Faced with a sudden health issue that is (probably) unrelated to my eating disorder, I have suddenly examined my life and what I consider to be important. It has made me stop and look at the hours I work, and the relationships I value, as well as any community venture I invest my efforts into. But it has also made me more closely examine and hold myself accountable for the effects of my eating disorder. We all know the physical effects, we are told them every time we enter a new round of treatment, each time we may have a “close call” and any time we think we can’t push our bodies any further. No, there is no shortage of reminders of the damning physical effects of eating disorders.
But what about the others? What effect does my eating disorder have on the relationships I form, and the ones I choose to continue? What effect does it have on my finances, in the time I need to take off from work to seek treatment (or conversely, the time I throw myself into work to avoid life)? What effect does it have on my emotional well being? Yes, those questions are all related, but each is separate, as well.
For so long, many of us avoid forming close relationships with anyone, scared that we will be hurt, or that they will be able to wrestle the disorder from us. We’re scared of being rejected, or at least I am. Scared of finding out what we already suspect, that we aren’t worth anything to anyone. It’s far better to never seek a relationship than it is to be rejected. That’s what I tell myself. Or rather, that is what I subconsciously have told myself for years, and just recently have become aware of it. But what about the relationships we have with people by default? I mean family members, co workers, family friends, past classmates, etc. People that we have met and have had repeated contact with, not necessarily by choice. I am able to keep many of them at arm’s length, right where I want them. But why do I feel it necessary to do that? Why do I not seek a more meaningful relationship with others? There really are lots of reasons, but when you strip them away, it comes down to one: I have an eating disorder. Cliché, yes, but that is what my eating disorder has done to my relationships. I don’t even need to have a real reason anymore, simply having an eating disorder is enough of a justification for me to keep people at a respectable distance. But I have recently become aware that this has left me lonely, and scared for my future.
What about my finances? I work in a family business, thus am considered self-employed by the government. It means I don’t have nice benefits, and very little room for sick leave. Simply put, when I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid. This makes it hard to take time off for treatment. It means that whenever I leave treatment, I feel like I’m playing catch up, trying to save money again. And what about all the medications I take? What about the many efforts I have undertaken in my quest to lose weight and make my life “better?” Or how much more have I spent on education because there were days I just couldn’t get myself out of bed to attend an exam? A rough calculation has put the cost of my eating disorder at roughly $85 000, and that’s without the many months I have spent in publicly funded hospital treatment. Yes, my eating disorder has had a significant financial impact on my life. Yet at the same time, when I’m trying to avoid life, I work a lot. Maybe this is my way of preparing to enter treatment? Work like crazy, save lots of money, so that I can afford to pay rent while I’m in the hospital. Not a fun little cycle.
And finally, my emotions. Anyone fighting an eating disorder has been through more than they ever thought possible, the literal emotional fight for their lives. Reading my past journals makes me sad. I’m sad that I and everyone else going through this ever experienced (and still experience) such an intense self hatred. Sad that anyone would ever have to go through such a desperate and dark period, especially when at the time they feel very alone. What has this meant to me? I’m often told I’m mature beyond my 25 years. Is my eating disorder the reason? Probably. While many of my friends were getting degrees and careers, involved in serious relationships, drinking and partying every weekend, seeing concerts and travelling the world, and in general, just having fun, I was in hospitals. While I do feel that my illness has strengthened me to the person that I am today, I can’t help but imagine what I could have been if I had not had it. Would I be happier, more quick to laugh, more light hearted? Would I take things just a little less seriously? Possibly. This is not all a negative. At 25, I have a stable career, finally got my degree, and know what I want to do with my life and the impact I want it to have. This is likely due to the things that I have fought through. But who’s to say I wouldn’t have that without it? No, I definitely still think there is a net negative impact on my emotional well being, from my eating disorder.
I don’t think I am alone in these life impacts. I think it is a commonality for many individuals who have come through the depths that we have. But that’s the key, we need to get through the worst of it to have any stability. In fact, this very stability has afforded me the opportunity to examine the impact of my eating disorder. And the impacts that it continues to have. Yes, it has truly shaped my life, as it shapes the lives of many. I’m not yet quite sure what this means to me. Slowly, I am seeing the pieces come together and fall into place, allowing me to build the life I want free from an eating disorder. I think that’s the only way I will every truly be “well”.
And that is still the goal.