She is afraid that others will see her as being recovered. She will appear physically well before her head has joined her. She is afraid that if others perceive her as cured before she is able to accept responsibility, she will feel overwhelmed, less protected, and will crash again.
- From ‘The Five Stages of Recovery’
At first I was going to write about invisibility in terms of physically diminishing. When I was suffering from anorexia, I was very thin. I felt that I had to make myself as small as possible, I wanted to disappear and hated to be noticed. At the same time, it was obvious to anyone who looked that I had a problem, so although I felt that I was making myself less noticeable, in fact it had the opposite effect: people expressed worry and concern over my slight frame and hollow face, and I felt more observed, not less.
But when I started writing, my mind kept wandering to a different sort of invisibility, one that is particularly relevant to where I am now (which is a good way along the path of recovery): the invisibility of the battle you are still fighting.
Now that I am physically healthy with an acceptable BMI, now that I don’t look sick, people assume that I’m fine, that I am perfectly serene and capable and content. Thankfully, I really am in a good place now, so a lot of the time, that is how I feel. But in some ways things are even harder in this stage of recovery. You’re not ill, but you’re not entirely well, either. You still have the voices in your head (although you are better able to challenge them) and you still have the anxieties about your body (only now you don’t have your go-to coping strategies). Although I was utterly miserable when I was eating disordered, I had small reassurances: I could count my bones, I could count my calories, I could count the pounds I had lost and the pounds left to lose. And as long as I had those rigid numbers and that structure and familiar framework, I felt safe and contained.
I don’t have those coping mechanisms any more. And while, most of the time, it’s a HUGE relief to be free from the restriction and the isolation, it’s sometimes tempting to revert back to those old ways of managing. Every day is about making a series of choices to make sure I stay well.
I was speaking with my best friend about this recently and he was genuinely surprised - I thought you were better, that you didn’t think that way any more – so I had to explain that yes, I might be to all extents and purposes ‘recovered’, I might laugh often and think positively…but there’s still a lot to contend with beneath the surface. It’s not like a switch has been flipped: one day you think badly of yourself, the next you are brimming with joy and contentment. It’s a work in progress, it takes continued effort.
There is a quote I like that says, Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.
I am trying to keep that in the forefront of my mind. To know that everyone has their demons, no matter how well-hidden or invisible they are, no matter how bright their public smile. It makes me feel more acceptable, more human. It also makes me want to be more compassionate.
I suppose this post is my way of reminding myself to be more aware. And more open. And more mindful of what might be going on beneath the surface, both for myself and other people.