New Year, New You?

Eating disorders don't like change, change scares them. Eating disorders are strict, rule-bound and ridged. They are regimented and ritualistic. They cling on to habit and suck onto bad ones that weaken your body and mind as a way of lowering your strength. This way they can stay around for longer...

This is an important blog which includes the positive and negative effects of welcoming in a new year. This blog is about why the new year can be both great and victorious for your recovery and also a tough time that can cause a tendency to relapse into old traps.

Feeling as though you must 'reinvent' yourself in January for a new and clean start can always seem quite overwhelming, however, it doesn’t have to be so black and white. Many people begin with an extensive range of high hopes and dreams for the year ahead, but this can sometimes be more damaging than good. Having visions of being healthier, eating well and sleeping better is one thing but aiming to fulfil everything on your bucket list is another. You can be left feeling as though you have failed profusely, and sometimes end up giving up completely before January is even out.

Staying on this same line of thought let's begin with the negative views that can be influenced by the beginnings of a new year. Out of personal research and also my own past experiences: Relapsing in recovery or after recovery most commonly happens in the winter time. The combination of dark nights, cold air and 'family' events (socialising) can trigger deeper, darker and more blurred thoughts for a warrior. It is at the time of year our mindsets must be at their very strongest.

The idea of 'starting fresh' is also a chance to be tricked by whispering voices. Your eating disorder will do anything to try and claw its way back into your life and will latch on to every opportunity that arrives. This is even more so why we must be in our strongest head space at this time of year because we aren't only battling the darkness, coldness and social aspects of Christmas time but also the upcoming change and the possibly daunting celebration of the 'new year' and 'our futures'.

Eating disorders don't like change, change scares them. Eating disorders are strict, rule-bound and ridged. They are regimented and ritualistic. They cling on to habit and suck onto bad ones that weaken your body and mind as a way of lowering your strength. This way they can stay around for longer...

In the new year, we must make sure we don't let these habits return. Sometimes as a way of giving ourselves a 'fresh start' (that so many people encourage us to do) for the new year we often fall back into old habits that we thought we had left behind. These habits and behaviours can become instinctive when we are in a low mindset.

For example, lots of non-eating disordered people will begin their new year raving about a 'detox'. While detoxing is fantastic for our bodies and digestive system and completely harmless for non-ed-suffering individuals, the idea of detoxing for a sufferer can be detrimental.

Us warriors have been raised by our eating disorders to think illogically, this means that the mindset of detoxing can become much more than a simple week's detox. You could be on a detox for a year and your eating disorder would convince you that it's both ordinary and normal. Well, it's not but your ed is a talented mind trickster so you would perhaps fall to believe it.

Another example is how us warriors handle regret. My brother, for example, may regret eating a second slice of Christmas cake because it made him feel sick but we would regret eating a second slice not just for the sick feeling in our stomach but because of the sick feeling in our heads and the worried beating of our hearts.

From this experience, my brother may feel sick and he may possibly have a sugar high, and maybe he'll feel less hungry in his next meal. But for us... with a strong mental state we'd feel like gods against our eating disorder, but with a low state of mind, we will feel full of regret. The raw kind.

The raw kind of regret that burns our insides and sizzles tiny holes in our soul. The raw kind of regret that eats at the edges of our internal happiness. This kind of regret may have been bottled inside you, it may be from the indulgent food at Christmas or perhaps something you said to someone, maybe it was the present you brought your friend that they didn't like. Whatever that regretful thought you may have, you will now try to 'fill it'. No, not get rid of it, or let it blow over but you will try to fill it so much that it overflows.

A normal person will move on, apologise or trust that their body will balance out and sort it out. A second slice of cake on a special occasion my brother knows won't make a difference to his health, and if he said something inappropriate he'd sincerely apologise and they'd then move on, and if his friend he brought a present for didn't like it then he'd laugh and say a light-hearted joke like, 'well at least I'm the best at bad present buying'. I know that regret he may feel will pass very naturally.

But for us overthinking Ed warriors on the other hand... gosh we are a nightmare when it comes to wishing we hadn't said that, did that, ate that. So sadly the way we deal (cope) with it is often illogical, secretive and internal, like 'restricting, insomnia and self-harm'. Our coping mechanism is completely internal and connected to our low self-worth and esteem. While my brother and most people could easily verbally communicate or externally express their feelings, we warriors find that hard and so we suffer internally.

And when's the best time to begin all those illogical coping mechanisms.... oh yes a new year is perfect. Clean slate please for us to force ourselves regrets that we shouldn't have but are being forced to feel by our best friend, ed. I love that guy. (Please sense the sarcasm).

While this can happen at any time of the year, I believe winter time is the hardest time of year to feel mentally happy and healthy especially as the new year dawns and the tendency to 'begin badly' just like our ed wants can spark into action.

No! Wait!

New year and Christmas time can also be a wonderful and empowering time for you and your recovery journey.

Firstly, this is the best time of year to reflect on your growth and strength. Because we're wiser when we reflect on our past year than when the year is coming to a close and a new year is arriving.

I want to make not only ed-warriors aware but also help those trying to love and support an Ed-warrior aware that enjoying Christmas time can be incredibly challenging for eating disorder sufferers, from personal experience I know this all too well.

The pressure to 'be social' is one thing but the pressure to make sure that everyone is happy is another. Often eating disorder sufferers feel a dying need to 'live up to standards' and to 'please everyone'. The more people to please, the more pressure there is to please them... everyone. Eating disorder sufferers also tend to take things very personally and if there was to be tension or rage in the house we would lend towards believing that it was 'our fault' even if we had nothing to do with it.

The combination of blame and pressure builds into anxiety and internal panic attacks that we are not 'good enough' or 'worthy' of love and laughter at Christmas like everyone else. Our anxiety is already being pushed due to the emphasis on food, and the foods that go hand in hand with this particular seasons celebrations.

Our low self-worth is echoed by the dark and cold nights that draw closer in day by day. Guilty thoughts and loneliness creep like silent yellow-eyed wolves that crawl out from the darkness outside and reflect in our very own dark thoughts inside.

Our last two Christmas holidays as a family have not been great, in fact, our last six haven't been great but the last two, in particular, were very bad. In Christmas 2016 I was at my lowest weight, inpatient care was being talked about every day and what felt like every breath I had with my parents became a worry. I had never felt so ill and the atmosphere of my ill-health destroyed the joy of Christmas that year. A year on in Christmas 2016 I had arrived at my 10 month anniversary of beginning recovery. After Christmas 2015 it took me until spring to step forward into recovery and there I was 10 months later.

2016 Christmas I was weight restored and entering my overshooting phase. My head was a mess and I felt lost. I hated the way I looked more than ever, I felt like a failure and a fake. My mind was still wrapped inside anorexia but my body looked normal and if not normal a little swollen and bloated from my 10 months of solid weight gain. My mind to body connection was inexistent, I had no ability to 'intuitively eat' as my mind didn't trust my appetite. My body still panicked and froze in weight gaining mode even when I only needed to maintain. This made Christmas very deflating and at times I felt incredibly lonely which impacted my family.

However.... this Christmas we are all going to be strong and we are going to encourage only feelings of worth, love and appreciation.

I am now in love with my body and I embrace the way I look. It's sad to admit but I was one of the foolish ones that thought 'once I'm weight restored things will be fine- I'll be better when I'm healthy'... nope! Weight is only half of the battle. It took me 10 months to be weight restored but it's taken me 20 months to 'recover'. Recovery is not only about being physically 'healthy and fit' but also being mentally 'healthy and happy'. This Christmas I believe and I feel I am finally both. I am physically at my strongest and fittest and mentally I am at my most me, my most 'Margi'. I mean I was always Margi deep down but now I am always Margi.. always.

How can you make Christmas 2017 wonderful? I've created three tips for you to carry around with you this Christmas and every Christmas to come. Be ready to commence in the new spring, be ready to achieve recovery.

I have also left a 'final thought' at the end which I believe is the ultimate tip of them all.

1: Carry around perspective.

Eating disorders can be so illogical that 'having some perspective' can seem like a joke or a fairytale thought.

The perspective police.

The traffic won't move, the rain has ruined your makeup, you pressed the delete button by mistake, you burnt the toast, you smashed your favourite piece of China. All these are daily irritants, even on occasions for sorrow but they are not a worthing expenditure of emotion. The key, when the frustrations and upsets come, is to call in the perspective police. You may have just had a fight with your brother, but you are not living in a war zone, and your best friend may have forgotten your birthday, but your house has not just been burned down. You may have discovered a new grey hair, wrinkle on your forehead or roll of fat on your stomach, but you have all your arms and legs.

The perspective police will break down the door with a battering ram and remind you of your blessings. This doesn't mean don't be sad about anything, yes get angry, get frustrated! But just remember not to take your emotions to the extreme if it's not worth it... this helped me a lot with my violence as the perspective police taught me to communicate calmly rather than lash out aggressively. I still felt the same feelings, it's just I dealt with them in a different way. Having perspective is an art, and art is everlasting. If you practice carrying around perspective at Christmas then it will serve you well for the rest of your life. I promise.

2: Carry yourself.

'Carry yourself and drop your eating disorder.' A good little phrase for when you are feeling weak and tired of lugging around that heavy chained feeling of Ed. Your eating disorder thoughts are crushing and dragging you down into a deep self-dug hole.

Imagine you have a rucksack on which is filled with happy thoughts and roses. How pleasant. You skip along feeling light on your feet and warm on your back. Oh but then your eating disorder comes along and stops you from skipping. They rip off your rucksack and clabber onto your back and demand, "Piggyback you pig".

Day after day you heave around this hooded figure of hate, you are growing weaker by each breath and aching step. All you want is to drop that bitch but their claws are dug so deep into your skin that they feel as if they have been knitted in with barbed-wire. But how do you know that you can't drop them until you try? So go ahead, try it, you'll be amazed. Bloody astonished if anything. That bitch can cling to the deep ocean seafloor just as a well as they can hold onto you. I promise.

3: Carry on the separating. (The split)

Sometimes the biggest thing holding us back from recovering is the fear of life without your eating disorder. The worry that things might get worse than they are without them than things are with them. Maybe life after recovery is just as miserable as life before recovery?

You must both separate and take responsibility for your own voice, don't let your eating disorder speak over it. You must both separate and take responsibility for your actions - don't let your eating disorder dictate them. You must not only separate ‘you’ from ‘your eating disorder' you must also carry on doing it. Recovery isn't a quick fix that's over in a flash, it is a long and emotional road that requires continued dedication and patience.

This is just why you must ‘split’ me from ED every now and again when you remember to, you must do it always and never let that slithery snake steal your thoughts and change them to be negative. Our ED’s existence relies on their stealing skills, and our vulnerability if we forget to separate Ed from ourselves that demon can easily go behind our backs and trick us into believing that we are our ED’s. We are not, we must continue to remember we are us, not ED. Carry on separating. 

Photography by: Daniel Brookman

Photography by: Daniel Brookman