Here’s what I had in my draft for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week:
It’s mental health awareness week and the theme is body image (yikes).
Monday – did not apologise for body hair to nurse
Tuesday – was happy to have takeaway even though that wasn’t the plan I made
Wednesday – no bra, big nipples
Ah, yes, excellent. That week I was thrilled to find myself practicing Recovery™ activities. Let’s unpick this for World Eating Disorder Day.
This post can’t be called ‘what they don’t tell you about recovery’ because, for once, I think they do tell you. I find it hard to believe someone can turn around and say ‘recovery is easy, get cracking’! The behaviours sure, maybe we’ve all read or heard the ‘just eat the damn thing already’, but recovery itself? Nah. The sheer amount of willpower, the choices (great and small – all relative), the amount of money, time, patience, diligence, the internal power struggles, the defence you have to put up for yourself – all in a world where in fact, your disorder may not be an irrational reaction to have. So why don’t we hear about the intricacies of how very hard it is? Where are the personal narratives? Whenever I read [short] recovery stories in a newspaper or online news publication or even in academic literature it’s about Entry and Exit. That’s how the eating disorder or behaviours began (the Entry) – then a bit of you middle re: how terrible life was – and recovery !! life is so much better now !! hear about my achievements !! (the Exit). Usually written by someone who is, or is presenting themselves as, very comfortable and confident in their status of Recovered Person.
The entry/exit story is irritating. As are many highly publicised, too-good-to-be-true recovery stories, even if they are real and genuine. I sound bitter because I am! Stories like this make me second guess where I am in my own recovery, and sometimes even if I am recovered at all (and then we have the whole ‘well who gets to determine that anyway?’). I’m recovered in that I’m disengaged from behaviours, so much so that I wouldn’t fulfil any clinical ED checklist, but I’m still not having a very nice time, which I find very disappointing indeed. From where I stand, I sometimes seemed a lot more productive as an eating disordered person. At least, if anything, I was “working on myself”, as they say (please do see Orbach, Bodies, for comments on working on the body as labour). I also don’t seem to have achieved very much, in any sense. At the end of a day of doing sod all, no revision, not teaching myself all the stats class content I missed because I was busy being a recluse, the messages I haven’t replied to and emails I’ve ignored for weeks, I can’t really turn around and say “well, I didn’t throw it up!” Who cares. The banality of recovery is real, though apparently not real enough, seeing as above I was going to write a whole blog post on my personal victories of not apologising to a medical professional for not shaving, eating a takeaway and choosing to not wear a bra. Between the body hair and bra refusal it may as well be the ’70s. Is a sense of achievement deserved for such tiny victories, is trying to celebrate them sincere or just distracting me from a bigger picture?
The reality for me, and I imagine the reality for a lot of people who have (or had?) eating disorders or some form of disordered eating, is our experiences have, overall, been fairly mundane. I had an eating disorder for a very long time but there were phases when it wasn’t particularly present. It used to bring me a shame that I could feel in my actual joints to say: I have never been underweight. I have never been an inpatient. Some of us will never receive formal treatment or a diagnosis. Some of us will never tick all of those boxes (that some of us care very much about, some of us don’t know about and some do not give a single shit about). It takes indescribable willpower to not crowbar in symptoms or lengths of time or things I did or weights to try and justify the severity of my eating disorder. But does an eating disorder need to be severe to justify a need for a recovery, are some recoveries smaller than others and if so, does that make them less interesting or impressive or important?