WHEN YOU’RE HAVING A HARD TIME, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING SAD, WHEN YOU’VE BEEN CRYING ALL NIGHT IN BED, READ THIS

I’ve been having an extremely difficult time lately. The past few weeks have been full of pain. I was desperately trying to heal my heart, while realising the horror that I had so many crucial priorities to attend to at the same time. I needed time and space to heal, but I felt deprived of it. My anxiety also took a resurgence and hit me again- hard. The distressing, extrapolating thoughts have been so all-consuming, I felt like I struggled to breathe. I’ve been feeling lonely and worthless. I felt fear, confusion and suffocating sadness.

That was when I stepped on the pause button. I said ENOUGH, and I took two whole hours to sit in my room to reflect and breathe. I unpacked my emotions and searched for my heart. Then I realised, that yes my heart was torn, but it was within the shredded margins of its fragments that I saw how much strength I was actually capable of harnessing. Every single piece of courage and resilience I need to get through anything in life is already within me. And this painful time of my life has revealed that, past the hurt of my raw wounds.

“And just when you thought this struggle was about to overcome your very being

think of all the strength and love you will stand for when you overcome it instead.”

I hope this reflection and statement of mine (which I wrote when I was feeling so vulnerable, lost, pained and alone) helps you. I love you.

I have to accept that I have flaws, struggles and fragility. I have to accept that things right now are rough, intense and overwhelming. I have to accept that healing takes time, and is not a linear path. I have to accept that whatever I am going through now is hard, and that I feel sad, lonely and anxious.

With all that, I have to know that I must be resilient. I must push on with patience, perseverance and self-love. I must understand that falling down is completely okay, and that setbacks do not ever predicate failure in life. I recognise, trust and believe that I have the immense ability to nurse the wounds of my heart and stitch them up where they were shredded. And when I am done, I will rise like the whole damn fire.

I choose to shine my light on other people. I choose to fill myself up with love, peace and joy. I choose to reserve that role for myself. I choose to recognise how freaking strong I am. And I choose to radiate hope onto all who cross my path. I choose to be that person, and in effect, I am being myself.

I choose love in the face of all pain, and I WILL get through this, no matter what.

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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.

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.