giving new mental health a chance to have their work seen by a wider audience and connect with other members of the blogging community.
This post is by Natasha of Mental Health & Me.
Saying Goodbye to My Toxic ‘Friend’ – An Anorexia Nervosa Recovery Story
Thirteen years. That is how long I have been in and out of recovery of anorexia nervosa. I don’t remember a specific moment when I made a decision to restrict my food intake, or lose weight, or any of these things. It felt like it just happened. To be honest, that whole time felt like everything was happening to me and I had no control over any of it. College was over, I had no idea what to do next. I was in a difficult relationship, all of my friends were moving on, going to university or working, and there I was in a job I hated to keep a roof over my head, my world spinning around me, moving on without me.
What I didn’t learn about myself
I have written about my difficult journey to find eating disorder specialist treatment before, so I will skip along to when I finally was referred to an ED clinic as an outpatient, where I spent fifteen hours a week in group therapy.
The therapy I underwent was largely CBT based, exploring thoughts that led to these eating disordered behaviours in order to challenge them. Alongside this we looked at assertiveness, confidence, as well as eating meals with each other.
While I can look back now and see just how much I took from those sessions, how they have shaped me into the person I am today, opening a world of self-discovery and a new found confidence, I didn’t make much progress at the time. My weight remained stagnant, and my eating rules became more rigid.
I really wanted to get better, believe me I did. But the therapists were going about it with me from completely the wrong angle. While they were trying to help me realise why the ED behaviours started in the first place, we never discussed what might be keeping me here.
My enemy and greatest friend
It didn’t take long for me to learn that the reason why I had become so unwell, was because it was the one thing I felt I had control over in my life at the time. I didn’t need therapy to tell me this. Yes, I still needed therapy to work on getting better, but while that was absolutely my goal, I guess there was a part of me that sabotaged every effort towards recovery.
Why? Because I was being asked to say goodbye to a dear friend. You see, during a time in my life when I felt I couldn’t breathe, where everything I had planned had evaporated, and I felt trapped, ED was there. ED helped me to take a tight hold of myself and feel in control again. I had gained a focus in life and eventually it gave me my identity. Okay, being called ‘anorexic’ might not have been an identity I would have freely chosen, but I no longer felt invisible among my friends.
I now know that this was a false friendship. I was fooled into believing that I was in control when really ED was the one controlling me all along. But ED helped me get through the difficult time. It was the only coping strategy I had when my world fell apart. ED was a comfort to me. It was constant, ridged, with very clear rules, black and white, no uncertainties.
The world is not always as it seems
Eating disorders are mental illnesses. They are dangerous and destructive. They destroy lives and relationships. They cause horrific physical effects, and they isolate you from the world. I have known fellow recovery warriors to have had their lives taken so suddenly by this horrendous illness. It is cruel and it is unforgiving.
But at the time it doesn’t always feel this way.
I know many recovery warriors who give their EDs names and personalities. I myself often talk about ED as if it is a real person. ED becomes a part of our lives, like a toxic relative that plays mind games. It makes you feel safe and secure, then it will turn on you. But you stay because they are still a loved one, and you hope they will make you feel safe again, like they did before.
This is why I have been stuck for thirteen years, wanting to get better but always stepping back when I see that bright shining light at the end of the tunnel. I want to get there more than anything. But to do so I will have to say goodbye to the one constant ‘friend’ I have had to help me through my time of turmoil. Yes, even despite the darkness it sent me to. It has been all I have known for thirteen years.
I see now that I have been stuck because I have been focussing on the whys and hows of what led me to become so unwell. I have focussed on my relationship with food and building up my confidence with my body, which is paramount don’t get me wrong, but I cannot make that final step without working on one last fight to freedom. I must say goodbye.
And so here it is. I say goodbye to you. To the one who fooled me into believing you were helping me in my time of need. Although I let you take me by the hand, you did not raise me up. Instead you dragged me down further than I could ever have imagined. I see you now. You are no friend at all. And now, although it feels bitter sweet, I let you go. I thank you for teaching me who I truly am. Through the hardest of lessons you have shown me the strength I had within me all along. And now I use this to let you go.
This is our final goodbye. I don’t need you anymore. I have all that I need to survive.
I have me.
Following on from a judgemental comment overheard regarding people who live with mental illnesses, which was just one comment too many, Mental Health & Me was born. Contributing to the fight against stigmatising mental health, Mental Health & Me provides a safe and non judgemental place to explore anything mental health awareness and recovery related. With a growing collection of tips and reviews on mental health recovery and self-care, mental health awareness posts, as well as documenting real life experiences through my own Anorexia Nervosa recovery, Mental Health & Me aims to continue creating content to aid in recovery, sharing awareness and ending the stigma of mental illness.
You can find Natasha on her blog Mental Health & Me.
Thanks so much Natasha for participating in the emerging blogger series!
You can find the rest of the posts in the series, as well as the criteria for participating, on the Community Features page.