It's that time of year. It's winter, it's dreary, our government is poison, our world is literally poison — it's enough to get anyone down.
And if you're someone who struggles with mental illness, this is a particularly tough time of the year. It takes a ton of mental energy to stay positive and get through these months between holidays and between seasons. (They drop Valentine's Day on us, and then they go cold. What gives?)
It's also National Eating Disorder Awareness week, which may provide a lot of articles and support and things that help you — but awareness, in and of itself, can be tough. Sometimes, when I'm feeling a little less than peachy in my state of recovery, the constant reminders of the challenges and pitfalls of eating disorders (and recovery from there) leave me feeling foggy and troubled.
I'm finding ways to pull myself out of ruts in my recovery, and I wanted to share some with you, if you're in the same boat. Here are a few things I've found incredibly valuable when I'm having a tougher time than usual.
1. If you find yourself falling back into bad habits — whether you're restricting, binging, mindlessly eating, or just putting mental pressure on yourself that makes you want to do any of the above — hit pause.
Call a friend (one you're completely at ease with — maybe someone who's been a support for you in tough times, and, crucially, one who doesn’t do diet talk) and make plans to get a meal at your absolute favorite place, or to cook your all-time favorite food. Take the time to savor a meal that you love, with someone you love.
If you need to, you can reassure yourself that it's just one meal; you don't need to worry about losing all control over whatever you're feeling the urge to control. But chances are, if you take your time and savor it, you'll find this reminds you of what food should be: a time to savor, enjoy, relax, and then head back into life with physical and emotional fuel. You need it. Really.
2. Carve out time to sink into a total guilty-pleasure show or book that you love and that lets you escape.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Season 3 is out on Netflix, and Gilmore Girls is still — and hopefully always will be — there, too. For me, these are shows that let me lose myself in the story, that make me laugh, and that allow me to stop thinking about myself or obsessing about whatever I'm obsessing about. It's much-needed relief, and it also reminds me that there's a whole world out there beyond my own food and body issues — a world I want to engage in.
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3. Work on something that allows you to objectively build a skill.
When I'm feeling lost and frustrated and powerless, whether or not it's about food, it helps to do something that's not murky: crosswords, a few levels on Duolingo in a language I know, or baking a recipe I know by heart. Do something that reminds you of what you can do, instead of what you can't.
4. Stay warm!
It may seem like a superficial effect, but on top of the physical comfort of being warm and cozy — snuggling under blankets, wearing fuzzy slippers, keeping your hands in a death grip around a hot mug of tea during all waking hours — it's been scientifically shown that holding warm things creates positive feelings and associations, and generally makes you feel good.
So layer up for the commute to work — you should even take a blanket if your office keeps the air on too cold. When you get home, get into sweatpants and your thickest pair of socks and settle yourself under a comforter to do whatever it is you want to do. If you go out, get a hot toddy or an Irish coffee and sit far from the door. In ways both small and extremely significant, it'll make you feel much better.
5. Think of the person who was most supportive of you as you went through recovery.
How did they treat you? Got that in mind? Great: now, treat yourself like that...all of the time.
Seriously. I know it can be hard to consider being gentle with yourself in the way others are with you at all — let alone to make that your default mode with yourself. I know it can feel like you somehow don't deserve it. But guess what? You decide how you treat yourself, and you can — and should — decide that you deserve it.
So don't get mad at yourself for all the things you haven't gotten done, the ways in which you weren't perfect today, the little failures you perceive in yourself. They're not failures: that's being human. Encourage yourself like you're your best friend, do what you can, and then let yourself off the hook. And if you need a little help or ideas on how to be nice to yourself, believe it or not, there are apps for that.
At the end of the day, it's extremely OK to not be perfectly OK. In fact, if you're not feeling great, bask in it. If you need to, take a sick day. Let yourself acknowledge that, as someone who struggles with an eating disorder, you need to take special care of yourself — and that you deserve it! Most importantly, know that this difficult period will pass, and you will feel better.
Plus: you’re not alone! There’s a big, beautiful community of people out there in your corner. And if you don’t want to meet new people but you need to talk, call the NEDA hotline at (800) 931-2237. You’re not alone.