13 April 2016

One Social Event at a Time...

“Jess, do you fancy going out one time?” Friends used to ask, and I would start scanning my prepared list of excuses in my mind as to why I could not go. College work, family visits, tiredness, the list was never ending. With time, the invitations stopped coming and I started to feel lonely, isolated and unwanted. Yet, I couldn’t make the link between my refusals and the lack of offers. The anorexic behaviours started to become heightened. The fear of eating out increased, to the point where I would hardly leave the house apart from the need to go to work, just incase this scenario potentially occurred. I convinced myself that I was completely fine, and that I just enjoyed being independent and being at home. Again, I could not make the link between my illness and my isolation. To be honest,there was actually no part of me that really wanted to see people up until my hospital admission. I was even afraid to go shopping incase I saw somebody that I knew. I was completely ashamed of what I looked like and who I had become. I was solely dependent on my parents for somebody to talk to, as I had managed to close off the majority of links to all of my other friends. I had nothing to talk about with anybody because I wasn’t doing anything. I no longer had any hobbies, ambitions or motivations, so my conversation topics were very limited as all I really thought about was food, and I did not want to talk about that. Even speaking to family members became a challenge as nobody knew what to say, and looking back now I feel the phrase ‘walking on eggshells’ would be the best way to describe how people felt whilst talking to me. Just the mention of one word could have made me flip, and it didn’t have to be anything specific, depending on my frame of mind, something completely insignificant could have made me cry or walk away.

Nevertheless, that is all in the past. One of my New Years Resolutions was to say ‘yes’ to as many social events as I felt comfortable with, and so far, I am pleased to say that this has been a success! I firstly started to go back to ‘Monday Dinner’ at Gran and Grandad’s, with both Danny and my cousin Alice. This has been a weekly event between the five of us for as long as I can remember, however, for the past year, they really were not the same. I would arrive at the house for exactly 5 o’clock, when I knew the food was going to be on the table, and I would leave as soon as I had finished the main meal, completely avoiding pudding with my most used excuse of having college work. I would hardly speak when I was there, as I would be so focused on making sure my plate looked ‘normal’ in terms of portion sizing and what I was actually adding to it, trying to not to draw attention to the significant restrictions I was making week after week. Once this aspect of the meal was over, I would then engage in my cutting behaviours, which again I tried to do discretely. Obviously, now that I can look back, I can only imagine that this was the most baffling routine to witness, but in my head it made so much sense to carry it out. But I no longer engage in those damaging behaviours, and so that first ‘Monday Dinner’ was an absolute joy. I challenged the portioning knowledge that I have gained throughout my time in treatment, as I created my meal from the food laid out on the table. Then I ate my meal, with the ability to look up and participate in the conversation, without being completely absorbed in the thoughts of what I was eating and how I was eating it. Of course, as the pudding came out I started to doubt why I had accepted the invitation, but then I remembered my meal plan, my increased activity levels and the fact that I was utterly enjoying the company of my amazing family. I appreciate the time I can spend with those closest to me so much more now, as I think about all of those seconds, minutes and hours I missed out on before. I would never have been able to forgive myself if something had have happened to one of my family members during the time that I was completely drawn into my illness. So this has been a huge reminder as to why I now feel as though it is all the more important to accept these offers of social events; just because I am becoming increasingly aware of just how much my eating disorder has taken away from me in the past.

Reestablishing happy moments with my family was an absolute priority in my on going recovery. Now that I have managed to achieve and maintain this aim, I decided to tackle the next item on my agenda- reconnecting with friends. I have to say that I am incredibly fortunate in the fact that my friends never gave up on me. Even though I continued to dismiss their offers of meeting, they were still persistent in their attempts to maintain contact. Only now that I am better, can I really appreciate these wonderful people for their commitment to our friendship, and again I feel compelled to sustain my health to be able to make up for lost time. In order to do this I have enjoyed regular trips to the cinema and meals out, visiting ice hockey matches, and my most challenging adventure to date- an overnight stay in Newcastle. Travelling on the train to meet up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in over four years, I was a complete mix of emotions. Not only was I battling with the thoughts of a complete mix up of routines in terms of eating, but I was also wondering if we were even going to get on. Four years is a long time, and as I know, a lot can happen in that amount of time. Fortunately, it felt as though we had never even been apart. I think that is a sign of the truest friendships, when you can just pick up exactly where you left off. Reminiscing about the past and conversing about our futures, it was so nice to be able to talk about something other than my recent episodes. We went for a night out in the town, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself dancing, laughing and having fun. I did begin to find it difficult being the only sober one, as I was incredibly observant of the surroundings and consequently became quite anxious in situations that may not have been an issue, had I have been more relaxed. However, my friend being as supportive as she is, agreed that it was time we headed home. Now this next part of my evening may seem completely insignificant to most people, but to me this was a massive step, to the point where I even text my mum to tell her how proud I was of myself. It was 3:00am and I was hungry, so I decided to get myself a massive bowl of cereal. I know there will be people reading this thinking “cereal, really? I would have been more impressed if you had have said a takeaway.” But think about this situation with the mindset of an eating disorder sufferer. Firstly, I recognised hunger and acted upon it. Secondly, I did not have the equipment to be able to measure out precisely how much cereal and milk I was about to consume, in accordance to the serving suggestions displayed on the packaging. Finally, at no point in my rigid meal plan does a snack at 3:00am fit into the normal routine. My eating disorder had laid out three major hurdles in front of me, and I managed to overcome every single one of them. Now I know that I have strength to be able to tackle many more of these difficulties that engaging in social events can crop up unexpectedly.  I have so much more confidence in myself and my capabilities in achieving full recovery, and I know that with every step I take in fighting all that my eating disorder wants me to do, it will only make it quieter, until it becomes the least significant part of my life. I am looking forward to the year ahead and what it has to offer, and I know that with the ongoing support from my incredible family and friends, that this will only make recovery easier.

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