We know that a lot of people are contemplating recovery right now, and the question of being “ill enough” for treatment is something that many people contend with during this time.
Despite the incredible work of charities such as Beat, unfortunately we are still in a time where society doesn’t know too much about eating disorders. There’s a lack of understanding and support options, as well as pervasive stereotypes, which has led to a misconception that people may only ‘qualify’ for treatment if they are ‘thin enough’ and symptoms are ‘life-threatening’.
This is shocking, but especially when you learn that Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder – lots of people, for many reasons, don’t access the help that they need at precisely the time when they need it.
When we hear people say – “I’m not sure if I’m ill enough for your treatment” – we immediately recognise just how brave it is to even ask this. By doing so, the individual has acknowledged that something isn’t quite as they would like it, and that the problem may be bigger than they can manage. This important acknowledgement can be the first (and perhaps biggest) step in recovery, it is the start of the internal dialogue that leads to reaching out for help.
Often, the very fact that someone finds them self asking this question suggests deep down they know that they need support.
Why it’s so hard to ask for help when you know you need it
Eating disorders develop when we’ve been through (or are going through) experiences that trigger overwhelming, negative emotions. It may be that we’re in a state of high anxiety, or we’re very depressed or stressed, and the experience of these emotions is simply too much.
An eating disorder ‘helps’ by numbing these overwhelming emotions by distracting our attention and narrowing our awareness. By focusing our attention on things in life that we feel we can control, e.g. calories, macronutrients, and/or our weight, we do indeed feel a sense of control in the face of emotions (anxiety, sadness, hopelessness etc) that feel out of control.
This experience of being ‘out of control’ can be very frightening and threatening, as such, it can be incredibly hard to contemplate giving up something that alleviates that…however maladaptive it may be.
Whilst it may be daunting, treatment is there to help
At Orri, we don’t labels people as “an Anorexic” or “a Bulimic”. Rather, we address the person who reaches out to us as precisely that – a person.
This person has their own, unique stories and history, individual hopes, fears and expectations for life and also recovery. The treatment that we offer focuses on what the individual is recovering to, as opposed to what they’re recovering from.
So, how do I know if I need specialist help?
When you intuitively know that things are not ok.
A previous client of Orri’s reflected, “Looking back I realise that it was around the time I started thinking ‘I’m not well enough’ that I was actually at my most unwell and needed treatment. I feel really sad looking back that I got to a place where I felt that”. The instinct that something is not quite right is usually a good indicator of there being a problem – you know you better than anyone else.
What may have innocently started as a means of losing weight or getting fitter may have developed into something much more obsessive and you may be finding yourself preoccupied by details surrounding food, weight and exercise.
Perhaps you’re missing meals, cutting out entire food groups, compensating for eating food, feeling an intense and overwhelming amount of guilt around eating food that isn’t “healthy” or feeling genuine fear about having to eat food that doesn’t fit into your plan…these are all indicators that something isn’t right or ‘normal’, and that the relationship may indeed be punishing and harmful.
When food and exercise dictates life decisions
Suddenly, the concept of having to go out and socialise with family and friends feels terrifying. The thought of not being able to control meals, snacks or drinks fills you with dread and you may start cancelling plans to avoid the situation.
You may be spending increasingly more time alone, acting secretive and ramping up exercise (which can include walking), these changes – however incremental – are really important to acknowledge and share with someone safe.
Ritualistic behaviours develop
In order to deal with the terrifying experience of eating food – alone or with others – you may develop ritualistic behaviours which help to disconnect you from the experience of eating. These may include cutting food up into small pieces, moving food around the plate, hiding food, chewing or taking a long time to eat. You may even time yourself whilst eating food – all as a means to distance yourself from the pleasure of eating.
You feel disconnected from yourself
As the eating disorder develops, you may notice that your sense of self-worth and mood has deteriorated. You may question yourself more and carry a feeling of “not being good enough” with you. You may be easily unsettled and frightened, and you may feel as though you have lost touch with who you once were.
We believe that recovery is possible, and we see it every day at Orri
We’re here if you are contemplating recovery. Whilst we anticipate you may feel anxiety at the point of reaching out for support, we want you to know that we understand this and, in response, take things one step at a time, at your pace.
For now, we’ll leave you with this poem:
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer