Eating Disorder Week: My life with eating disorders and body dysmorphia
by Claire Kane, See Change Ambassador
Although I realised I had body dysmorphia in my 20s, I didn’t really understand the severity of what it was until I reached 30. I didn’t realise how it clouded every interaction I had with the world around me, save for a few glorious nights, weeks and even months when my body wasn’t the most dominating thing on my mind. I used to think body dysmorphia was simply seeing yourself differently in the mirror to how other people would see you, as is so often depicted in any image associated with body dysmorphia. But there is so much more to it than that. It’s not poor body image, it’s not disliking your arms or wanting to lose weight, it’s an obsession with perceived flaws, the development of compulsions to try and hide the so-called flaws or cope with the obsession, it’s an anxiousness that I can’t even begin to explain, one that eats at you from the inside out, it’s your mind playing tricks on you and telling you lies about what other people think about you.
Although this may not be the case for everyone, my body dysmorphic disorder goes hand in hand with my unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. While my eating disorders developed for several reasons, from an early age they tied in with a need to control what I deemed to be flaws about my physical self. I was 12 when I first developed disordered habits around food. I was in and around the same age when I first began to develop obsessions about parts of my body. This wasn’t a coincidence, I now know.
The feelings we carry
I remember when I first began to binge and purge, and although I didn’t know anything about eating disorders or people’s perception of them, I felt compelled to keep it a secret. Mostly, because I was a child, I was probably worried that I’d get in trouble for eating all the mini Moros and cream crackers, but it became more of a self-stigmatising shame over time. I was worried that people would think I was weird or bold in some way. I was worried, too, that they would make me stop. Recalling this makes me think of how heavy the feelings we carry when we live with a mental health difficulty can be when we feel we can’t share them. This habit that I started to develop so young to provide a sort of release from stress because I didn’t have the emotional tools to deal with it properly became such a heavy burden for such young shoulders. I think of the analogy a past therapist used, that not sharing my feelings was like carrying a sack of rocks on my shoulder. When I know how hard that is for me now, as an adult, I think of 12-year-old me trying to lug that enormous bag of rocks around with her while trying to navigate everything that goes with being on the cusp of teen hood. I’m in awe of her strength, but I also wish she knew how supportive people would be if she told people how she felt.
This feeling of shame and compulsion towards secrecy grew and grew as the years went by but when people found out, I was met with concern and worry and love, not anger and judgement as I had feared. And this gave me so much hope that I could heal and find better ways to manage my feelings. Now, my eating disorder ‘brain’ isn’t quite dormant, but also not very active. I suppose I would say it’s a bit lazy, creeping into my consciousness once in a while but it’s no match for the strength I now have to put it back in its box.
There was a time when I thought I could never say that I am in control of my eating disorders and not the other way around. It’s something to be proud of, and if you’re reading this and you’ve had a similar experience I want you to take two seconds to acknowledge how powerful you are for getting to that place. I am especially proud because my body dysmorphic disorder is stronger than it has been in years and I still have the strength to push the accompanying disordered thoughts around food and exercise to the back of my brain. It’s hard work, but I do it every day.
The fact that I am able to control my disordered habits around food and exercise gives me so much hope that I will be in the same position with body dysmorphia one day; that I can pick the thoughts and feelings it creates up and put them in my pocket and move on, and that I can have control over it. I know this is possible, because I have been there before, those glorious nights, weeks and months I mentioned earlier. With self-awareness, self-care and education, I can shrink it down to the same size as I shrank my eating disorders down and take one more big rock out of that sack I carry on my shoulder.
If you want to know more about body dysmorphic disorder, you can visit The Body Dysmorphic Foundation Website. For more information about eating disorders please visit Bodywhys.ie. Over the years, I have found Bodywhys to be a fantastic resource for understanding my own experiences with a disordered relationship with food and their support services gave me the foundations I needed to get on the right path towards recovery.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following