As the world comes to a grinding halt the nightmare of COVID-19 is palpable. For me though it is not the nightmare of the virus itself, but the nightmare it presents to my eating disorder. I know I am not alone in fearing the current uncertainty and unknown, but that fear is compounded by the fact that I suffer from anorexia.
This illness thrives off control, and so in the faces of both the uncertain and the unknown it flourishes with ever more power and domination. Not knowing what the future holds for our world at the mercy of this microorganism has become a living nightmare for my eating disorder. And so, as chaos unfolds around us, the voice of my anorexia comes louder than ever assuring me to “fear not” because amidst this chaos, it brings me control.
First is the nightmare of food shopping, an activity which I know many have found particularly stressful since the announcement of new regulatory measures around COVID-19. This activity is alone though a stress to anyone suffering with an eating disorder, virus or no virus. The anxiety is now only worsened as I find myself facing rampant shoppers from Tesco’s to Sainsbury’s, each grappling over the last toilet roll. Panic sets in when “safe foods” are no longer perched on shelves, when what was on the “menu plan” is in fact not on the “supermarket’s plan”, when the queue into the supermarket incurs fifteen minutes of bracing the bitter cold, and when finally upon locating your “safe foods” you are limited to buying a maximum of two items as per many supermarket’s new protocol. Restricting the purchase of items is, I understand, a valid measure amidst the current circumstances, but from the eyes of someone suffering with an eating disorder, it is a measure that only exacerbates it. “Excellent” comes the voice of my anorexia upon being told at the checkout that I will have to put back that third pot of yoghurt I had in my trolley. And with having to queue on every visit to the supermarket, my anorexia has good reason to ration the food I do have to avoid “unnecessary” trips.
How would I cope not leaving the house? How would I occupy the demands of my anorexia?
Second is the nightmare of isolation. In recovery I have often been told to “relax” and exit the house for only one walk a day, so it was somewhat laughable that these measures were now being enforced by the government. Yes, my anorexia had been ordered, by Boris Johnson, to “stay at home”. I am now legally obliged to follow these orders and so my anorexia had no other option than to “relax”. The anxiety that arose with this announcement on Monday 23rd March was greater than any anxiety I had felt before. Greater even than the anxiety of having to eat a Quality Street chocolate with my dietitian at Christmas! How would I cope not leaving the house? How would I occupy the demands of my anorexia? How would I navigate the space living in close proximity to my four other family members? And so it goes on.
Those with any experience of living with a family member suffering from an eating disorder will know the utter destruction this illness causes. My family, quite rightly, resent my anorexia and at times, resent me. How could I let this disease rule every aspect of my life? How could I let it destroy my relationships? How could I let it continue amidst the distress of my parents? It is an illness that my family will never fully understand, and to some extent, I will never fully understand, and now they were to be subject to it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no ifs no buts, and no escape. Inpatient treatment has been the only respite for my family since being diagnosed. Now though in the limitations of our London townhouse, there will be no respite, with my family bearing the full brunt of my anorexia. And so with quite literally no escape, and no certainty as to when these isolation measures will ease, they arm themselves ready to enter battle and fight to rid me of this relentless tyrant.
Thirdly is the nightmare of treatment, and access to treatment. This though is not a nightmare for my anorexia, but for me, the part of me that wants to get better. The part of me that wants treatment. The part of me that needs treatment. I feel I have been somewhat torn these last months between wanting treatment and not. But with it now being limited to online “Zoom” therapy, I find myself, and that is me and not my anorexia, feeling fearful. Fear, just this once, not that my anorexia will be challenged, but rather that it won’t be challenged.
I remain determined for this not to be an opportunity for my anorexia, but an opportunity for “me”.
I know though that I am fortunate in being able to access at the very least online treatment, but this virus could grant my anorexia, and I fear others’ too, the opportunity it so desperately desires to establish control. An opportunity to take me backwards. An opportunity to create a sense of calm amidst the chaos that surrounds us. And it is not only treatment that my anorexia can avoid, but life itself. Anorexia does not permit life. It is an isolating illness that prevents me from living; from working, from socialising, from doing. This virus though has prevented us all, to some extent, from living, lending itself to the very nature of my eating disorder.
So as the nightmares arise in and amongst this current uncertainty and unknown, I remain determined for this not to be an opportunity for my anorexia, but an opportunity for “me”. It is in the face of a global pandemic and legally enforced isolation with my family that I in fact find myself feeling ever more positive about recovery. And never could I have thought that it would be amidst a global pandemic that I recover from my eating disorder. But then again never would many of us have though that this virus originating in a small fish market in Wuhan would become a global pandemic (unless of course you are Trump).
And so, I will not let this chaos “feed” my eating disorder. I will not let it give my anorexia reason to rule, dictate and claim more of my life than it already has. When all this is over and we begin to return to “normal life”, I too am determined to return to “normal life”. And by “normal life” I mean a life free of anorexia. Freedom from the shackles through which I currently am bound. Freedom from the dictator that has controlled the last 5 years of my life. And I hope for others suffering, they too can find freedom in the “constraints” we now live amidst. Just as the restrictions of COVID-19 will end, the restrictions of my anorexia too will end.