Anyone who knows me will tell you that slow doesn’t equal better in my book. When I want something, I want it immediately and I will do everything in my power to get it. This was also true for my recovery from an eating disorder. Patience is a skill I have yet to master.
My incessant need for things to happen immediately is part of the reason I am terrible at word problems, the kind you do in math or chemistry. I see the problem and immediately think, “Nope too long. I can’t see the solution to this problem right away, therefore, it’s impossible. I can’t do it and the world is going to end.”
Okay, that last part is a little exaggerated. But you get the point.
Recovering from any mental illness is exponentially slow. In my perfect world I would just say, “I proclaim that I am now recovered,” and I would be recovered. (Well, in a perfect world I would actually not have anything to recover from, but you know.)
Sadly, the world isn’t like that. Instead, we’re left to deal with the day to day inconvenience of not having things happen at lightning speed.
On top of all this, I’m also a bit of a perfectionist.
The need for instant gratification and perfectionism is a lethal combination when it comes to successfully fighting an eating disorder.
The perfect patient
When I first decided I was going to recover from my ED I also decided I was going to be the perfect recoveree. Instead of having strict eating disorder rules, I made strict recovery rules.
Nicole’s rules for recovery:
NO calorie counting
DON’T tell anyone how miserable you feel
NO making yourself sick
DON’T be afraid (Of anything: weight gain, food, of not exercising…)
I was determined to be completely cured, right away. ASAP. As you can imagine, this whole plan didn’t go over well.
ED is a sneaky little fella. And I think deep down, I knew these rules were setting me up for failure.
Why isn’t this working?
Hours of therapy have made me realize that there is a pattern to my madness. I relapse into my eating disorder, manage to get back on my feet again, thrust myself into the world of full recovery, and end up right back on my butt again.
For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why I kept falling. Things would be going so well, I would be challenging myself, eating foods that I was afraid of, limiting my workouts, and then suddenly something stressful would happen.
I would crash and burn.
After a long period of confusion, I finally figured it out.
It is best explained in an analogy: I chose to take the black diamond trail to recovery when I had not even mastered the bunny hill. Half-way down the trail I would realize it was too steep and give up.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Basically, I was driving myself insane continuously trying to tackle the black diamond.
Taking it slow in recovery
With that in mind, I’m now trying my hardest to take things slow. And I ‘m happy to say I’m on the road to recovery, and this time I’m doing things differently.
For example, one of my biggest goals this entire year was to eat three regular meals a day. It’s what most people do; it’s totally normal. Yet for me, 3 meals a day was (and to an extent still is) uncharted territory.
9 years of pure fear and anxiety is not going to disappear overnight.
Right now, challenging myself in every way just isn’t going to work. Making slower, smaller changes doesn’t mean I’m not making progress though.
Finals are an exceptionally stressful time. And if you’re wondering, yes, I HAVE been eating 3 times a day during exam time. WOOHOO!
This may not seem like a huge accomplishment to your average Joe, but this is monumental for me.
Okay, this is a win, but that doesn’t mean that everything about these meals is perfect. For me to actually accomplish this task, most of the food I eat has to be food that I consider “safe.”
For those who don’t know eating disorder lingo, “safe food” is basically any food that you can eat without feeling like you committed a crime.
So, since I’m eating mostly safe foods, am I even making any progress?
“I’m a failure!”
I’m writing about this because sometimes I feel incredibly guilty; like I’m failing at recovery. “Well if I’m eating mostly safe food right now, then I’m not really recovering.”
I am recovering because I’m consistently challenging myself and taking little steps towards recovery each day.
Take this as an example: My campus has two popular fast food restaurants that are popular dinner alternatives to the dining hall. During the first semester, I didn’t eat at either one. But this semester, I challenged myself to try going once to one of them each week. And now, I’m able to eat at one of them at least once a week. ONCE A WEEK. THAT IS HUGE. WHICH IS WHY I AM WRITING THIS IN ALL CAPS. Because man, that’s a big deal!
I won’t go into all my irrational fears about the other restaurant, because obviously they are irrational and make no sense. What matters is that I am not failing at recovery, even if I have these fears.
Au contrarie, my dears. This is the longest time I have gone managing meals like a normal non-eating disordered human. Woah.
I’m tempted to get into thought patterns of feeling like a failure in recovery by simply focusing on one thing I may not have mastered. But in doing that, I fail to recognize all the major ways I am making progress.
Slow recovery may be best
Recovering from a mental illness or not, instant gratification is rare. And perfection simply does not exist. Everything we do takes time and everything we do can’t be done perfectly.
There are two ways to look at it. Either we are failing because we did not get the results we wanted when we wanted them, or we’re winning because we’re still trying.
In a way, it’s really a glass half full or half empty situation. For now, my glass is half full. And I hope yours is too.