How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
The issue that’s really been worrying me this week is integrity. Integrity and honesty have always been core values for me and, at the moment, they’re being challenged.
As I write this column and talk to other eating disorder sufferers I passionately want to offer hope and light at the end of the tunnel. But am I fraudulent in telling people that things can change, that recovery is possible when I’m struggling to believe it for myself?
At the moment I feel bleak. I’ve tried so many ways of helping myself. I’ve asked professionals for help, and they’ve been great, but now I seem to have exhausted their resources.
Suffering from depression and writing this column are at loggerheads, triggering a familiar voice that tells me “You are a fraud”. I’ve suffered from depression for much longer than an eating disorder, but now the two have become a destructive couple triggering each other off. I feel depressed so I binge or starve. I feel depressed because I’ve binged or starved.
I was tempted to search the web for research into the comorbidity of eating disorders and depression but stopped myself. That would be too typical. Doing thorough research and academically presenting the fact so that no one actually sees me. I don’t need to research the subject, I live it every day.
I have many friends with eating disorders who don’t get depressed. Sometimes I wonder if the eating disorder is protecting them from it. I am baffled by that but my view stems from a personality which, I think, inherently leans towards pessimism. Life has sometimes reinforced this leaning and I have seized on it as further evidence that there is little to be happy about. It’s an unhelpful view but I suppose I think that, if I’m hopeless, at least I can’t be hurt by disappointment.
For me, depression at its worst means struggling to function, seeing no point to anything, no hope for the future and even wanting to die. Thankfully, depression isn’t always at its worst. Unfortunately it’s pretty far down there at the moment and this is where my battle with integrity comes in.
Eating disorders can be seen as synonymous with dishonesty. It can be part of the illness to lie about having already eaten or that you’re going to eat later. I used to be pretty smug because, until I was hospitalised I never met these “typical” criteria I read about. I was anorexic but I never lied to anyone, or so I thought.
Looking back, I can see that I didn’t lie because I lived alone and no one was questioning me about my eating. I did deceive people though, by saying I was okay. But is it deception if you actually believe you are okay? In hospital deception was rife and I learnt from some of the best.
The lengths people went to in order to hide or avoid eating food were unbelievable and, yes, I was pretty good at hiding food myself. This behaviour threatened to erode my sense of integrity, but the eating disorder was stronger.
I often clawed back some of my integrity by disarming nurses with my honesty when challenged. They would enquire after a missing potato expecting defensive arguments about having already eaten it and would be thrown when “Aimee, where’s your potato?” was answered with “up my sleeve.”
It wasn’t that I wanted to deceive, I just didn’t want to have an argument about a decision I had already made.
Strangely, right now, I’m thinking less about eating in this state of hopelessness. I suppose when my anorexic self wants to lose four stone and feels defeated and crushed in its pursuit, minor weight changes become meaningless. If anorexia can’t have what it wants, it tells me that I don’t care anymore.
Yet the fact that I truly do care about the lack of control I’m now experiencing may be one factor maintaining my depression. I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.
A part of me hates my weight. But I can't bring myself to return to anorexia completely, although I don't believe that I can have a satisfying life beyond it.
Although I feel this hopelessness for myself, I am still unable to deny that recovery is possible. I have met so many amazing people who have successfully made the journey. Caveats of disbelief like “They can’t have been as ill as I was” or “they can’t be telling the whole truth” have been blown out of the water as I’ve heard their stories.
These are people who have hit rock bottom and, not only do I trust them when they tell me they’ve recovered, I see the evidence in their lives every day. Life isn’t perfect for any of these people but they have found that life, without an eating disorder, is worth having.
Believing these truths for other people at times when I can’t hold onto them for myself doesn’t make me a fraud. I don’t think. It makes me someone who is fighting an eating disorder through the distorted lenses of depression and self-doubt.
At the moment I’ve lost sight of recovery as a possibility for me but maybe I can find it again through the hope I genuinely have for others. Maybe, as I speak that hope to others I am partly speaking it to myself.
Hope is an interesting entity. However microscopic it may be, if it exists at all, it has the power to transform lives. Hope must exist in me somewhere because I’m still here and I know that lives change. I hope that knowing that fact, if only for others gives me enough integrity to have the right to support and encourage others.
I suppose I am also finding my integrity in being honest here and now. Denial and secrecy are huge parts of eating disorders and I don’t think anyone is helped by denying our most desperate moments.