pain, Recovery

The Unexpected Pain of Anxiety, Anorexia and Bulimia

When in the throes of my eating disorder, I could never have imagined the aftermath; the effects of recovery. As I always say, recovery is hard, but I didn’t think that Bulimia or Anorexia was something that I would have to recover from. I now realise that my naivety has caused me more trouble than I care to think about.

Pain. It’s a funny word. It can connote emotional or physical pain, a distress or suffering. Emotional pain is a part of our everyday life, as is small physical pain. A paper cut, stubbing your toe or standing on a piece of leggo. All of these are essences of pain, however, they disappear. Some pains can plague you for hours, months, years.

When I was first introduced to the idea of bulimia, I had no idea of the pain that would follow. Pain is a difficult thing to describe. When looking at the emotional wreackage, it was a given. If I was doing this to myself, then I would have bad days. I was mentally imbalanced. I knew this. However, what I didn’t anticipate was the physical pain that I would feel.

You may laugh when reading the previous sentence. ‘She didn’t realise that her body would deteriorate? She was starving herself! What did she think would happen?’ Don’t worry. Whatever you may think, I’ve thought it all before. When you’re in that state, that emotional hatred, the irrationally desperate need to reach perfection, you forget about everything else. The emotional and physical repercussions of your choices don’t matter; getting to a size four is the only thing on your mind.

Physical pain manifests itself differently for everyone. Some girls who are recovering from anorexia can experience cramps, while others suffer from acid re-flux. Headaches, nausea, migraines, physical weakness, dizziness, indigestion, heartburn are all a part of the recoveree’s day. And I have to be honest, it sucks. It can make you want to crawl back into the little hole of naivety and never return. In some cases, like mine, the physical pain can be so great that you actually want to end your life to get away from the waves that wrack your entire body.
Some people experience major headaches or nausea independently, and with them I truly sympathise. However, when you know that you are experiencing this pain from your own actions, from your own choices, it can really mess you up.

I think we underestimate the power of pain, especially with people who have made the choice to recover from an eating disorder. Yes, that’s right. Recovery is a choice. When I was first discharged from my clinic, recovery was totally superficial. I posted the obligatory facebook picture, tagged the right people, liked all the comments, had a dinner, cards, smiles all around. The whole shebang. But I have to be honest, I wasn’t ready. Through most of it, my insides were screaming. I had no idea what I was doing. I definitely wasn’t ready to deal with recovery, with the horrific pain and the thoughts that can’t be controlled. I think I was too scared to admit it, especially to my family and friends. They were all so relieved that I was no longer a liability, someone to watch constantly and be wary of. I wasn’t an effort to be around.

Only now, after I had hit rock bottom, could I look at my life and see where I was going. I was honestly on the road to total destruction. The choices I was making, the way in which I was dealing with my pain, both physically and mentally, were all wrong. I was trying to go through the ‘medical’ side of medicine, talking to GP after GP, psychologists, doctors, the lot. And guess what? No-one helped. I was told that I had a ‘Vitamin D deficiency’ along with the rest of the population. Nothing explained what I was feeling. Every test came back clean.

I felt like a liar. I told my mum that I thought I had Munchhausen’s Syndrome. I was so scared that I was crazy, once again. What never occurred to me was that the pressure and strain that I had put on my body had finally made an appearance. When my pain couldn’t be explained, I broke down. I felt like my brain had been put in a blender and that my stomach was being used as a football every minute of every day. After every morsel of food ingested, my stomach and chest would burn so much that I thought someone had poured boiling water all over me. I would have to lie down wherever I was. I once ate an apple on the train. The result was the unberable burn, and when my head swam so much that I couldn’t see, I lay (well, fell) on the cold floor. It was and is the most embarassing moment of all my life. People thought I had fainted, but I had to explain that I had a bad bout of Acid Re-flux. However, these ‘bad bouts’ happened every time that I ate. I was in so much pain, often bedbound for days on end. My neck and back then started to give me pain, spreading to my chest and arms. It felt like I had elephants stomping on my body and monkeys pulling my hair. After feeling this way for about three months, I couldn’t take it. I started to imagine my death, the sweet release, the point where I wouldn’t be in constant pain. When I was hospitalised after I couldn’t control these thoughts, I realised that enough was enough. If I was willing to give up my whole life, everything ahead of me, because of my physical agony, then I couldn’t leave it to the doctors any more. Paracetamol had no effect, and I couldn’t take ibprofen due to my acid re-flux. I had to take matters into my own hands.

Three days later, I was scrolling through my facebook feed when I came across a stupid advert. I usually pass them in a minute, but this one caught my eye. It was a free meditation app called Headspace, targeted against chronic pain and anxiety. I downloaded it with all guns blazing. I already had seven of these stupid meditation apps, and none of them worked. The app showed me 10 days worth of podcasts, for ten minutes each. It didn’t describe it as ‘meditation’ or some weird chinese stuff; it was just a guy named Andy talking down the phone to me. It was like I was having a normal conversation with an old friend, and after relaxing me, he went on to help me release the iron grip on my mind. He explained that physical and mental feelings were like cars on a busy road. I was trying to stop the cars, however, all they were doing was mowing me down, When I stepped off of the road and onto the pavement, I could see that the cars would pass. Yes, it might hurt, but these feelings would pass, revealing the blue sky in front of me. The release of control was the ‘sweet release’ that I had craved. With a lot more pain and hard work, I was able to remove my mind from my body. Now, I know how this sounds, but I promise you, I was just as sceptical as you are. Scepticism is good, but if you really open your mind to a recovery method that can work, a method without medication and empty tests, then it will help masses. I know it has for me. When I am in pain, I close my eyes and remember that it is physical. That I will beat it.

When I look in the mirror, all I see is a whale. It’s hard to remember that it is an illusion, my body and mind playing tricks on me, trying to trip me up in order to send me to the toilet to become skinny again. Recovery is turning my mind against my body; it’s sole aim is to push me back into the exhausting control that I exercised on my mind, body and soul. But I will not let it. I am better than that. I know it’s ‘mia’, my Bulimia, the part of my brain which has brought so much destruction to my life. But I can turn her off. Even if it’s for one minute, ten or twenty. I’m able to turn off the ED dvd that has been playing for so long. And yes, in thirty seconds the thoughts may return. However, there is one main difference; I am now ready to fight back. I can shut mia up. And I know that there will come a day where I can turn her off for good. That day may be in ten years, it may be in a few months. But I know that day will come.

Until then, I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that she doesn’t pull me into the dark depths of bulimia. Not again. I am meditating in order to control the physical effects of my illness. I’m letting go, allowing myself to feel instead of holding a rigid clamp over my life. I’m allowing a higher power to take over, because I’m exhausted of the constant control. It’s hard work, possibly more tiring than when I was controlling my mind, however, I know that it will end. I know that I will be ok, and that I will get through this.

I can do this. If you think you can do it, you can. - John Burroughs


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