** Trigger Warning **
Aoibhín McGarry writes about her personal experience dealing with an eating disorder in Lockdown during COVID-19 and trying to overcome it.
I lie sometimes, even though I know it’s wrong. I lie to my parents about what I have eaten. I lie to my friends each time I say I am not hungry. I lie to my Instagram followers every time I post a ‘body confidence’ picture that exudes confidence and self-acceptance when in reality I analyse that picture for days on end, wondering if people are laughing at me for allowing myself to gain weight when I was ‘skinny’ before.
The lie that hurts the most, however, Is when I fail to admit that I am struggling.
Things Got Better...For A While
It stopped for a while. The waking up with quivering anxiety, pillow stained with tears and cold sweat. The melting into the bathroom floor after each meal as my guilt swallowed me up whole. The sore throat that burned every morning as I broke down trying to decide whether to allow myself breakfast or not. The loneliness that groaned quietly in the background of every day, a constant reminder that I was isolated; trapped. It all stopped for a while.
Suddenly life began to return and happiness unfurled like photosynthesising flowers with each restriction lifted. Friends once again became a blissful safety net, the gym was where all tension could be released with each clenching and unclenching muscle, and we all felt free again.
Oh, the relief of being able to put on a nice dress and sit down with loved ones in a restaurant that buzzed with effortless ambiance. The joy of simply being able to go on a walk with an estranged friend or seeing grandparents for the first time in months. It was nice for a while.
If I’m honest, I feel out of control again. Like every day is a fresh new leaf, yet as the time rolls by each temptation gnaws at that leaf like a hungry caterpillar until by the time I’m lying awake at three in the morning it is nothing more than a disgusting piece of shrivelled debris.
I was “healthy” today. I resisted the urge to have the sugary temptation of coco pops, chose a protein-rich, green lunch, and held myself back when the scent of freshly baked cookies wafted around the house. Yet somehow, as I looked at my body in the mirror as I changed into my fluffy pink pyjamas, each fibre of my body began to expand uncontrollably before my eyes until I was no longer myself that I saw in the mirror.
Staring back at me, a blurry-eyed ravenous monster urged me to go down to the kitchen and devour every morsel and crumb until I broke into tears on the kitchen floor. Disgusting. Disgusting. That was what I would always be and there was no way to fight it, so I made myself feel even more disgusting until the pain I felt was physical, no longer just in my mind.
Lockdown 1 and 2 Were Hard
Lockdown was hard. We all struggled with loneliness, frustration, and the ever-present atmosphere of foreboding in the media. We attempted hefty workloads and difficult exams from behind a computer screen and wrestled with the voice in our heads that told us we were lazy for doing nothing, even though that was what we were supposed to do. Every day was a cocktail of emotions and fears that we were forced to guzzle down until some of us felt like this would never end. But we made it through; albeit with a new mindset that would allow us to face any challenge ahead.
Some of us even thrived, learning new skills, or perhaps even discovering newfound tranquility within ourselves. But for those of us with mental health struggles it may not have been such an easy ride; and now heading into a winter lockdown, the added challenges of the early darkness and emotionally triggering holidays may be especially testing for some.
Christmas Was Difficult Too
Not many people are frightened by the scent of Christmas dinner, but for someone with an eating disorder, the aroma of freshly roast ham and buttery roast potatoes is enough to make you want to hide under the duvets until next spring. Christmas time revolves around food, alcohol, and frankly overindulgence. The tin of roses under the Christmas tree, the countless hot chocolates, and not to mention the judgemental glares of family members as you pick at the Christmas dinner at your plate.
And if being in lockdown during a cold dark winter with no college or friends wasn’t hard enough, we have social media to grapple with. One glance at an Instagram feed filled with emaciated influencers and health gurus who are seemingly thriving through this pandemic with perfect bodies and daily workouts is enough to make anyone feel unworthy.
We felt sadness that this Christmas was different than ever before. We ate turkey and ham and all the purple roses in the tin until we dozed off on our living room couches. We felt that subtle pang of guilt that comes with each day spent doing nothing; just simply relaxing in our PJs and fluffy socks and watching Christmas movies to our heart’s content. But we got through it and we will get through this.
Lockdown 3: The trilogy no one wanted
The announcement of yet another Level 5 Lockdown may not have come as a shock to us. Even so, the stark realisation that we would not be able to see our loved ones or distract ourselves with the daily routine that gives so much comfort may have hit you like a tonne of bricks.
I cried when I heard the news (and trust me, I’m not a pretty crier). Tears fell like Irish summer rain when I realised that I would have to face my exams without going to the college library, find a workout regime without the convenience of the gym, survive without the support of the ones I love.
For many people, bad relationships with family at home, eating disorders, anxiety, or even cabin fever can be a horrific experience at this time. But there is hope. This is simply the beginning of the end of a challenging period in all of our lives.
Help Is Always There
You will have sleepless nights. You will feel frustrated, and lonely, and fed-up. If you’re like me you might even cry enough tears to fill a small paddling pool, but we are ever-so-close and we will get through this.
I have linked several websites below that have helped me enormously throughout this time, and if you need it, I hope they help you too.
I wish I had a magic wand solution, but in reality, this will be hard. We have been through national Lockdowns twice before, and no matter how low you got (maybe even low enough to make TikTok dance videos!), we have done this before and we can do it again.
Stay safe, mind each other, and most importantly, mind yourself.