I’m going to do a second post on coping at Christmas later this week. My first one can be found here, and was on generally managing the festive season. My second is going to be on something I can relate to very much, and it is that of eating disorders but for now I want to write about my personal thoughts at this time of year.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa over eight years ago, and I’ve relapsed twice in that time, and Christmas has always been one of the most difficult times of the year even when I’ve been doing well.
It feels like it is all about food. During my worst periods, Christmas meant nothing to me other than fear. Big dinners, puddings and more than once. I dreaded the whole thing and it often led to me slipping even further into my eating disorder leading up to, and following the period.
It makes me sad looking back now. I am so much more rational about food than I’ve ever been, and although that doesn’t make it easy, it makes it better. I can see now that a couple of days of extra food, in the grand scheme of my life, isn’t going to do any harm. I can see now that, like most people’s, it’s quite likely that my weight will go up a little, and also very likely it will drop back afterwards. I’m sat here thinking “all of these years of stopping myself from eating what I want at Christmas when all it would have done is make my weight go up a little temporarily”.
Yet at the time, the idea of my weight going up at all sent terror through my body and most years I ended up losing weight over Christmas because I’d be so worried, I’d eat less than normal. I’d say no to pudding, or eat just a little. Skip potatoes. Skip roasted vegetables.
I still struggle. I’m not going to eat like I would if I didn’t have my eating disorder, but I will eat pudding. I will eat roasted vegetables and potatoes, and this year I might even say yes when the chocolates are passed around. I will find it hard, it will feel wrong, but I will be glad that I am finally doing it. I might not be eating disorder free, I may not be quite where I want to be, but I am happy with how far I have come, and I look forwards to all of the years to come as I see myself get better, and better. Stronger and stronger. The years of being afraid to eat the chocolate out of my advent calendar are long gone, and one day perhaps all of my fears will be gone completely. I am sad to think of how I haven’t let myself enjoy the festive meals when really it would never have hurt me at all; all of my fears were lies.
However there is one thing I regret even more.
I regret that for years Christmas meant nothing to me other than fear of food. I regret that the fear of food drowned out how wonderful it is to be able to spend time with family. This year I am so excited that food isn’t going to dominate it all. That when the guilty feelings creep in, I will tell my thoughts that I do not have the time or the interest in allowing them to occupy my mind when I can be spending time with the people I love the most. I will tell the thoughts where to kindly go, and I will go snuggle up in the lounge with my family, or go take a nice (cold) walk. I will watch them open their presents, I will help with the preparation. I will really experience Christmas.
Living with an eating disorder takes away the best parts of you. It also takes you away from people. It stops you really experiencing the world around you and it takes you away from what things are really about. It’s not because you’re bad, it’s not because you don’t care and it certainly isn’t because you love your family any less. It’s just that it really consumes everything. Every last thing.
I am so, so grateful for where I am. Although there is still room for improvement, and although I still struggle with various parts of my mental health, I am so proud of how far I have come, and so proud of my family.
We are still here despite everything, and our love is stronger than ever.
I’m telling you, it does get better. Even when times are hard, they can still be good. It’s not about reaching the final destination of being free of the disorder, although of course that is the goal. It’s about realising how far you have come, and being ok that there is still a little way to go.