Anxiety. What a horrible feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go through life never feeling anxious, stressed or worried? Or at least not beyond the point that keeps us safe…as we need a certain amount of angst and worry to prevent us doing dangerous, harmful things. But life to me, particularly at the moment, just feels like one gigantic worry.
I worry about everything…and by everything, I do literally mean ‘everything’. And if I’m not worrying, I worry that I’m not worrying. I used to be quite laid back and never really let my worries and anxiety take over. But anorexia has changed that. Anorexia has made me incredibly anxious, although less so now than about 7 years ago when I was having constant panic attacks. But my three hospital admissions took a lot out of me and anorexia left me as a nervous wreck. I have come a long way since then-from being too scared to go into my house, or wear different clothes, or put food in my mouth; I have managed to tackle a lot of anxiety provoking situations, yet my daily life still seems overridden with worry.
Everyone develops coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and anorexia is my maladaptive one. When faced with a lot of stress, fear and worry, I turn to anorexia to help me cope. And this can be over ‘anorexic worries’ but also normal life worries. Anorexia helps me cope by isolating me, taking me out of the real world and away from all it stresses and giving me something else to focus on-weight loss, food and exercise. And yes, these in themselves bring a lot of worry and anxiety but I am used to dealing with them-they are familiar and safe and if I focus all my attention on that I know I can deal with them…and I won’t have to deal with real life. Take where I am at the moment as an example. I am due to start a Masters very shortly, at a new university, on a new course, with a load of new people…and I am absolutely terrified. My instinctive reaction is to run away, to run to anorexia and focus on that; to set about losing weight and taking myself away from the daunting real-life situation. That would most definitely be the easy option. Easy? Yes. Safe? Yes. An escape? Yes. But will it truly make me happy? No. I have tried it before and I know for a fact that no matter how much it tries to convince you that it will, anorexia never makes you happy. It doesn’t make everything better, even though it is so convincing in persuading you otherwise. So I need to try and develop new ways of coping with my stress and anxiety because whilst anorexia is the easy option, it is actually just the option that reinforces and strengthens my anxiety and worry.
Every time an anorexic behaviour is used to cope with and relieve anxiety, it reinforces that behaviour and makes the fears worse. I feel very anxious when I reduce my walking by 5 minutes (in line with my new plan as mentioned on previous blogs) and my reaction to deal with this anxiety is to either do the final 5 minutes or cut my calories. And when I did that, my anxiety did come down. But then I associate the relief of the anxiety with that anorexic behaviour and conclude that the only way to relieve anxiety is to do the anorexic behaviour. And this can be applied to any scenario. But as my psychologist explained last week, anxiety never keeps on just rising and rising. It will in time hit a peak and plateau, and then start to fall. But you have to sit with it. You have to let it rise without doing the anorexic behaviour to control it and bring it back down. Because it will come back down without the behaviour, it’s just I’ve never tried because as soon as I feel the stress rising, I do the anorexic coping behaviour.
So with starting at university next week, whilst my default coping behaviour is anorexia; I am going to fight this. And I am going to have to apply this to all areas of my life in order to stop reinforcing anorexia as a way to cope. Whilst anorexia may help me cope in the short term, I will never break free from my state of constant worry and anxiety if the anorexic coping mechanisms just continue to reinforce these…which they do. I don’t want to keep running away from things and missing out on life because anorexia made me too scared to do otherwise. I am about to start a new chapter in my life and as terrifying as it is, I am going to face it head on.