Holidays, Happy Birthdays, & Holding Space for YOU
Our latest first person blog is courtesy of Abigail, who had a packed Easter weekend of birthdays and seasonal celebrations.
"It’s been quite the weekend in my house.
There’s been Easter, of course, with all its chocolatey, hot cross bun and roast dinner-filled chaos, and I have two young children so the excitement of finding foil-wrapped treats in shoes, bushes, hats, cupboards and flower pots was pretty…loud.
But it’s also been both my sons’ birthdays. I started the bank holiday weekend with a 1 and a 6 year old, and finished it with a 2 and a 7 year old.
It’s their second birthday in a row of no parties thanks to Covid (the most poopish of party poopers in the history of the world), so celebrations were fairly minimal, but even a global pandemic can’t prevent the wonderful-if-overstimulating sea of wrapping paper, Party Rings, offensively-bright plastic toys and cake mountain that inevitably accompanies the marking of another year of a child’s (or in this case, two children’s) lives.
This bundle of noise, sugar, fun, balloons, lack of routine and chocolate for breakfast (…lunch, and dinner) would be exhausting and potentially pretty nerve-shredding for any parent, but for someone with an eating disorder (that someone is me), it presented untold challenges and sources of anxiety which most likely wouldn’t even feature on the radar of those who don’t suffer from one of these joy-extinguishing illnesses.
I’m a decent way into recovery and am in a good place now in terms of eating regularly, eating a huge variety of foods, eating with others, being flexible about when I eat, eating on the hoof and – perhaps most crucially for me – not compensating before or after eating, and especially “event” eating.
Gone are the days of “undoing the damage” of a bigger-than-average food day with a gruelling run or a skipped breakfast.
I can be pretty flexible, ordering a spontaneous takeaway, accepting an unexpected snack or rustling up a meal from whatever happens to be in the fridge that day, but I would be lying if I said this weekend didn’t bring with it a special delivery of eating-disorder anxiety.
I am well able to cope with a day or two of more “challenging” eating now, but 4 solid days of meal after meal of celebratory food, no time to myself, no mind-clearing walks on the beach at the bottom of my road, overexcited children and yet another slice of cake for pudding did noticeably get my eating disorder’s back up and open the door to something of a bombardment of “WHAT?! You can’t possibly be eating Mini Eggs AGAIN”s, “You’re telling me you’re not even going to leave the house after putting away those Nutella pancakes for breakfast?”s and “ANOTHER birthday cupcake? Are you KIDDING ME?”s, from that other great party pooper, anorexia.
So how did I deal with it? How did I keep going? How did I stop myself from getting sucked down the plughole of giving into the disordered thoughts?
Well, I did something that doesn’t come very naturally to me:
I focussed on what *I* wanted.
I don’t mean that I ignored my kids’ requests and hopes or shut myself away in my bedroom and left my husband to celebrate with the boys by himself or ate my own special “safe” meals while everyone else was tucking into the good stuff.
And I don’t mean that I focussed on what anorexia wanted.
No; I dug deep and consistently asked myself what the real, healthy, innately-wise and non-disordered me wanted, both in that moment and in the future.
Does the real me want to have Nutella pancakes with my 7 year old on his special day?
Well yes, of course, because pancakes are delicious and sharing them with people I love beyond measure is exactly the life I want to live.
Does the real me want to get up early and go for a run on Easter Sunday to “earn” the chocolate I’ll be putting away?
Erm no; I want to be able to stay in bed and wait for my excited children to come and snuggle up and ask if the Easter Bunny has been.
Does the real me want to say yes to my little one’s request for a messy, toddler-planned picnic lunch of Hula Hoops, Iced Gems and jam sandwiches on the living room floor, surrounded by crumpled Minion wrapping paper and watch his eyes sparkle as he can’t believe his luck? Yes, yes I do.
You get the idea.
Asking myself what I truly want, both now and in the future, and then choosing the action which reflects that and NOT the critical, punishing, routine-obsessed thinking of my eating disorder isn’t a magic bullet. It doesn’t immediately eradicate the anxiety and distress that arises from defying the siren call of my illness.
It doesn’t instantly allow me to bathe in a glow of contentment and joy.
But it does create a small, quiet, almost imperceptible flicker of a sense of having done the right thing. Of having lived out my real values. Of having invested in myself and my family. Of having honoured my desires and priorities. Of having shared my genuine personality. Of having been…me.
And if you’re reading this and thinking “but I don’t even know who I am any more”, “the illness is my whole identity now”, “what if I can’t work out what I want or like?” or “that will never work for me”, please know that I have been there, I have believed that and I have felt utterly and all-consumingly hopeless for a very long time.
And I would encourage you to ask yourself this: if the real you has gone completely, if you are 100% your illness and if there is none of your unique, complex, interested, capable, loved, funny, compassionate and creative self left, who is it that is here reading a recovery-focussed blog, looking for answers or hope or the tiniest glimmer of possibility of health?
Who is it that has found the strength to survive the previous day, the previous hour or the previous minute, even if it has felt excruciatingly dark? Who is it that is at the other end of the rope in the tug of war with the disordered thoughts and demands?
The voice of your innate, healthy self may be very, very quiet right now. It may be practically silent after months, years or decades of having been drowned out by the arrogant, destructive and abusive drill-sergeant bellow of your eating disorder. But its whisper IS still there.
It’s always there.
And it will be there whenever you are ready to start getting curious and seeing what happens if you give it just a little bit more airtime than what may have been the loudest, most dominant and tediously-if-reassuringly-familiar repetitive voice in your mind for what might feel like an impossibly long time."
- Apr 2021