What Happens When You ‘Recover’ From Your Eating Disorder?
Undergoing treatment for an eating disorder, or any mental health illness for that matter, is not the same as taking a course of antibiotics for an infection and abstaining from alcohol for the ten days you are required to take them. Even if you are one of the few individuals who manages to secure a place of a NHS treatment programme for your eating disorder, there is no guarantee you will finish the 20 week programme recovered from your illness. I know for some people, the programme barely made any difference and they relapsed as soon as the programme finished.
This is the difficulty with mental illness; the mind is a complicated thing that yes, drugs can help, but fundamentally, huge amounts of energy, time and patience has to be put into working on your mind to even make the slightest bit of difference. A huge part of the recovery process is having the strength to accept that you are not going to be cured overnight and to persevere anyway, but for someone suffering from a mental illness, this is one of the most difficult things to achieve in the first place.
Nevertheless, I did make it through the programme, and I think I spent about 65% feeling somewhat positive about my recovery prospects. However, the biggest struggle I faced after finishing my treatment programme was the assumption by a lot of people around me, that I was indeed now completely recovered. Goodbye eating disorder, goodbye side effect depression and goodbye body dysmorphia. I wish it was that easy.
Eating disorders are difficult enough to talk about, let alone admitting that even after completing the programme, and yes, definitely noticing some improvements, ultimately bulimia was still as strong a presence in my life. Therefore, the unwillingness for people to pry on the assumption you have recovered, coupled with my reluctance and shame in admitting that I hadn’t, meant I ended up relapsing time and time again. This time around, it was a lot harder to seek help, because I was meant to be better. The words ‘I’m fine’ have been two words which have plagued the last four years of my life, especially since my treatment programme. Too easy to say, and satisfactory enough an answer for those asking the question; on the rare occasion I was asked how my eating disorder was. The words ‘I’m fine’ swept my relapse under the rug, and I was back to dealing with it by myself. I also did not help myself in the way that, if someone were to pry, I would become super defensive; again a mechanism to deal with the fact that I had (in my eyes) failed at recovering.
Mental illness is a difficult issue to talk about. Those suffering have to open up about intimate details of their lives, and those listening often do not know how to react to such revelations. Thus, generally speaking, the sooner the conversation is over, the better. This, however, does not solve anything. It does nothing to help the person suffering and allows the stigma surrounding mental illness in society to continue.
I have now found myself in a place in which I can confidently say, I have 99% recovered from bulimia. I will never say 100% recovered because for me, the experience of having an eating disorder is something that is going to be with me forever. However, being at my healthiest and happiest that I have been within the last four years means I am in a place comfortable enough to discuss having had a mental health illness. Nevertheless, I was not happy to talk about it when I needed help the most, and reassurance that I was not a failure was something that would have helped me to a huge extent. Therefore, it is important to remember that just because somebody has received the treatment and says that they are ok, it is often easier to put on a front than to admit that they are still struggling – a mindfulness of this could go a long way in them seeking the further help they need.