I’m a firm believer that healing doesn’t have to look a certain way. I think it’s easy to assume (even without realizing it) that because physical healing has an outwardly observable and measurable trajectory that mental or emotional healing should be similar. However, in making this assumption we undermine the importance of the diversity of individual experience and erroneously misevaluate the nature of the process.
Personally, I can objectively accept that mental and physical conditions are quite different and necessarily don’t have an identifying “look”, but I have trouble truly believing it. I still beat myself up for not progressing fast enough, for struggling when I think I shouldn’t, or for feeling lost and unsure. Most incongruently, I feel like its hard to appreciate mental or emotional healing because it often feels so uncomfortable.
My logical brain is dying for a road-map of the path I should take but it seems like it’s one of those things you can really only learn from doing, trying, failing, and looking back to put all the pieces together in order to decide how to take you next steps. I guess simply put – life’s complicated and much to my chagrin, too complicated to fit into a neat little box or to follow a step-by-step guide created by anyone else.
In trying to accept this uncertainty, I’ve been challenged to explore why I so desperately feel the need to *try and impose order on my life, and why I’m so scared of the unknown. Accordingly, in giving consideration to this, I’ve necessarily had to dive deep into the messy parts of myself and confront where all the mistrust comes from which, let me tell you, has not been easy. However, I’m beginning to accept that I might not have all the answers, even when it comes to myself, but that’s okay. There can be grace in not knowing and there is silent revolution in taking steps forward despite fear and self-doubt. It can be empowering to work on yourself and build fundamental trust in who you are so you can move beyond knowing that you will be by your own side.
It’s not easy to build a home within yourself, especially lacking blueprints, but there is value in finding somewhere that feels safe amidst the volatility of the world. Cultivating an inner calmness offers an opportunity to relieve ourselves of the difficulty of trying to extract reassurance from the external world. Those of us who have suffered, and might have even been told that “we have nothing to be sad or anxious about” know better than others that despite outward abundance, our souls can still starve. Reassuringly, in much the same way, amidst disorder and contradiction we might find comfort in holding peace within and preserving our inner truth. Even if it’s not perfect, you can try, and at least recognize that the way things appear is not all there is.
Everyone’s experience is different, because personal growth is just that – personal, and our endless idiosyncrasies in no way invalidate any one experience, no matter how different or similar to another.
I write this for my own benefit because I can’t be reminded of it enough. Even though I think I believe it, it’s something I have been struggling to live in accordance with. In particular, eating disorders by nature can be very competitive, so it’s especially hard not to be constantly comparing my journey with that of others.
I will keep reminding myself of the importance of validating my own experience. I am taking power back from my disorder. I am re-gaining control by paradoxically letting go of it. If I continue living for my eating disorder’s validation I won’t be living much longer. If I continue seeking validation in perfection, I will forever feel like I’m falling short. If I keep searching for myself where I’ve already looked, I know I will never find her.
It already feels like it has been a long process and I know I’m just getting started, but it helps to be reminded of how far I have already come to know that there is hope in continuing.
Everyone starts from somewhere different so naturally, not all progress looks the same, but that just means that the validity of our hard work can’t be invalidated by falling short of any mould. If it feels like progress to you – celebrate it. Add it to the growing reservoir of evidence suggesting that you actually can do it. Recognize that even when things feel like losses, there might be more to the story.
Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing.
Just because you fail doesn’t mean you’re not trying.
Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you aren’t learning or still making progress.
If you’re lucky you might have someone who can remind you of your progress when you can’t see it for yourself. But don’t stop looking – because you’re likely doing better than you think. Sometimes growth hurts before it heals, and only in retrospect can you appreciate the growing pains for what they were.
So instead of telling you how my eating habits or symptoms have changed over the past three years, I’m going to share some small changes that I recognize as happy consequences of little victories in my war against self-destruction. While not directly actions I’m taking to heal, they are consequences of trying to do so and I’m taking this post (for myself) to hype them up and celebrate them a little.
What little victories can you celebrate? What helps your appreciate your own progress?
I watch more tv
Yes, I said “more”. I dated my boyfriend for 7 or 8 months before we ever watched a movie together because I was always so afraid of letting myself slow down. Now we watch movies together frequently, and while I often do get the itch to get up and start being “productive” I know that I don’t have to give in to it.
I reaching out instead of withdrawing (sometimes)
This is one I’m proud to say I’ve been trying to do more of recently and since I’ve always been a socially anxious person it’s a relatively big change. In the spirit of practicing “opposite actions” I can recognize that the solution to feeling lonely isn’t to withdraw.
Yes I’m introverted, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need social interaction. I’m not going to let self-pity or introversion be excuses for me to neglect what I need anymore. Yes I might be anxious and insecure, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to spend time with others.
Most days, I get out of bed and brush my hair
This might sound silly to someone who doesn’t have an understanding of mental illness but there was a time when doing either of these things felt completely impossible.
It wasn’t a sudden transition from bed-ridden to well but rather a long process of small steps (forward and back). It was some spontaneous laughter that started to sneak up on me. It was like gradually coming back to life and starting to notice the smell of fresh air again or the sound of the birds chirping. At first just noticing, and now sometimes – truly appreciating. It evolved from not wanting to have a future, to considering if I even could, to accepting now that I probably will.
I drink a lot less coffee (and many more lattes)
A trade off of starting to try and take care of my body better is that I don’t need six coffees a day to keep me going anymore. Instead of relying on a continual dose of caffeine, I more mindfully enjoy my morning cup or an afternoon latte as a treat.
I drink less alcohol
Because it was plain and simply bad for my mental and physical health.
I get more sleep
Sometimes I feel like I must be the most boring twenty-something year old – getting early nights and not drinking, strikingly in contrast with that of most of my peers. That being said, I know how much my mood is susceptible to my sleeping patterns, and honestly, a lot of the time I’m truly just really tired. The moral of the story for me these past few years has been trying to notice and prioritize my own needs, and for my physical and mental health, sleep plays a big role. I’m thankful for the friends I have who are understanding of the choices I make in trying to honour what’s best for me and don’t make me feel like I’m so “broken”.
I exercise less
Recovering from an eating disorder seems to paradoxically go against a lot of common health advice, which is partly why I think it’s so hard to do but this is the first time in 14 years that I have taken a break from my sport. This hiatus has been important to help me start untangling my role as a competitive athlete from my identity and has allowed me some time to practice self-compassion in a lower-pressure environment.
I’m finding other hobbies
Having freed up a significant amount of time by cutting back on sports and school, I’ve had to explore new avenues to occupy my time in a more balanced way. I appreciate reading and listening to music much more than I used to and I’ve found some new, low-stakes ways to release creative energy by scrapbooking, writing, and baking. Interestingly, feeling like I’ve had my identity stripped away by giving up things I used to devote 100% of my free time to, has helped me realize that my hobbies contribute minimally to my identity as a person beyond helping me stay sane and allowing some personal development. I’m beginning to accept that it can be detrimental to pour everything I have into external pursuits and use them to derive a sense of identity. Beyond providing me with enjoyment, I really don’t have to worry so much.
I’m more honest about what I need and what I’m feeling
I’m still practicing being honest and forthcoming beyond with a select group of a few “safe” people but I’ve noticed with them I am more willing to speak my truth, or at least try. Of course, I don’t think this would have been possible if I wasn’t first trying to tap in and be honest with myself.