I want to get better, more than anything, I really do. Over the last few months I have become increasingly sick of the marginalised, limited life that anorexia has trapped me in, I want out of the bubble. Unfortunately, I have found that since I got stuck into trauma therapy and fully committing to recovering from my eating disorder my anxiety has increased dramatically. To start with I couldn’t put my finger on why as it was clearly separate from the stress and worry coming from therapy. It also didn’t seem to be related to anxiety around food as I have been very lucky not to experience much of this. I have never cried or had a panic attack when faced with a meal, I love food and eating; once I gave myself permission to eat I mainly felt relief. That isn’t to say that it has been easy, far from it. I have been and still am terrified of eating many of my ‘fear’ foods and of the quantity of food on my plate, but the actual process of eating is not anxiety provoking to me, though I don’t sit comfortably with the subsequent feelings of fullness or guilt.
As I have started to gain weight and progress in therapy there is more room in my brain to think about other things and herein lies the problem. I have started to think about a future; of a life beyond anorexia, PTSD and therapy and it is truly terrifying. I have had mental health problems for as long as I can remember. I have bipolar disorder and have struggled with depression and periods of hypomania since I was very, very young. On top of all of this I had, and have, terrible anxiety. I first developed an eating disorder around age 11 and struggled with it throughout my teens; I then relapsed five years ago as I started to deal with my past.
I can’t imagine what sort of person I could be free of my eating disorder, depression and anxiety. I accept that the mood swings of bipolar will always be with me, but my psychiatrist has assured me that the combination of medication and freedom from my past should make it less extreme and something I can live with. This doesn’t scare me. What does trigger fear is the unknown. Who will I be without my mental health issues? Who will I be if I heal and move on? I simply can’t imagine it; I have no idea what such a life could be like. So, what do I fear, why would I be scared of being in a better place?
In my mind a veil I have been living behind will no longer be there and I will then be seen for the failure that I perceive myself to be. It has been more than I decade since I have worked for more than a few hours a week; this has had a big impact on my self-esteem and sense of worth. Getting better means thinking about what I want to do with my life and I worry that if that veil is removed I will be not be able to cope. I don’t know what I want to do, or what I can do. What I did and trained in is so specific and isn’t something I could easily go back to even if I wanted to, which I don’t. So, where does that leave me? Pretty unemployable to be honest given that the very specific skills I had haven’t been used for a very long time. I don’t feel employable and have no confidence in my abilities. I think this is something many people who have been out of work for any length of time experience; the statistics for people who have been unemployed for more than two years getting back into the workplace are not good. The reality of my situation is both frightening and depressing and I don’t know where to start.
Another problem is that my fear of failure holds me back from doing anything about the situation, I struggle to even write a CV; I use the excuse that it needs be done in French but really that is bullshit and I know it. My low self esteem doesn’t help as I don’t think that I have anything worthwhile to offer, maybe it would be easier if I knew what I wanted to do. This knowledge would give me direction and help me decide if it would be a good idea to retrain, something I am more than likely going to have to do. When it comes to others I think you are never too old to retrain but I am never this kind to myself. I am also held back by my sense of being a failure for getting into this situation in the first place, even if it has been down to my health. I am scared of dipping my toes into something and not ‘succeeding’. I feel like I need to get things ‘right’ this time around. When I was applying to university at the age of 17 I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life so I studied what interested me. Now though, I feel like I need to know what I am doing, that I need to get on with it, which doesn’t leave any wiggle room if it is a ‘mistake’. This paralyses me. I desperately need to get myself out of this funk as now that I am making progress mentally and physically I am getting bored by my day to day life; for years I have been too ill to work but this is no longer the case. No, I am not ready to work full time I still have a way to go so I can’t use a job as an excuse to not engage with therapy and recovery; it needs to enrich my life, not be a distraction. What I need is a part time job to get me out of the house, building some kind of future and maybe even developing some self believe.
Fundamentally imagining living a ‘normal’ life, or what society perceives one to be is inconceivable to me at the moment. How am I supposed to visualise something I have never had? My sense of failure is deep rooted and goes beyond the world of work. I was never good enough for my parents and I took all the blame for that on myself; I have felt like a failure during the past decade for not being able to hold down a job and I have felt like a failure every time someone says to me that I am intelligent and could do anything I want with my qualifications. Even if that were true jobs need experience not just the bits of paper I got twenty years ago; I am no longer a girl in her early twenties entering the world of work, I am a woman in her forties who stopped working in her early thirties. This is a lot of fear and if I am healthy I am going to have to face this head on. I want to face it but I honestly don’t know where to start.
I need to find a way to balance my determination to get better with my crippling fear of the future. I would be lying if I said that the fear hasn’t made me think of relapsing and running back to my anorexic security blanket. I won’t though, surely the future will be better? I have to trust that somehow it will all fall into place.