You matter, so damn much: Why you need to recover

Why do you need to recover? You need to because you must. During my recovery, I told myself constantly that I had two options- push forward in my recovery or die. When you are fully recovered and you look back on your years under the control of ED, you will not want to turn back. That is not to say that you would have a perfect life beyond your ED. You won’t. But the difference is that as a recovered person, you will learn to live with life’s imperfections and marvel at the beauty of diversity and difference.

You will cry, but you will also laugh.

You will fall down, but pull yourself back up.

You will sometimes feel inadequate, but there will be this subtle, kind voice within you that whispers, “it’s okay”.

And that’s the biggest thing I gained out of my recovery.

The ability to tell myself that it’s okay.

Because really, it is.

You will appreciate the impermanence of things,

The temporary sadness of loss,

But above all,

The beauty of letting go.

This, my dear, is why you need to recover.

Because to let go is to embrace freedom and happiness.

And in case you have forgotten,

You are so deeply loved,

And your happiness and ability to love yourself matter so damn much.

I hope you realise that.

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My first Eating Disorder support group session

I recently attended my first ever ED support group session in the position of a survivor and anorexia recovered. I was never exposed to hospital-based treatment, and never really spoke to another ED survivor in person. This was an eye-opening experience and I have learnt that I have much to learn. One particular participant, Grace (not her real name), taught me something through her very frank, yet emotional and genuine articulation of her feelings. She was in tears, and I guess she was scared and frustrated at the same time. But Grace, I hope you read this, and understand that you’ve taught me something so valuable, and I will remember it. And in the meantime, pick up your ED warrior sword and fight. It’s not over as long as you’re still with us today.

[All names are changed for the privacy of these beautiful people]

My first ED support group: Reflections

In Feb 2017, I attended an ED support group session at a hospital in Singapore. It was my first time, and I wanted or hoped to inspire people with my experience and give them advice on how to push forward in recovery.

We sat down in a little circle (maybe 6-7 people) and talked about what each of us was going through and how all of us fared through the festive season of Chinese New Year. I shared some of my advice based some of the concerns which the participants voiced (e.g. finding your bearings after recovery) and they looked comforted after that, which was heartening to me. Another participant, Kristen, who was far in her recovery, shared some of hers’ too. Amelia, a survivor and Anorexia recovered, came down with her best friend, Amirah, who had fallen into ED’s pernicious trap as well.

But most didn’t really notice the two remaining participants tucked in within the circle, Grace and Leila. Leila said that she wasn’t in the mood to speak, and before long she was in tears. Grace was quiet the entire way, until finally she spoke. That was when we found out, that she was in her 40s and had been battling her ED for more than 18 years.

Grace told us very frankly how she envied us, because we were able to detect our problem and start recovery (and for some of us, successfully recover) when we were so young. She even admitted to us that it made her feel uncomfortable and quite irritated when loving parents ask ED therapists how long recovery would “normally take”. Because in reality, there just isn’t a “normally”.

I looked down instantly and stared at the back of my hands as she spoke. I realised that I had not considered how vastly different Grace’s recovery would have been from that of the rest of us. I realised that apart from recognising the fact that EDs come in all sizes, recovery comes in all forms too. I felt very sad and a little disappointed in myself for failing to recognise that Grace had a different story to tell, and that her story did not necessarily coincide with the stories of the rest. And importantly, that the rest of our stories, no matter how inspiring and personal, could even serve to alienate Grace from the group.

I am grateful for Grace, and for the reminder she gave to all of us. Even though my ED story is highly personal, at the end of the day a single story won’t ring true and fit into the hearts of everyone. But you know what will? Knowledge and sensitivity. Always being open to learning how different people from vastly different backgrounds and conditions live their lives, and always gladly submitting ourselves to the fact that we don’t know everything, and have much to learn. When it comes to EDs and recovery, despite my personal and unique experience to me, it’s really not about me at all. Instead, it’s about us.

And the last very essential thing I learnt is the idea of privilege. Before the support group began, there was a mass sharing by a lovely couple who had a 14 year old daughter suffering from Anorexia. They chronicled her recovery process with the painstaking, unconditional devotion of her parents.

They were a beautiful couple and their eyes brimmed with the joy and nostalgic pain of parents who have lifted their child out of adversity. But one thing their sharing suggested- which initially made a lot of sense- didn’t go down well with me after Grace gave me the wakeup call. It was that good family relationships is the most important element in a successful recovery. I understand why this would be suggested. Relationships with others are powerful and that couple had first-hand insight into the healing properties of kinship. But perhaps they should have added that it wasn’t the most important thing or the one thing you needed. Because ultimately, even though familial bonds are precious and magical, they are not the one and only gospel truth in recovery. And it’s important that we let people know that. Because there are people like Grace, who’ve been struggling for years, who have lost their friends, and who slowly feel further apart from people. Many people do not have the privilege of full-on family love and devotion.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m in no little way saying that family is not important. Family is so important. In fact, it is the most important for so many people. But what I’m saying is that some people don’t have this privilege. And you know what’s true when it comes to recovery, or overcoming anything at all? The real strength (and the most important) lies in YOU.

Grace, if you’re reading this, remember that the most important thing is within you. During my recovery, my closest of kin did not have even a bit of understanding of my condition, I admit. And there was never any good communication when it came to my ED or recovery. But looking back, I don’t blame them. Because I harnessed my own light within me. It’s possible to be MY own best friend during recovery. When you are true to YOURself, you can conquer anything. And Grace, if you’re reading this, please realise that your ED/ duration of recovery do NOT determine your worth. The fact that you’re still here with us after 18 years signifies that you haven’t given up. Even after 18 years, you’re still fighting. I just hope you know how amazing you are.

7 Myths on Eating Disorders

These myths ring so true for me and these are the things I’ve learnt after recovering from an ED. I hope this helps people!

xoxo,

Celeste

(Got some views on my ED story and it was encouraging hehe)

7 Eating Disorder Myths

  1. Only rich 15-16 year old girls get EDs

This is wrong. EDs do NOT discriminate based on age, gender, income or ethnicity. An ED does not have a standardised appearance.

  1. Only people that have a Body Mass Index of below xx have an ED

EDs are mental illnesses. The underweight condition is a POSSIBLE side-effect, but it is not a DEFINITE one. People suffering from EDs battle wars within their own heads, and this is something an outsider (who doesn’t carefully observe and listen) will not be able to detect. Because of this assumption, many bigger people are not treated with the extra care, concern and sensitivity they need and deserve.

  1. BMI matters at all

The limited legitimacy of BMI as an indicator of health has been revealed in recent years. BMI is not grounded in medical evidence and is not based on science. In fact, BMI was created by a statistician, only to be unfortunately endorsed by healthcare systems later on. “Health” is not reflected by a numerical indicator or a particular appearance. Health is at all sizes, and everyone is born with a genetically pre-determined weight set point which the body will fight to maintain, regardless of whether the BMI CLAIMS it to be healthy or not. Your weight is the healthiest weight!

  1. EDs are caused by thin models in the media

EDs are complex neurological anxiety disorders, and the cause of EDs are still unknown today. Thin models in the media may perpetuate the fat-phobic culture (more on that later) that thrives in our society, but it does not “cause” EDs. It is also important to note that nobody “chooses” to get an ED. It’s not a conscious choice that anyone makes.

  1. Recovery from an ED is possible by having strict meal plans and …

One thing about ED recovery is that it’s not all about the food. It’s also about how the food is consumed. Strict meal plans which I’ve heard about many patients being given will only contribute to the mental rigidity that is a part of the ED in the first place. Remember, again, that these are mental illnesses. They control people through rules, restrictions and punishments. Instead, health is FREEDOM. And recovery is encouraging that freedom.

  1. …maintaining a “healthy” BMI after gaining “enough weight”

Refer to myth #3. Your doctor, the healthcare system will not know what is “enough weight” for YOUR body. Only your body will know, and it will take care of how much weight you need to gain. You don’t need to think one bit about what weight you have to be restored to. Your body is amazing as it is and it will fight to protect you.

  1. After being weight restored, I can start to exercise and go on that vegan diet I’ve always wanted to

Firstly, tread carefully when using the phrase “weight restored”. How do you know you’re truly weight restored? As someone with an ED, you may be tempted to gain a certain amount of weight, decide “this is enough”, and call yourself “weight restored” just because you appear to be okay. I am a survivor of Anorexia, so I understand. But please believe me- DON’T fall into this trap. If you really want to recover, trust your body to decide when you really are weight restored.

Let’s say you truly are weight restored, and you want to exercise and go vegan. Please remember that your recovery is MENTAL as much as it’s physical. Why do you want to exercise and why do you want to go vegan? Because you love exercise and you want to be ethical? Ask yourself this again. Are you sure it’s not even in the least ED-driven?

For me, I rarely exercise. The most exercise I’ve done was a 4 minutes jog in the last 1 year. And I consistently make a personal choice to eat anything that’s available. Whether that is fries, burgers, noodles or pasta. This is my lifestyle. And I love it and it’s the best for me.

So you see, our lifestyles are all different, but make sure that once you’ve recovered, you adopt the lifestyle for YOU and YOU alone. ED has absolutely no place in the life you have regained. Maintaining your mental health after recovery is so immensely important.