Mental Health during COVID-19
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of us all. During this very curious time, many people are feeling the effects of lock down, especially those with pre-existing mental illnesses such as eating disorders.
I hesitated about writing this post as it is very exposing. I didn't want to write a sob story, neither did I to simply give facts and air over the gritty, sh*tty stuff. Striking the balance was hard. Irregardless of how challenging this is for me, I thought I would go balls deep and explain my own personal truths:
BEAT helpline calls have increased by 50% and have seen a 78% rise in contact via social media.
In patient and outpatient services being limited. For those like myself who are receiving treatment, changes in routines, living situations and care plans have the potential to trigger negative behaviours and patterns.
Treatment moving to online support has provided countless advantages however it does have its limitations too. Many of us (including those without an ED) do not feel supported, connected and speaking through a computer screen only magnifies that. Online platforms do not allow for human touch, for us to feel one another's emotions which only heightens the disconnect with body and emotions.
Eating & Food
I find the quantities hard and I find the fullness and discomfort even harder. I feel as uncomfortable as most people do on Christmas day 24/ 7 and it would be a huge fat lie if I said I liked it. Force feeding myself has been a skill I have learnt, and one which I am constantly reminding myself the biggest act of self love.
Choosing what I want to eat is a huge bonus compared to the food provided at the hospital, my gastritis (a beautiful common side effect of recovery) has seemed to disappear and I'm not constipated. There are clear medical plus’, and being able to see my progress at home is very rewarding. Foods that I love and would label as bad - Peanut Butter being one main culprit - are now eaten daily and don't give me a heart attack when I open the cupboard or the fridge and see them. Nothing is banned and nothing is bad. Reestablishing what I view as a healthy in my life holistically is something I am learning, it's a new discovery and adventure. Small wins such as buying something I would have been terrified of or labeled as ‘not for me’ is a huge f*ck you in the face of ED. I feel like a naughty school kid, and I quite like the thrill.
I aim to put on 0.5kgs per week minimum, which is certainly not easy. If I were an actor getting paid millions gain weight for my dream role with a director and cast I admire, there would still be an element of discomfort in that process. The actor would have to remind themselves of their values, of what they are doing it for- to look at the bigger picture rather than the emotions in that moment. I like this analogy as when emotions are fired up, being able to take a step back and view the moment from a more objective standpoint prevents the situation from becoming so all consuming. I can observe my inner criticisms and the community of indecision inside of me. This enables me to realign with my own commitment, integrity and the value I have for myself as a human.
How will this affect my meal plan? That is the terror that comes to my head now that we are given the opportunity to start socialising again. Other questions include: will people like the new me? Will I feel rejected again? Abandoned? Do I deserve pleasurable experiences? All of these questions serve no benefit, however they are things I find difficult to disentangle from. I feel safe with the meal plan, the structure is certain however rigidness is not a quality I want to bring forward in my life. The fact we have not had the opportunity to socialise has meant I am able to focus on myself, but I question whether this was always 100% beneficial. Always the inner critic.
Getting over social anxiety only happens by taking the plunge, which is what I aim to do in the coming weeks. The hermit is emerging from her cave….
Where is the balance between viewing treatment as my ‘full time job’ to it becoming a part of normal life? I have personally found it hard differentiating with treatment in lock down being a role, a scheduled militant regime or it being so integrating and ingrained in my routine that I don't have to think about it. In addition to this, justifying what I do during the day to both myself and others is exhausting, makes me question my self worth which can easily devalue myself and my progress. The inner critic certainly thrives off of this.
For those who know me, I am highly productive. I will always be a perfectionist and I am currently working on using this trait as a benefit rather than a hindrance to myself and my life. I can easily fall into the traps of toxic productivity, with endless to do lists which give zero enjoyment. Living in a time where we have to be silent, and still is a huge challenge falling into the mercy of this negative behaviour. I am still establishing my happy middle, so it is certainly a work in progress - even admitting that I am not doing that perfectly brings out all sorts of inner criticism.
“The Restaurant That Burns Off the Calories” - why in gods name did this even land as a suggested TV show at the BBC? We should not and do not have to work for or earn our food, an enjoyable restaurant experience or having a beautiful evening with friends. These are things I have to remind myself on a regular basis. Having the media question or test our self worth is highly triggering and sends awful messages even to those without an eating disorder. In my view there is no question that the influence of large media sources such as BBC should be promoting this, the thought should have never even crossed the mind of the producer.
Due to my eating disorder, I am allowed to do food shopping during the allotted time set aside for vulnerable people. Initially I viewed this as a great plus however each time I requested to enter I was judged by the staff, having to explain what my illness is despite having a doctor's note detailing my condition. It was embarrassing having to justify myself. As I am suitably mobile, I do not feel I deserve to skip a queue as there are those in a much worse position than I am. I now go during the regular opening hours as supermarket queues really test my patience, which I find more challenging than the shopping itself.
Aside from myself, many others find it difficult even going to the shops, not having safe food available, or being around so many people regardless of COVID-19. This is something I feel lucky to not experience.
Hearing anyone from people in the street to loved ones discussing calories, food options, restrictive behaviour, “working off” the calories is exhausting. This behaviour is in no way healthy, we are ultimately mammals and require food - it is a basic human need and not a trophy or reward. Regardless of eating disorders, this behaviour is not holistic, healthy and I think you would find it hard to find someone who is happy by doing it. Take if from the girl who has been there, any restrictive behaviour is extremely miserable and takes you further from yourself than you may realise.
I may always be viewed as the girl with the eating disorder, even when others partake in restrictive or disordered eating and behaviours and I do not. This is a badge I may have to carry forever. With this in mind, I will have to find greater strength in standing by my values, to reach for a slice of cake even when someone makes a comment, to choose a “healthy” option, to have genuine food preferences and to feel my voice deserves to be heard.
My greatest fear of judgement, rejection and abandonment are facing me as we start to go back to normal. I will have to be happy that both my food and personal choices align with my values when they do not fit in with a preconditioned mask, role or label. To not edit my own soul according to the fashion. You can do yoga and eat refined sugars, you can like washing clothes and educating yourself, you can be shy and be the first one on the dance floor, you can be everything, you are unique, unboxed, uncaged and you are here in this present moment- a human being not a human doing. If coronavirus has taught me anything, its that uncertainty can uncover some amazing things, and also dust off then spring clean the sh*t you don't want to bring forward.