Holidaying with ED a recipe for disaster
The annual holiday (vacation, trip) is a custom in my family. Each year much research and preparation go into meticulously planning this event, right down to the smallest of details. Regardless of whether it be a plane ride to another country or a three-hour drive up the highway, family members look forward with great anticipation for their two weeks away from work and home. This is how I remember summer holidays; something different to look forward to; a way to get out of my everyday world by spending my days walking and observing.
Looking at this concept from a different perspective, from the lens of someone with an ED, suddenly the very thought of travel becomes hard to contemplate. After I developed an eating disorder, the annual holiday loomed as an event cloaked in fear and anxiety, and I would feel driven to avoid it. You could call me a pro at wiggling my way out of things!
I’ve practiced avoidance many times and the relief it brings is immense. Staying away and being invisible provides an instant sense of calmness. The physical symptoms of panic, including racing heart, body tremors, and the relentless ranting of my overly noisy mind, would instantly be put at ease. At the same time, ED would be feeling smug with another victory in keeping me hidden and invisible to the world I would think, “Thank goodness, got myself out of another unwanted social event, I’m safe”, yet at the same time, a deep sadness would linger.
Unfortunately, this avoidance of social occasions meant that I missed many social occasions, family events and opportunities to travel to see new and wonderful places with friends and family. ED is a very antisocial grump who thrives on keeping me hidden away, all to himself. I was a mindless plaything for him to torment and drain of any pleasure from life and living.
Earlier in life, ED provided comfort and support to me as a vulnerable child; in adulthood, he became a real threat to my very existence; I am aware now that his goal is to destroy my mind, body and soul. Looking at this with a little healing progress and hindsight, I know that even if I had attended such occasions, I would have been unable to see or appreciate anything. My head would have been way too consumed by ED-dominated thoughts, because ED didn’t want me to have that kind of life; and I was neither ready, nor strong enough, to fight back.
Fast forward to January 2020. I’ve made great progress in the past year, and inadvertently I have begun to fight back. I’m feeling a more at ease with life, a lot more willing to try new things, visit new places, and even be more social. Thanks to my camera and support from key people around me, my long-suppressed healthy self has managed to slowly re-emerge. No more weekends hidden away in pajamas in the solace of my own home; no more feeling obliged to put myself into vulnerable a place. Instead I am finding the strength to do the right thing by my inner true self. For instance, I am saying ‘no thanks’ when faced with potentially triggering social occasions that may end up opening the door for ED to take control again. This reborn part of myself has the motivation and desire to go out and seek opportunities and to experience new places.
I’ve driven my car for hours on country roads, climbed mountains, explored beautiful gardens, walked the city streets day and night, visited beaches, gone bush walking, visited major tourist spots and stayed in beautiful hotels. I’ve documented these experiences with my camera, simultaneously building my skills and self-belief by capturing the beauty and interesting qualities these places offer.
Along the way I have learned that it’s not realistic to expect every photo to be print worthy. This has been a difficult but essential lesson to learn, particularly for someone like me who is a perfectionist at heart. The beauty these places hold has always been there but only now with a greater perspective on life and self, can I see a whole lot more of the real picture. It’s lovely and finally I’m doing some living and not merely existing.
At least that’s how it had been for some months, when suddenly this new outgoing resolve of mine came to a smashing and unexpected holt. The occasion was a recent trip away with my family. The words I use to describe my experience is “a lapse in mind”. Suddenly I could see Xkg had attached itself to my body and that extremely self-conscious, self-comparing and body-hating side of my brain checked right back in; slotting in where it had dominated for decades. Most disturbing of all was how incredibly easily ED managed to do this.
On this recent trip, the self-comparisons flowed back as seamlessly as one of my shots of soft flowing waterfalls. Suddenly all I could see were the nice outfits being worn by lean and toned young ladies who looked natural and comfortable in their attire, whereas all I felt was awkward and hopefully invisible. Even in the food store of this country town the women were wearing lovely dresses, short skirts and fitting tops, oh the envy. Here I was, wearing three-quarter leggings, sneakers and a T-Shirt (quite practical when walking all day and carrying a bag full of camera equipment) and being drawn to every imperfection I could see and feel in myself.
Each morning I would begin the day being overly aware of the appearance of others; their clothes, body shape and size; I would observe other people noticing them and ‘checking them out’ with approving glances. This allowed my inner critic to gain more momentum each day. Frustratingly, I would constantly find myself in a mindset of wondering why I couldn’t wear an outfit like that I’m a notorious self-comparer, it’s one of my biggest downfalls).
More recently I find myself wondering, quite frequently, what others see when they look at me. Do other people see me in the same light as I see myself? Is the reflection I see accurate? Is it skewed or dysmorphic as the doctors have told me repeatedly? To be honest, in that head space, when ED is dominating, I don’t know who to believe, it’s tough to argue with something that you truly see in the mirror with your own eyes, mirrors don’t lie, or do they? Maybe ED is doing all the lying to me, I’m not sure but I am sure of how incredibly difficult it is not to trust what you see with your own eyes.
I also began noticing other people looking at the women walking beside me; not me. I know, this makes me sound self-absorbed (which I’m not) but it communicated in my mind that everything my ED had used against me to drag me into his world was in fact true! I didn’t deserve to be seen, why would anyone want to look at me, I’d let myself go. This was my worst nightmare, a family weekend away, ending in the beginning of a minor relapse. The important thing here is that by now my healthy self was strong enough to recognize what was happening. I shared with my partner and on arriving home, reached out to my key support people for assistance in getting back on track, Quickly.
Take Home Message:
Life is never always smooth sailing; ups and downs are to be expected; it’s called living. The same message is valuable when thinking about ED recovery. Unfortunately, it’s not a straight path, it’s bumpy and full of ups and downs. It can be downright ugly. As everyone keeps reminding me; relapses are to be expected and are not an indication of failure. In my case and as I expect for many others, I didn’t want to believe this could happen to me. “I’ll be the exception,” I told myself. The thought of being dragged back to that ED prison was simply too much, yet here I am today (February 2020) admitting that I am experiencing a relapse.
Just as I was feeling like maybe this time I’m truly on my way, my ED has managed to regain some power, and regrettably, I’ve taken a few steps back. My ED is trying to take control again, he won’t shut up, he’s clinging to me, he doesn’t want to become irrelevant in my world.
The picture featured in this blog is of one of my children making her way through a huge hedge maze. She’s having a ball but this moment became significant for me for another reason. There is a message here. Which path will I choose to take? Turn left and back into ED’s total control, or perhaps I’m strong enough to choose the healthy-Sam path this time. Already I’ve told several people about my situation; they offer encouragement; I can call on them for reassurance. I’ve chosen to continue immersing myself in photography, allowing myself to get lost in its beauty and surprises. I will not let ED take this source of pleasure from me. I have not regressed into the isolation of my home. I have not turned to reducing food, likewise I haven’t turned to it for comfort. I’m continuing with my life, ED thoughts and all, and I am trusting in good faith that this stage soon will be over.