Life with a Mental Illness and Eating Disorder
It’s been five years since I first stepped foot into a treatment center and received my diagnoses of Bulimia Nervosa and Bipolar II. Through these last five years, I have suffered the lowest of lows and enjoyed some pretty euphoric and satisfying high points. I have faced relapses, stared down my illnesses in the eyes, taken countless losses, but yet I managed to stay strong and come back more resilient each day. I get questions from strangers asking me what it’s like to live with an eating disorder and a mood disorder. The simple answer would be a rollercoaster that is on fire, primarily consisting of loops, making you dizzy and sick, that teases you with momentary pauses, that never ends. This is the more detailed answer to that question. This is, at five years into recovery, a snapshot of a day living with an eating disorder and a mood disorder.
Each morning upon waking, I usually have a moment where I prepare myself mentally for the day ahead. “One day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time”. I remind myself that with each decision I will make today, I impact what my recovery will look like tomorrow, a week from now, and a year from now. I’ve learned from years of therapy and from my own role model, Demi Lovato, that it’s important to wake up and remind myself that it’s just as important, if not more important to focus on myself just as it is to focus on my daily tasks.
Throughout the day, I’m usually still facing a few obsessive thoughts about my body and my food intake. It’s important for me at meals, since I am recovering from Bulimia, to keep my meals as balanced and as healthy as I can a majority of the time. For me, I still walk a fine line between diet mentality and complete freedom over my food choices. If I were to become restrictive again in regards to what foods I can and can’t eat, I will begin to fall back into a cycle of calorie and macronutrient counting, leading to further obsessive thoughts over food and my body. This mentality can easily have such a negative impact on me that I relapse. In regards to how I see my body, although I’ve made numerous steps forward in my recovery, I still have moments that I find myself consistently pointing out minor “flaws” that I wish I could change. At these moments, I usually text one of my friends or call my life coach, Kara, and we’ll talk through my thoughts and have me begin saying body positive statements to myself in the mirror.
My obsessive thoughts or negative body image can easily be amplified due to the fact that I have Bipolar II and have to cope with any depressive, or hypomanic episode as they come ON TOP of anything else I may be struggling with at that time. One extra caveat that makes my Bipolar II diagnosis trickier (or fun) is that I have mixed episodes, which basically means that I will experience multiple episodes at the same time. The first time I ever experienced a mixed episode, I felt like I actually had no control over myself. I felt like my illness has finally won this war within by essentially throwing in a wild card. I kid you not when I say that was one of the most miserable experiences I had to live through.
Today, I have great control over my illness and I learned how to cope with my episodes as they come and go via Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which can be done at any time. I’ve also spent a vast majority of these past five years learning further about how to recognize what emotions are coming on before they can do any harm, which helped me get to where I’m at today. Also, another helpful strategy that’s widely overlooked that I recommend to individuals, is to find a role model who has a similar story and find a mentor whom will hold you accountable for your actions and will help you work towards your goals. My role model and my coach have and continue to help me improve on myself each day, whether it be by taking baby steps, or colossal leaps forward. I’m able to say I’m alive and rapidly progressing by learning from them.
My name is Chris, and after five long years, I’m no longer powerless over my illnesses.