You control what?

Eating disorders live within and amongst us. Most have encountered it in some form, knowing friends and family with a history of disordered eating.

This feels like a ‘make or break’ period for those facing psychiatric impediment. Recovery without the occasional step backwards is to be expected, and few health journeys are quick.

No recovery journey is embarked on alone either. The stark picture of current day mental health care was highlighted last week by Dr Agnes Ayton – chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Eating Disorders Faculty – arguing the reduced capacity of inpatient units have left hundreds of severely ill patients without necessary intensive therapy.

While the implementation of digital consultations was achieved quickly, remote therapy provides few answers to self-destructive eating habits. The award-winning eating disorders advocate Hope Virgo recently spoke about a significant influx of messages received by those struggling during lockdown.

“The message to exercise and not gain weight has been inescapable,” she told the Telegraph. “Day units have been shut, so people aren’t getting any support or just a little bit of remote therapy. We are going to be left with a mental health crisis even bigger than before.”

She’s right. Disruption in treatment reduces the chances of immediate physical recovery. Any effective treatment strategy must be comprehensive and sustained, a reality clearly much harder right now.

The question of severity also risks undermining recovery. Eating disorders feed on comparisons, not only in relation to shape and size, but also emotional vulnerability. This risks becoming satisfied by the emotions and vulnerability attached to being both physically and emotionally compromised, making recovery much harder, even for those in less immediate physical danger. It’s a very slippery slope.

Physical barometers are absolutely crucial in determining the extent of one’s critical needs, but behaviours worsen over time. Like most serious illnesses, catching disorders early likely improves the chance of recovery.

Physical meetings are crucial in the case of anorexia so medical professionals can ascertain one’s immediate needs. In a world of limited physical interactions, our confinements lead to a much more confined mindset, and a far less flexible approach towards life.

We lose sight of the bigger picture, the future and the memories yet to be made. We drizzle less peanut butter on our cereal, skip the mid-morning snack, opt for the lowest calorie salad dressing, binge on cake, muffins and ice cream, purge in agony. Disorders breed on the inherent discomfort and uncertainty of change.

The loss of routine these changes bring creates this sense of ungovernable chaos wreaking havoc into our lives.

With limited scope to control those around us, it becomes much more attractive – and much easier – to control the smaller things in life. But did we ever have control? Do we ever control the world? Surely not? After all, our ability to control is very different from our ability to feel in control.

When family or friends cook a meal, I have – quite literally – no control over portion sizing, and yet because of my emotional recovery made recently, I feel very much in control of my emotions, and enough to embark on the meal.

We have no control over our world except for our reactions to it. And herein lies the opportunity. Generally speaking, when we feel a loss of control, we become much more controlling. This is great at least until it kills you. And the same question remains, how do we actually regain control?

The answer to this question is truly unmistakable. We can not control our internal or external realities. Stay strong, trust your body, let the world do it’s thing, and don’t ever give up!

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About Author

Sam Gordon Webb

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October 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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