Anorexia and holidays. So, it came to that time of year, early August, the due date for our annual family holiday to Spain. That is where I have been for a week from 10th-17th August. But my holiday isn’t like most other people’s holidays. As I sat on my sun lounger I looked around doing what you would call ‘people watching’. Germans, Spaniards, Brits. Families with children, couples young and old, groups of friends…there was a complete mix of people. But they all had one thing in common. They were all enjoying themselves. Whether they were playing in the pool, reading a book on a sunbed or taking a stroll on the beach (to name just a few activities people delved in to), they all had smiles on their faces, were having fun, and simply looked happy.
And that is what holidays should be about-destressing, escaping reality, relaxing, enjoying. But this doesn’t happen for me. Yes, technically I was ‘on holiday’. I had gone to another country, I was staying in a hotel with a pool and near the beach. But it doesn’t matter where you take me or what environment you put me in, there is one fact you can’t escape from…you don’t get a holiday from anorexia. Anorexia and holidays are words that don’t go together.
Anorexia succeeded in destroying a lot of the enjoyment that should come with being on holiday. You can’t escape the stress and worries it causes, the fears of food and weight gain, the need to exercise. And because I am out of my comfort zone of my home and regular routine, it just exaggerates these anxieties.
And looking around, seeing all these happy faces, really bought home how destructive and life destroying anorexia is. I can’t be allowed to enjoy myself for one week, or even one day. Anorexia is always there. Yes there were occasions on holiday that I enjoyed-we had interesting trips out, it was nice to spend time with my sister and her boyfriend but ultimately, anorexia just hung over me like a black cloud. And I hate it for this. More so now than ever before. Not only was anorexia ruining my ‘holiday’, it was also effecting the rest of my family who had to deal with my stresses and bad moods. Anorexia and holidays are hard for everyone involved.
We had an early flight out to Spain, setting off from our house at 3.30am. And anorexia made me do something most ‘normal’ people wouldn’t think of in their wildest dreams. Because of the anxiety anorexia causes, it made me go out, at 3am, to do part of my daily walk as the worry of having to do it all once I arrived was too great. So there I am, walking round the streets at 3am…this isn’t how life should be. My exhausted body was doing what my warped mind told it to. And I won’t let it do this to me again. At least not to that extent.
Similarly, on holiday at breakfast, there was an array of lovely looking food to choose from. An abundance of different varieties of breads, rolls and cakes; dozens of different types of cereals, traditional Spanish churros and pancakes. It all looked and smelt wonderful. And every morning for breakfast do you know what I had?
A poxy bowl of cornflakes with milk.
That was all my head would allow me to have, the only thing I could cope with. And as much as I longed to be able to try these different foods, the fear and anxiety it would cause would be too much. The thought of it even made me panic. No amount of money would have enabled me to put a crumb of bread into my mouth. Looking at the different foods and imagining myself eating them seemed equivocal to looking at Mount Everest and imagining reaching the top. An impossible task.
But had you asked me five years ago if I thought I would go on holiday once a year, every year, for the next five years and cope with the food and exercise, I would have thought this too was an impossible task. But it wasn’t. And this is something I have achieved. So, whilst this holiday was not great, I must remember that I have come quite a long way and it is a case of baby steps, not giant leaps.
And despite many negatives, this holiday I did make baby steps. Unlike all the previous holidays where I have religiously swam for 45minutes come hell or high water, making myself exhausted and freezing…because that was what anorexia told me to do; this year I did not. The swimming I had done on all previous years had been a chore. I didn’t want to do it, I HAD to do it. But not this year.
Anorexia was telling me I should do it, that I was being lazy for not. It was a constant battle in my head but I fought the worries and the anxiety and I did not give in to it. And by not having to slavishly swim, it did actually make the holiday more enjoyable. The three times I did pop into the water, I did so with my mum and sister and we poodled about in the sea and pool together, not vigorously swimming and not for a set time. I wasn’t in the water for long but it was enough and I enjoyed it. Far better than the religious 45minute swim of previous years. And for me, not swimming was a huge achievement.
And whereas all previous years I have used the holiday as a way to lose weight, this year I did not aim for that. I didn’t plan, or try to lose weight. And that has to be a note-worthy achievement. So it wasn’t all bad. And probably, for every negative there was a positive. And it is the positives I need to focus on-spending time with family, being on the beach, sight-seeing. They were all positive and things I enjoyed.
Also, I will learn from the negatives – I can see the ways anorexia seeped in and I can see how the holiday could be better without it. I’m not saying my next holiday I will be able to change everything and ignore anorexia…I’m sure I won’t. The struggles with anorexia and holidays won’t disappear overnight. But I am more aware and, as I made baby steps this holiday, hopefully I can do a few more the next one.