It’s no secret that the pandemic and ensuing isolation has been difficult for all of us. And it has resulted in a sharp increase in mental illness. My friends have shared the impact COVID 19 has had on their lives; it often includes depression. The pandemic has hugely effected the mental health of many.
It also comes as no surprise that eating disorders are on the rise during COVID. Uncertainty, anxiety, possible job loss, social limitations, and financial hardships are common. All of which can be triggering to those suffering from an eating disorder. On top of that, ED thrives in secrecy, making quarantine an ideal environment to practice eating disorder behaviors unnoticed.
Mental Health Affected by a Pandemic
I’ve had an eating disorder for almost 17 years. Heading into the pandemic, I was able to maintain a healthy weight for the longest stretch since my eating disorder began. Many of my disordered eating patterns lay dormant and I was doing recovery as best as I could. Hobbies and relationships existed where anorexia once took up time and space.
I initially did well in quarantine. But as it lingered on, I found myself slowly turning back to old habits when I was lonely. A skipped meal here and there. An extra work-out on occasion to burn off a meal. In a world of unknowns, my eating disorder felt familiar and comforting. The more I stayed inside and isolated, the more the behaviors increased. I found solace in binges and relief in purging. I found the control I craved by withholding meals. I found numbness from the loneliness in self-harm. And I found disconnection from reality one night in a bottle of pills. ED became my closest friend in the times when no one was around to encourage me to eat. Life as we know it was gone, so I went back to the ED life as I knew it.
Getting Help for Mental Health During a Pandemic
I am now in treatment for the fifth time. In conversations with other patients, I’ve heard a similar story about how the pandemic became a breeding ground for those of us with eating disorders. From college students alone and unable to meet friends in person to people losing jobs, ED reared his ugly head. Deceitfully promising he would fix our problems if we just starve ourselves a little more.
But it’s not the answer to dealing with the new normal. It has never been the answer to dealing with life at all.
Despite the myriad of triggers and opportunities for ED that this crazy pandemic has provided, recovery is still possible.
It is possible to not know the future and still eat. It’s possible to crave connection and treat your body with compassion. It’s possible to feel lost and lonely and find your identity outside of ED. Yes- it’s truly possible to be a strong, never-giving-up-or-quitting kind of person who finally says goodbye to ED during a life changing global pandemic.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health During a Pandemic
While the end of the pandemic is in sight, how do we continue to confront the eating disorder in the interim? Several things have been helpful for me. I reconnected with old friends over Zoom and looked forward to the laughter, levity, and shared experiences. While I am often hesitant to share my struggles, people can be far more sympathetic than you realize and they often need encouragement as well.
I started volunteering at an animal shelter where I walk dogs, clean kennels, and get to cuddle puppies. Working on tasks for others and caring for animals gets me out of the ED headspace and reminds me that the world is far bigger than my eating disorder. Even if it was a small amount, I spent time outdoors each day. I am fortunate to live near Lake Michigan and staring out at the vast body of water always calms my anxiety and quiets the ED voice.
Lastly, I learned to practice self-care and self-compassion. It can feel uncomfortable since we often believe that we are undeserving of compassion or do not like ourselves. But you can start by finding just one thing that you appreciate about yourself and give that part grace and love.