On Sunday, I discharged from hospital again after a 7 week admission. It was supposed to just be a 3 week admission, but you know how it goes… You realise just how much there is to work on once you’re there.
Hospital admissions are generally about containing behaviours, not necessarily about weight. One doesn’t need to have hit rock bottom or be medically unstable to accept treatment for an eating disorder. For me, my struggles lay within restricting my food intake and overexercising. Any exercise for me was dangerous – a half an hour walk tends to become 2 hours, 4, 5, 6… And then I wind up in hospital. That’s been the general pattern in the last 4 years. There hadn’t been one day in the last 4.5 years (excluding admissions) that I’ve actively chosen not to exercise. It’s been a big, big addiction for me. I skipped social events if they interfered with my exercise routine. I would walk for 3 hours in Wollongong before the sun had even risen. I would walk in the pouring rain at 5am praying that it would stop and come home with hypothermia. I lied to my housemates so they didn’t know how much I was doing. I refused to use public transport. So much lying. So much guilt about lying. But so much fear around what might come up if I stopped. And I didn’t feel I COULD, you know? The drive to do it was just so strong; it had just become a part of my daily routine – like brushing my teeth or taking my multivitamin or checking my emails. It became my whole life, until I had nothing else outside of it. My addiction to exercise ruined so many precious relationships, it destroyed my body and gave me osteopenia. It fatigued me beyond belief to the point where even the thought of showering or walking down a flight of stairs was unfathomable; it was simply too exhausting. Exercise dictated my whole life and consumed my mind at every waking hour. And even when I was dedicating a whole third of my day to exercise, it still wasn’t enough.
There are only a few people I’ve come across who I’ve talked to who I feel have fully understood this exercise addiction to the extent that I have experienced – I’m sure there are many more out there though. Because exercise is generally considered a “good” thing, overexercise has often been seen as something as admirable. It isn’t. It’s destructive. And it’s not only destructive to the body; it’s destructive to the mind as well. My exercise wasn’t directly related to my food intake – the danger was that the exercise remained the same or increased, regardless of how much I’d eaten.
When I saw my dietitian for the last time before I discharged this last admission, she told me I couldn’t exercise for at least another 4 months and that after that time I could introduce yoga or Pilates – no cardio. Exercise is of course a good thing, and can be a part of a healthy lifestyle if only it is done safely, when ones body is fed adequately, and is done in moderation. It is important for both physical AND mental health. However, for me right now it is destructive and triggers something in my head that leads to overdoing it.
So. I haven’t exercised since leaving hospital. Nothing. I haven’t touched my joggers or put on exercise gear. I have caught the bus when necessary, or driven my car where appropriate. Sometimes I’ve laid in bed until 9am and allowed my body to simply just be and to rest – a foreign feeling for me given I previously was leaving my house to exercise before 6am each day.
Monday was possibly one of my most distressing days that I have experienced in my recovery so far. I felt like smashing my head against a wall. I was severely depressed and spent most of my day horizontal and crying and hating myself and hating every moment that I had to sit there and feel the pain that came with not exercising. And I didn’t see myself surviving the day; I so strongly felt that not exercising could possibly kill me. That’s how awful I felt. Today I don’t feel as horrible as I did Monday – I still feel terrible and lazy and guilty and worthless for not exercising, but the feeling isn’t as intense as it was on Monday. I suspect it will feel less intense next week. I suspect it will get easier as the next few months go on.
I didn’t blog about this earlier, because it didn’t feel like a victory. It felt like a failure. It angered me that my dietitian and co were so damn proud of the fact that I hadn’t exercised. Whilst I’m not proud yet, I’ll let others be proud on my behalf and be OK with that. This is what I need to do (temporarily) for my recovery and health long-term. This week has shown me that it is possible to sit with the feelings that arise when I don’t engage in a particular behaviour – it didn’t kill me, even though it felt like it would. I survived it, even though it felt intolerable. That shows me that recovery from this illness is possible – so damn possible – for me, and for anyone else experiencing an eating disorder right now. Give yourself some credit, remind yourself how strong you are, remember how far you’ve come and don’t ever, EVER give up hope that recovery is possible. Please.