The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the worlds of all of us. Everyone has faced distinctive challenges, obstacles, and learning opportunities. For me, I relapsed from my eating disorder during the pandemic. I know that my experience is relatable to lots of other people. Eating disorder struggles skyrocketed in the last few years, relapses were high. Here is a snippet of my experience, along with a few lessons that I learned.
The beginning of the pandemic
At the height of the pandemic, life changed quickly. Shifting to working from home, ordering groceries online, and being isolated was typical for most. For those with eating disorders, it became easier to avoid social gatherings and to be invisible to those who would notice changes. For myself, I knew what was going on. I was struggling with my anorexia nervosa once again. Deep down, I admit that I could clearly see weight loss and my downward spiral. The obsessive calorie thoughts, fear of foods, and sadness crept back in, one day at a time. One night, as I was laying on the couch, I literally felt my heart beating through my chest. I hit rock bottom and knew that a big change was crucial to get my health back on track.
The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic
But where do you even start? I knew that there were other options besides admitting myself to the local hospital. I started doing research on programs, insurance coverage specifics and scheduled myself a PCP appointment. At the same time, I investigated numerous inpatient residential programs but knew that it would be a huge challenge if I wanted to keep my job and a sense of normalcy at home for my toddler son.
For my situation, it was important that I learned how to make positive changes in my usual environment. If I left for months, I did not feel that I would learn fully how to stay recovered. Let’s face it, I work full-time and have a wild toddler, so I wanted to get help in managing my health for my real day-to-day life.
The Covid-19 pandemic threw me off course, and I was determined to get myself back on track without giving up everything. Of course, this approach may not be the best for everyone struggling with eating disorders, but it was something that I wanted to investigate further. During the height of the pandemic, it was also challenging to get help in a hospital, and programs all over the country were filled with waiting lists. I did not have many choices, so a ‘homegrown’ approach was my best chance of recovery.
Building a support network
Thinking through what a formalized inpatient program would look like, I started to build my own team of providers. I reached out to a dietician that I had seen in the past and made frequent therapy appointments. I also called a former physician that I had seen during my teenage years and had him speak with my husband about how to help. We stocked up on foods that would be supportive of my health and put a plan in place. With this ‘homegrown’ approach, there were lots of check-in points baked in to ensure that I did not slide back. Some of the things that I incorporated were daily meal journals, weekly weight checks, and leaning on adding in nutritional supplements.
A new chapter started! I began to quickly develop new habits, and boy was it hard! I knew it would be a challenge whether I was in a different state or right at home with my support system, but it was tough. Throughout the process, I kept in touch with my team daily, and whenever stuff just got hard.
Small steps every day
Even though each day was tough, my family and life kept me motivated. I was grateful to keep a semblance of normalcy while tackling this relapse period. Month after month, I felt my strength and happiness returning. There were times when I would fumble a little but having a team in place kept me focused. My support system would encourage me or question things that they noticed. It was important to have those checks and balances, and I have kept many of those resources to this day. Throughout this process, I learned many helpful lessons that might also help you find yourself in a similar situation.
1. Consider your options
First, do your research and consider all options. Pull in your support system and talk through what you need. I was not convinced that going away for treatment was the best option for me. Everyone is different, but don’t be afraid to give thought to an approach that may work for you. The Covid-19 pandemic has also opened virtual health options that may be supportive. Research away!
2 Find your motivation
Next, pinpoint what motivates you. I was encouraged by being at home with my son and continuing my career path. Those things motivated me enough to keep pushing daily. It may not always be that simple, but think about what makes you want to recover for good. Remind yourself all the time about why you are doing the hard work.
3. Use your voice
Finally, use your voice. That is your superpower through this process. You know yourself best, so advocate for what you need. If someone offers their help, take it without guilt. Ask for a meal, a babysitter, or a ride to an appointment. If you don’t feel supported by a medical professional, seek change. Use your voice to support your path. You are worth it, and your health is important.