Dealing With Surprises In Eating Disorder Recovery
One of the biggest triggers for my eating disorder is change. Whenever something is off schedule or goes differently than planned, it creates a huge amount of anxiety and a crippling desire for control.
Earlier this week, I fell down the stairs at the train station at the end of a long day. I had been traveling over the weekend, had just finished a six hour internship shift, and I wanted nothing more than to be on my couch with some ice cream. I was walking down the stairs to get to my train, with a heavy backpack, suitcase, and bag with dinner in tow. Suddenly, my ankle rolled, and before I knew it, I was bumping down the stairs, all to land right on my poor ankle. A kind stranger helped me to get my suitcase down the steps, and adrenaline kicked in to get me off my butt and onto the train.
My eating disorder wanted to take this moment and turn it into an excuse to restrict. As I took my seat on the train, I was suddenly no longer hungry, even though I was ravenous 10 minutes earlier. I started to feel more pain in my ankle, and all I wanted to do was cry. It was 9:30, and I knew that I needed to nourish my body with dinner, regardless of what my mind was telling me. So, I texted a friend for some support, fought the thoughts, and ate my burrito bowl.
When it was time to get off the train, I quickly realized that my ankle was hurting a lot more than it did when I first fell. As I limped off the train, my brain started flooding with thoughts of “How I am going to get to class tomorrow?” and “How am I going to rehearse on Wednesday?” and “How am I going to drive anywhere this week?” Instead of thinking about the state of my ankle and what it meant for my health, I was focused on external responsibilities.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I realized that my ankle hurt more than it did Monday night. This meant I wasn’t going to be able to get to class, I wasn’t going to be able to get to my therapy session on Wednesday, and I wasn’t going to be able to go to my dance rehearsal on Wednesday either. My week was suddenly turned upside down, and I didn’t know how to cope with it.
Knowing that for the next week or so I’m going to be off my feet made my eating disorder go crazy. The fact that I was going to be completely sedentary seemed so unacceptable to my brain. Instead of looking at this as a great opportunity to catch up on self-care, I saw it as a personal failure.
After taking a look at the situation, I realized that I needed to reframe my view of the situation if I wanted to remain recovery focused. Instead of forcing myself to do work so that I could feel “productive”, I allowed myself to take time to relax and watch TV. Instead of restricting since I was going to be sedentary all day, I chose to nourish my body and mind with my favorite foods. I decided that while this situation is frustrating, it’s not the end of the world, I can radically accept it, and I can choose to find the good.
When surprises pop up in recovery, it can feel impossible to persevere. However, by implementing coping strategies and reframing what a situation means, you can overcome the anxiety that unexpected changes can bring.
Colleen Werner is a writer, dancer, and future therapist from Long Island, NY. She’s studying Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury and plans on going to graduate school for Mental Health Counseling. She aspires to start an eating disorder treatment program for dancers. Colleen’s experiences in recovery from an eating disorder and anxiety disorder have inspired her to share her story in an effort to help others, end the stigma, and create a sense of community. She is a National Ambassador for Project HEAL, a Campus Editor-at-Large for HuffPost, and a contributor for HerCampus and The Mighty. Colleen’s Instagram, @leenahlovesherself, inspires thousands every day with her posts about authenticity and mental health.