We are all too aware of the physical and mental impact an eating disorder can have on someone. But despite this impact, we often find that eating disorder clients have a reluctance to slow down; to stop what they’re doing and simply rest. If you’re a carer reading this, you may find yourself perplexed by your loved one’s ability to keep going despite it all, and feel an ever-increasing concern as they fight against natural impulses to stop.
In this blog post, we’re discussing the vulnerability that’s felt in being slow. How, so often, it feels weak or threatening to resist the urge to keep going and allow yourself to pause. Our Occupational Therapist, Kendra, and our Clinical Manager, Maxine, use their Occupational Therapy approach to identify negative routines and behaviours that may reinforce the eating disorder, and work with our clients to compassionately challenge these patterns by introducing more positive behaviours and coping strategies.
Why it’s hard to slow down
We read a quote the other day that said: “Feeling the need to be busy all the time is often a trauma response and distraction from what you’d likely acknowledge and feel if you were to slow down.” What exactly does this mean?
It means that if you’ve ever experienced trauma (and remember, trauma can come in all shapes and sizes), keeping busy is a means of avoiding having to feel unpleasant emotions that are associated with the memory of that trauma. By keeping busy, we can distract ourselves from the possibility of flashbacks or critical voices that sometimes appear when we allow our minds to simply be.
People with eating disorders can find it extremely difficult to rest. There’s a need to be productive, to keep moving forwards, that stems from an itching nervousness or anxiety that truly is their authentic experience. Keeping going is another way of communicating that “I’m fine, see!”. When in reality they’re not fine; they’re quite possibly terrified of what awaits them if they were to stop – and we must keep that in mind as we compassionately treat our clients.
Keeping busy and productive is merely another form of coping. These coping behaviours develop to keep an individual feeling safe and in control of their world, when something or someone has previously taught them that they aren’t as safe as they once thought they were. As we’ve said time and time again, coping behaviours develop with seemingly good intentions, but are a false sense of security and safety (maladaptive coping mechanisms) and develop at the expense of joy, freedom, creativity and exploration.
If you’re reading this and feeling tired and exhausted – know that you don’t need to be productive all the time. You are allowed to stop, and you can develop ways to give permission to do just that.
Feeling safe within yourself
Accepting a stillness is crucial for recovery; it’s a demonstration of your willingness to love yourself, look after yourself, and listen to yourself. It will most likely require baby steps, but that is okay.
One of the ways to test the waters is to try meditation, starting off small. When we meditate, we’re inviting ourselves to be curious about our inner world, and listen to it without judgement or the need to immediately act. When we begin to listen to ourselves, we start to tune into what our body is trying to signal to us, and allow ourselves consider responding to it.
Another way is to be creative. Our clients have found art and drawing a good way to do something whilst also not technically doing something (you may have spotted our Liter-Orri-society image drawn by one of our clients!). You may also enjoy writing, to get thoughts and fears down on paper and out of your mind. Whatever it is you’re drawn to, make sure it feels true to your interests and isn’t driven by a need to prove something.
You deserve to be fully present in the world – to be slow and acknowledge what arises in that experience. You deserve to say no, to define your boundaries, and find a balance for how you want to experience your world.