Mental illnesses are a strange beast. During the darkest throes of an episode, it is notoriously impossible to ever see a way out of the suppressing disdain. In contrast, during the beautiful journey of recovery, it is equally as difficult to fully recall and relate to every detail of one’s previous demise.
The fear of relapsing is something that everyone who has ever suffered with a mental illness battles to contend with every day. The worry is always there, looming at the back of the mind. No-body wants to go back down that path.
It is common knowledge that an eating disorder never truly leaves you. I was always fairly opposing to this statement – I spent almost four years basking in the liberty that my eating disorder had finally spared me. Any negative thoughts had been kicked to the curb during my intense recovery, and being free from The Voice was the most incredible feeling I had ever experienced. I craved more of the freedom, instead of pining for the comfort of my old, detrimental ways.
During the months leading up to my wedding, I heard a voice in my head that had been absent for quite a few years, and I suffered a brief relapse. This is the first time I have written about it, however, now back on the right track, I am happy to continue to share my experiences. Being transparent about my eating disorder is something I have always found important – far too little is known about the triggers and finer details of the disease, and if just one person can relate to my individual story, then I feel being open is worth it.
Stress is a massive trigger for me, and everything that could have possibly gone wrong before my wedding did, and I found myself feeling really miserable and burned out. And that’s where my obsession with exercise and diet reared its ugly head yet again.
Suddenly finding myself lacking control in every other area of my life, I turned to the one factor I knew I could control and get an instant success from: exercise and restricting. The pride I felt upon the completion of every long distance run in record time was enough to suppress The Voice that strived upon reminding me of the things that were fast spiralling out of my control.
I was walking home from work multiple times a week (six miles), and forcing myself on 14 mile walks and jogs at the weekend, disguising it to those around me as ‘stress busters.’
Exercise once again quickly became a chore and something I dreaded.
As soon as the wedding and the related pressures passed, the voice began to decline again.
Four months later, and I’ve put back on the half stone I lost, and I feel healthier than ever.
I’m back to absolutely loving my exercise, and I’m eating more than the average warthog...
But I've got my guard up, and I'm determined to fight against the claws of lockdown, and another potential relapse.
I never thought I would ever relapse. Realising that you are in the midst of a relapse is terrifying and heartbreaking. All of the hard work that you put into your journey of recovery suddenly feels quite irrelevant. It’s totally normal to feel demoralised, violated, and even betrayed.
It is a sad fact that thousands of people up and down the country and indeed across the world are relapsing and struggling right now, attributable to our current situation.
For many, lockdown is proving to be a testing time, and it’s no secret that a lot of people are really finding it difficult to get by.
Change is also a massive trigger for a large number of people. Keeping to a routine is often a therapeutic tool against mental illness, and when this is suddenly halted against our will, it can have quite adverse effects on our wellbeing. Heck, a disruption in routine can upset even the most upbeat of us, let alone someone who actively relies on it.
I don’t believe there’s anyone in the country right now who can hand on heart say that they’re not struggling with some element of lockdown. The whole disposition is totally alien to us all, and there is no right or wrong way of dealing with the repercussions of it. It sounds like a cliché, but we all just have to take each day as it comes and focus on the future, however near or far.
If you find yourself relapsing in your battle against a mental illness either in or out of the lockdown, there are a number of things that you need to remember. The most important thing to remind yourself is that you have been here before. This is not new territory, and you are more than capable of climbing out of hell again. That voice does not rule you, or the decisions you make, and it has absolutely no right whatsoever to stand in the way of your happiness.
Try and pinpoint a time in your recovery that made you feel empowered. Was it the first time you stood up to The Voice?
Remember what that felt like. Recall the electrifying power that surged through your veins as you took back the controls on your own life.
Take that feeling and use it against The Voice to remind it of the strength you possessed the last time you met.
I always fondly rejoice in my recollection of lying defeated on the cold, tiled floor of my apartment in Ibiza, fifty sit-ups in, and suddenly having an epiphany. I rose to my feet despite the screams of protest from The Voice, and headed out onto my balcony, admiring my view and realising how lucky I was to have been gifted the opportunity of such an amazing experience. It was the first time I had disobeyed The Voice. I refused to let The Voice ruin any more of my precious summer abroad, and indeed my life. It was the start of my very own journey to recovery, and a treasured moment I will truly never forget. I call on this memory every time I need a boost, or simply if I want to remind myself of my inner strength.
If you live alone and are finding that the dominant tones of The Voice are protruding through your walls and taking advantage of the silence, do whatever you can to hush it, even just until you seek further advice or reassurance from your counsellor or a professional. Call a friend, turn on the TV, write a poem, or go for a walk. Use your own set of coping mechanisms to drown The Voice out.
Don’t feel bad for reaching out to friends, family, or professionals.
The usual support help lines are still very much in operation, and although they are receiving a higher volume of calls at present, you can be assured that someone will be there at the end of the phone for you.
There has never been a more important time to kind to yourself. Keeping positive is an imperative ingredient in our fight against these strange times.
Devise a bucket list cram packed with things you are looking forward to doing once all of this is over, or think about that promotion you want at work when you go back, and render yourself excited at the prospect of it.
If getting up and putting your make-up on makes you feel good, then do it! And if you want to enjoy this rare no bra, no make-up, greasy hair situation, then embrace it (I’m right with you on that one!).
This phase will not last forever: neither the lockdown nor the relapse.
Recovery is a journey that never truly ends, and it’s more than okay to have bad days.
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©
(Photo was taken before lockdown)