The Art of Avoidance

Avoidance. This is something over the years I have become very good at. I touched on it in my blog last week how, if I’m too scared of something, I will avoid it. Whilst avoidance does have some advantages-if you keep avoiding something you never actually have to face it so you manage to skirt round the edge of your fears, never actually having to deal with them- but it is actually not a good coping mechanism, despite how safe it helps you feel. Yes, it may seem like a good thing to constantly avoid things that cause discomfort; why face a fear when you don’t have to? If you avoid everything you don’t want to do, you can plod along quite nicely without ever having to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. And many people may ask-what’s wrong with this? I am certainly not avert to avoidance.

But the problem with avoidance is, because you never actually face the thing you are avoiding…you can neatly leave it to one side, not having to think about it. But you never actually deal with it, you never work out a way to cope with it, to overcome the anxiety it causes. And the more you avoid it, the more of a problem it becomes, the more your anxiety surrounding it grows. It becomes a bigger fear and you want to avoid it more.

By not avoiding all the time, I am more flexible with my sister

Take a spider for example. Many people are scared of spiders, particularly big ones. Now, if every time a big spider appears in the corner of the room, you immediately run away and let someone else deal with it, over time, your fear of the big spider will increase and it will reach the point when even if a tiny money spider appears, you will be terrified and run away, the same as you used to do for the giant spider. So now you are scared of even the tiniest spider…your fear has grown. This is what avoidance does. It just makes the thing you are avoiding even more scary, even more unpleasant, even more anxiety provoking.

I have spent many years of my life avoiding things that I didn’t want to face. I think that is partly how anorexia crept in and why it has stayed with me for so long. Anorexia helped me avoid life. Life to me was just a continuous stream of disappointment, of failed ambitions and dreams. I didn’t want to endure the disappointment of life. And it turned out anorexia was very good at giving me an escape route…a way to avoid living life.

Having spent years dedicating my entire focus, my entire being, on losing weight, exercising and being anorexic, normal life was passing me by, both while I was in hospital and on discharges between admissions. My life was on pause…I wasn’t living a life, I wasn’t facing the normal milestones other people my age were…I wasn’t going out clubbing, I wasn’t graduating, I wasn’t getting a job, I wasn’t getting a boyfriend, I wasn’t thinking about starting my own home or family. No, I was just thinking about anorexia…this allowed me to avoid thinking about all those other things that I didn’t want to face.

Me, avoiding life in my hospital chair

But whereas my life felt on hold, time was actually moving on and I found myself after my last hospital admission, being discharged at 23 years old but still feeling and being in the same situation as my teenage self. And throughout my hospital admissions, I had got the act of avoidance down to a fine art. If anyone could avoid, I certainly could. That is partly what anorexia does…it makes you avoid things more and more, increasing your fears and making life ever more difficult. I was so terrified of food that I avoided eating for 7 months, being solely tube-fed and only allowing water to pass my lips.

But I realised I couldn’t avoid my fears forever. I started to actually want to have a life and knew if I were to achieve this, I had to stop avoiding; I had to start facing fears. So food, and other ‘normal’ activities that people do on a daily basis without even thinking, were gradually reintroduced into my life. This was undeniably difficult and I did constantly want to revert to my safe chair in my hospital room and not face anything, just staying there and letting life pass me by. This was the safe, the easy option, but it wasn’t the option that would truly make me happy. It may feel like I’d be happier staying in my room away from fears but deep down, I knew a life lived in a tiny box where nothing can come in was not  a life of happiness.
And since my discharge I have continued to challenge myself to deal with things I want to avoid. Take university for example. I went back to university and continued to go back lesson after lesson, year after year when so much of the time I just wanted to give up. Giving up and going back to anorexia did seem very appealing but now I knew if I did, the years would continue to roll by and I would stay stuck in the same situation…safe but not happy.
I went back to university, completed my degree and graduated
Change terrified me. I thought if I changed anything, something bad would happen. In hospital I had piles and piles of magazines that I had collected over the months, because I was too scared to move them in case something bad happened. And this habit continued post discharge…I couldn’t wear different clothes, I couldn’t walk a different route, I couldn’t even cut my nails because the change meant something bad would happen. I spent a very long time avoiding making any changes. But, as I mentioned earlier, avoidance doesn’t solve the problem and it certainly wasn’t making me happy. I had a wardrobe full of new clothes that I wanted to wear but the fear was too great. I couldn’t carry on living my life in a constant state of avoidance…as terrifying as life is, I want to live it, not avoid it.
I can now go out and have fun with friends, rather than avoiding everything
But avoidance will always have its appeal, it will always feel like the easier option but I have got better at making myself do difficult things…you have to fight for the things you want in life. And I do want a life, I do want friends, I do want to be happy. My default mechanism is always to avoid…any social outing/gathering, any club, any different meal, any change in routine…I have to force myself to do. But a while ago I wouldn’t have pushed myself; I’d have gone with the avoidance route. Not anymore. I cannot allow myself to avoid, I do not want friends, events, life to pass me by.

I do acknowledge that I am probably still avoiding the major issue, the major fear in my life…gaining weight, but I am trying to face other previous avoidances that will in the end help me face this ultimate avoidance and help me along the road to recovery. I have lived trying to avoid everything but this just helps the anorexia grow stronger…anorexia and avoidance can feel like the answer to everything. But it is not. Its answers nothing. And I am tackling this day by day, step by step, avoidance by avoidance. And if I can do it, anyone can do it. I have spent a lifetime avoiding because I am scared of falling…yes I may fall…but what if I fly?

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