With any mental illness, genetics, biological, psychological, environmental and social factors may influence the likelihood of having a mental health issue. The negative thoughts often lead to negative behaviours and any form of recovery is learning how to cope with these thoughts and understanding why these occur.
A common stigma of those with an Eating Disorder is that it is based on vanity, looks and being insecure about your body. These are partially true; however eating disorders develop because of an underlying issue. They are a mental illness too.
Usually something occurs in the individual’s life for them to turn to food, or a substance, to express a form of pain, stress or trauma they may be going/ have been through. A way to release or suppress emotion. The world is moving so fast and there’s a lot of pressure to keep up with it, so when a life plan goes array or an unexpected negative event occurs, using harmful behaviours as a way to cope is not uncommon. In some cases, it may be an addiction, in others it could be a form of self-harm which can include disordered eating, cutting or burning. Animals express their feelings through actions and behaviours and as human beings, we are no different.
Eating disorders are cruel, they act as though they are your best friend because they will never leave you like the people around you will. However, the people around you only leave you because you are isolating yourself from them by avoiding social events and situations due to a fear of eating. I am embarrassed to say I am guilty of this. For 3 years I tried to avoid events, visiting and going out with family and friends. I pushed myself to go on a few occasions but I still know I have missed far more than I attended, and the ones I did attend, I was only really there physically as my mind was constantly worrying and thinking about food and calories making socialising hard. I was no fun to be around. A constant ball of silent anxiety.
For so long I refused to accept this wasn’t normal. It took months and so much willpower to seek help. But why? Why did I, and why do so many others, let this potentially deadly illness take over? What was I scared of facing?
It’s similar with conducting any negative or self-harming behaviour. We utilise them as a way of expressing emotion instead of exploring that emotion. Some questions to ask yourself if you are struggling to fight the thoughts and behaviours are:
“What’s really going on that makes me want to do this?”
“Why and what am I hiding from?”
“Is this how I want to live the rest of my life?”
“Why am I scared of letting go?”
The more you ask these questions and find the root cause and answers, the easier it becomes to separate yourself from your disorder. You are not your mental illness. I’m not denying that it isn’t scary and difficult to face your emotions, but in the long term it is easier to express them through healthier mechanisms, such as calling a helpline or friend, or seeing a medical professional, than become trapped in the “safety” net of harmful behaviours. You are worth a long and healthy life.
Personally, I am still trying to work through these questions. I’m listening to my mind and not my body because it feels safe. But it’s not safe. Looking healthy is very different to thinking healthy. Anyone can look fine on the outside, yet not be okay on the inside. You never know what someone is going through. However, by searching for the underlying cause of these thoughts, it can help you avoid doing these behaviours and find a healthier coping mechanism and recover from your mental illness.