An inspiring story about how powerful hope became in her recovery – thank you for sharing your story, Ms. T.
“When I first started my journey to recovery, I didn’t believe I would ever get there. And honestly, I didn’t think I wanted to.
The first anxiety attack I can remember happened when I was six years old, and since then, anxiety was such a constant part of my life that it seemed normal. When I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, I was relieved. I was grateful for an explanation, a root cause, and proof that it wasn’t me, it was the disease.
When I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder, I was relieved. I was grateful for an explanation, a root cause, and proof that it wasn’t me, it was the disease.
Medication was the right choice for me then, because helped take the edge off, so I could begin to think clearly, un-tense my muscles, and breathe for the first time. It made it possible to stop associating illogical fears with nausea and hyperventilating. I was managing my anxiety for the first time in my life, and was ready to start therapy and quickly learned that the most crucial part of getting help was finding the right person for me.
The other important thing I learned was that I was lying to myself– and to my counsellors– about why I wanted help. Anxiety was a lifelong struggle, but I “got” it. I knew what made me tick and why, and I was getting better at “riding the wave” and not letting anxiety attacks take over anymore. It was a mental illness, which I was already successfully treating. What I needed help with was my relationship with food. I have been in a deep and constant struggle with food and my weight since childhood and as I started dealing with my anxiety, it became a lot clearer that this was a real problem.
As I did with my anxiety disorder, I started to research binge eating and was surprised to see I was checking off every box in the signs and symptoms lists. But I couldn’t have a real eating disorder. Real eating disorders were for people with harder lives, who struggled more, who were at risk of starving themselves to death because their brains were more sick than mine. I was just a fat girl who ate a lot when she was sad or stressed. Claiming I had an eating disorder was grabbing at an excuse for my own bad behaviour, habits, and choices.
With each therapist I saw, I would spend the first couple of sessions talking about anxiety and eventually they all had the same reaction: “Ok, now why are you really here?” I asked for help with “emotional eating.” A blanket term that was safer and more reasonable, that was normal for women, and especially women with depression or anxiety. At that point, I didn’t think there was anything they could do or say to make me stop using a food as a crutch, but at least I was talking about it.
When I moved back home after living abroad for two years, I had a new job where I felt out of my depth, and was back living with my family (we have a great relationship, but after two years away, it was clear they were triggering for me). I felt overwhelmed and completely out of control and started seeing a new therapist, who turned out to be the right fit for me.
We started our work with a hope scale– a simple line on a piece of paper, dotted with numbers one through 10. One represented no hope for the future, 10 was the most hopeful I could possible be. My ultimate goal was a healthy eight. On the first day, I decided I was at two on the scale, because I was asking for help, but I didn’t believe it would ever work.
We talked more about my eating, and how I had diagnosed myself with Binge Eating Disorder, but worried I was using that label to justify my choices. Nothing was more validating than hearing a mental health professional tell me that I was describing the DSM definition of BED. It took a while to fully believe it, but being “allowed” to have an eating disorder made it possible to tackle it. Learning how common it is to to view an ED as a relationship helped me understand why I didn’t want to break up with mine.
Nothing was more validating than hearing a mental health professional tell me that I was describing the DSM definition of BED. It took a while to fully believe it, but being “allowed” to have an eating disorder made it possible to tackle it.
For some, it’s an abusive boyfriend whose message is “you’re nothing without me.” For me, it was a catty mean girl, the toxic “friend” who would convince me to do things I knew I would regret, then said nasty things behind my back. “Oh, just eat the box of doughnuts. You’ve had a really bad day. You deserve this. You need this. Go on, girl, you’ll feel so much better. I won’t tell anyone, I swear. Better get the chips, ice cream, and candy, too” turned into “Oh my God, I can’t believe you did that. You’re disgusting!” within seconds. But when I needed comforting, she was always there, cupcake in hand.
I was trying to get help, but I believed the best I could do was learn to deal with the constant, nagging urges or learn how to accept that this was my lot in life. The daytime was easy– I had no choice but to control the urges in front of people. But if I didn’t spend the day planning an elaborate binge, I would stand in the grocery store, shaking, clenching my fists, trying to find the perfect combination. I had to get just the right binge foods, or I would eat to the point of nausea and not be satisfied. My acid reflux means I shouldn’t go to sleep with a full stomach, but on more than one occasion, I woke up choking on bile. I knew something had to give, but I was afraid of losing my only comfort.
It has been a tough journey, but as many setbacks as I had along the way, I had more successes. I learned to see buying an an individual cupcake instead of a whole tray as a win. I stocked my fridge with pre-prepared healthy food for late or lazy evenings. My mindset was shifting. At some points the misplaced urges started showing up in different, scary ways, but it was shifting, nonetheless.
It took a lot of trial and error to find what worked for me, but I couldn’t have done it without a constant guide and source of nonjudgmental and unwavering support. Throughout the process, we’ve been sure to check in on the hope scale, where I’ve moved back and forth regularly.
When I put myself at two on the hope scale, I was bingeing nightly, keeping the “stash” bag within arm’s reach, right beside the wrappers and empty packing. I was rubbing my ED’s nose in the evidence, like a dog who peed on the carpet. My anxiety was threatening to take over again and I was certain at any given moment I would be fired or go bankrupt. I felt destined to be alone and incapable of real happiness. My bed was surrounded by piles of clothes I bought compulsively and my living room was such a disaster, I didn’t have a single guest for months at a time.
Since that time, I’ve made it through major changes and crises in my personal and professional life, but I was so much better-equipped, it didn’t cause the tailspin I was used to.
Since that time, I’ve made it through major changes and crises in my personal and professional life, but I was so much better-equipped, it didn’t cause the tailspin I was used to. I still keep something sweet on hand for after dinner, but half of the time, I don’t eat any of it. I still love to go shopping, but I browse now instead of buy. My apartment is still untidy, but my floor is now clear and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to let someone in.
My recovery is still very much a work in progress, and I believe it will be a journey, not a destination. I’m thankful now that even though I didn’t believe I could be helped, I tried anyway. Life’s a lot more fun now that I’m a 9.5 on the hope scale.”