Taking the Leap
By Nikhita Singhal
One of the most terrifying aspects of eating disorders lies in their ability to convince those struggling that there is nothing wrong with continuing to hold on to the illness. No matter how many stories circulate of heart failure, organ damage, bone loss, and fertility problems – among a myriad of other medical complications – that terrible voice weaves its lies, promising us our case will be different.
We’re not like the others. We’re not as sick. We’ll be fine.
And so we cling to the illness and the security it pretends to provide.
Now, this is by no means a conscious decision – people do not choose to be afflicted with eating disorders, just as they do not desire to suffer from any other mental or physical ailment. However, eating disorders are unique in that letting go of one can seem as frightening as continuing to live with it. Keeping this in mind, it becomes easier to understand why so many individuals are resistant to treatment. Being afraid of defeating an eating disorder does not reflect weakness on the part of someone struggling, nor does it indicate that they enjoy being sick in any way. Instead, it is a reflection of the powerful grip that eating disorders have on our minds.
Despite this, those who are struggling often have moments of clarity. Sometimes it becomes impossible to avoid the fact that we’re not living life to the fullest, and we begin to contemplate seeking help. But being ready for recovery is crucial; when someone is forced into treatment against their will and has absolutely no desire to change, the result may often be a cycle of hospital admissions and downward spirals.
At the same time, waiting until you feel 100% committed to recovery is not a feasible option, either. While being open to the idea of recovery is essential, your level of readiness does not have to meet and maintain a certain threshold. Even after making an initial commitment to fight the illness, we often have an inkling of wanting to hang on to it and the security it provides. In treatment programs, some could interpret this as not being completely ready, and the unfortunate reality of current eating disorder treatment approaches is that there are simply not enough resources to provide customized, tailored care for each uniquely affected individual. Thus, many are unable to receive the support they need to the capacity they need it, and so slip through the cracks or give up on the idea of recovery. It’s frighteningly difficult to even get into a treatment program, and frighteningly easy to be removed from one for being unable to adhere to strict guidelines.
So where’s the middle ground?
In reality, we may never feel completely comfortable with the idea of letting go of the illness. Motivation waxes and wanes, and eating disorders have an irritating knack for coaxing us out of the desire to be rid of them. Like any other parasite, they want to survive. Thus, although one might feel empowered and ready to begin a treatment program after a particularly fruitful discussion, that drive may be leeched away within mere hours. When the eating disorder feels threatened, it attempts to convince us it’s not a problem.
This is where we must learn to avoid its trap. Recovery is not black and white – dichotomous thinking can be so dangerous, and simply does not accurately portray the world around us. We don’t have to be at one end of the spectrum or the other: ready for recovery or still totally engulfed in denial of the illness. Just a flicker of motivation is enough to push ourselves or to encourage a loved one we know is struggling. All we need is one strand of hope to set out on a journey toward emotional, mental, and physical health.
So when that motivation does come trickling in, ensnare it. Cling to it as tightly as the eating disorder is clinging to you, and don’t be afraid when you feel the hope slipping away. Remember that at one point you wanted to get better, and although you may not always feel as certain of this fact, there is a part of you fighting to survive and thrive.
There may be setbacks, relapses, and moments of intense doubt. In fact, there almost certainly will be. These are not signs of weakness, nor are they signs that you’re not ready to recover. This is the eating disorder pulling out all the stops in an effort to desperately maintain its grasp on you. This is a sign you are strong, and you are putting up one hell of a fight.
Recovery is not easy: it requires a tremendous leap of faith. In the end, though, someone once pointed out to me that they’ve never known anyone who regretted the decision. It’s alright if you don’t feel ready. Take the leap now, surround yourself with support, and do your best to remember why you jumped.
Nikhita is studying medicine at McMaster University, and hopes to use her experience with an eating disorder to make positive contributions to the field and empower others to seek support. Some of her other passions include travelling, photography, and reading anything she can get her hands on!