In the precious few days before we entered into the second UK lockdown, I walked the dogs down to the sea with an uneasy feeling of déjà-vu. Wind nipped my fingers and I was conscious of the light, already turning inky blue and tinged with rust at four o’clock; “I’m sure I’ve been here before”, I thought.
In a recent newsletter, the team at Orri pondered lockdown and it’s coinciding this time with winter. Shorter days, cooler weather. They wrote of turning inwards, of hibernation. I’m picturing myself as a sensitive bear, hunkering down for a period of rest- clocking-off for the moment to reflect inwardly, physically nourished through the chilly months, and safe in the knowledge that I am doing what I need to see this period through.
“Being forced into an environment which somewhat mirrors the illness you are recovering from will present some real, very valid challenges-
I said I feel I have been here before, but I am not talking about the first period of isolation we navigated from March, when masks and a two-metre rule still felt alien to us. No; the reason I was filled with unease, is because elements of lockdown mimic elements of the isolation many experience when most unwell with an eating disorder. This is something people began to discuss last time, and it became more apparent as the general public started to realise just how tough a life in isolation can be: not seeing friends, being in your own head, anxiety about what’s in the supermarkets, a ramped up pressure to increase exercise, crippling expectations of our productivity; the list really does go on. Stresses of the pandemic aside, it seems blatantly clear to me that being forced into an environment which somewhat mirrors the illness you are recovering from will present some real, very valid challenges- and I’m sure I’m not alone in sensing that these confounding similarities (between lockdown and life with an eating disorder) appear even more tangible when applied to the context of winter months, stretching far into the distance…
“And yet, here you are, still standing, a testament to your own strength and bravery in holding on.”
Ileana’s drawing for Beat This Together’s Instagram page.
But, as we may do well to turn inwards while the foggy blanket of winter descends, so we must also reflect inwards for this second lockdown, at least until the mist clears. If you are feeling apprehensive, pause for a moment; let’s unpick that feeling. Can you say what you’re apprehensive about- is it new, or more acute, perhaps? Maybe it is more useful to consider what you have done in the past that has helped you navigate similar feelings? What did it take for you to navigate them (determination, being open, courage)? Thinking back to the previous lockdown, you have solid proof that despite what might have felt impossible at the time, you somehow found a way of muddling through. Similarly, with an eating disorder, you may be able to think back to periods where finding a way out seemed to be a completely hopeless and unbelievably draining task. And yet, here you are, still standing, a testament to your own strength and bravery in holding on. By creating a safe space for our recovery, this is what we can and hopefully will do for a second time.
By turning inwards, we allow the space required to take responsibility for our recovery.
A great way that we can do this is by establishing a healthy routine, and planning our day into bite-sized chunks, to avoid feelings of overwhelm. Predictability and therefore feelings of security can feel in the balance with the changing of the seasons, and lockdown is also likely to upset the applecart here. Maybe you have moved back in with family, or you don’t know where to turn now that your social calendar is empty; we will all be feeling around in the dark a little, at least initially. It is therefore a good idea to take some extra time examining your routine so that you can get back into a groove of sorts- be sure to plan in periods for rest, adequate nutrition, and interacting with others.
By turning inwards, we learn to sit with feelings of discomfort, and to simply ‘be’.
This is a tricky one- often a sticking point in recovery, and therefore a pretty vital aspect for most to have a go at, in order to push things that little bit further. Whether anxiousness has arisen from something food or exercise-related, or whether we have been pushed out of our comfort zones by something else, it is important to learn how to ‘sit’ with these uncomfortable feelings. Up until this point, we might associate rest with laziness, and therefore feel out of control. Try sitting and tolerating this unease while resting and notice what happens: the sky does not fall in, and the world does not end. While it may take some time for all this to feel less agonising, hold on tightly to the empowerment that a challenge like this brings to your recovery.
By turning inwards, we allow ourselves time for reflection.
Whether it’s daydreaming, meditation or prayer; regular check-ins with yourself, or longer periods of contemplation are great examples of self-care which, in turn, will help us when it comes to articulating our thoughts and feelings to others, and examining our own thoughts and responses. These skills act as building blocks for greater resilience to turbulent times in the future. If we think back to the analogy for turning inwards as representing some sort of hibernation, then we may place our trust in the fact that the capabilities required to weather this storm are already in us, because we have managed it once before. Perhaps this will help the more tentative or sceptical among us to leave our inhibitions at the door. Trusting in the process and allowing this time to be dedicated to honest and sustainable recovery- rather than learning a new language, say- might just be what leads you to leaving lockdown a happier, healthier version of the person you are now going into it.
If hope were a tangible thing, I would pocket mine to warm my fingers as I cross the undulating banks of shingle en route to the sea with my dogs. I hope that these musings have passed a little of that hope onwards, too.
Ileana is a Psychology Master’s student at the University of Bristol. She is passionate about improving student knowledge on eating disorders and is currently one of the co-Presidents of a society called Beat This Together, which campaigns and educates on these issues on university campus. She is currently working to improve the medical curriculum on eating disorders for students at Bristol and was involved in passing a motion through the Student Council which aims to improve the type of language used in sports at the university. She is pursuing a route into clinical psychology and hopes that in the meantime, her voluntary work will help enable more discussion on mental health, where the impact of eating disorders is incredibly close to her heart.