relentless health anxiety in eating disorder recovery: a paradox

There’s a terrible irony in wanting and expecting more from lessening.

In the case of my eating disorder, making myself smaller to lessen my presence and decrease the amount of space I occupied, disguised itself as a solution to avoid overwhelming anxiety.

That’s the powerful illusion of eating disorders, right? They constantly promise gifts so contradictory in nature, that eventually they convince you they make rational sense.

In reality, an eating disorder is the perfect avoidance technique.

I was basically overly anxious from the moment my mom’s c-section was over. Over the years, my anxiety has manifested itself in many ways and right now I’m struggling most with taming the beast of health anxiety and how it relates to my eating disorder (link to blog).

I’ll start by saying that my health anxiety is not entirely unwarranted right now, I just wish I was able to manage it better.

  1. Eating disorders are damaging to the body and our health (who would’ve thought?!), and after 15 years of not treating my body with respect, it’s fairly possible that some of my symptoms are the result of eating disorder behaviors.
  2. I’m undergoing testing for autoimmune diseases which comprise about 100% of my maternal gene pool :-/. I’ve had a constellation of symptoms that brought me to a rheumatologist, which led to blood work up, which led to a positive result, which led to “oh my fucking god I’m dying right now” panic, which led to “hold up, we’ll get some more tests next week”.

I don’t mean to sound flip, heck it’s just the truth! My health anxiety goes to extremes, and it goes there quickly. Big questions with more than one answer, and bigger questions with no answers at all consume my mind. A positive test result potentially pointing to an autoimmune disease makes me question if perhaps there really is something wrong with my body. This negative automatic thought bears an uncanny resemblance to my eating disorder’s moral conviction of my body’s inherent “wrongness”.

Fears and (ill-)perceived truths gain dimension exponentially. Anxiety tends to fuel more anxiety, amiright?! These thoughts are harder to deal with in silence, yet I’m too ashamed to speak them. The questions, the assumptions cause me to slip, forbid me from leaving my apartment, and cloud my ability to focus on parts of life that should otherwise be effortless.

I introduced myself to the rheumatologist with an immediate disclaimer that I have no idea which of my symptoms are purely real and which may be psychosomatic. He seemed to understand, but now, with this positive test result lingering in my inbox, I’m in a heightened state of uncertainty, which my eating disorder believes it cannot tolerate. My eating disorder latches onto anything that feels concrete, even if it’s a false persuasion that the only solution is to become smaller, to become less.

How does the idea of “lessening” myself via eating disorder behaviors serve to decrease my health anxiety, despite the known health risks associated with eating disorders?

Even though the eating disorder prefers certainty over unknown territory, change in any form shakes it up. My eating disorder subsequently serves as a way to keep me stuck, to maintain status quo. It’s a way to never make certain the uncertain, but to also gain a semblance of just enough grip of control.

Right now, despite my increased level of health anxiety, I’m not relying on my eating disorder as armor. Historically, when my health anxiety has become too much to bear, I start trying to run away. With each skipped meal, I work towards creating a sterile zone in my body, where nothing can grow, good or bad. The eating disorder can gain traction little by little, quickly convincing me that if I make myself smaller, I am invincible, like nothing else can get to me, no other sickness, no cancer, no autoimmune diseases.

The eating disorder only speaks in firmly established truths.

Here’s the obvious irony though:

Eating disorders ultimately fail at defeating health anxiety. In reality, there’s no hiding that even if I make myself smaller, there’s no guarantee of protection, of greater health. In fact, the opposite is true.

An eating disorder is no protective measure, no impenetrable wall to other sicknesses, and that is all part of the intolerable hurt of anxiety.

The ultimate “answer” is seemingly paradoxical:

If we want to live fully and wholeheartedly, we must be free from the eating disorder. But to be free from the eating disorder, we have to give up (our false sense of) security and safety, which yes, is scary. As a result, in order to live, we have to be ready to die. And that’s the very thing I thought my eating disorder was saving me from.

Acceptance of anxiety’s place in my life is helping me leave my mind to its serener musings. I ultimately want to live with the freedom of exploration, anticipation, and spontaneity, because the future is happily unknown.

in strength and healing,

OJ

relentless health anxiety in eating disorder recovery: a paradox
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2 thoughts on “relentless health anxiety in eating disorder recovery: a paradox

  • June 6, 2017 at 7:32 am
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    Thank you for your vulnerability and extremely powerful insight that is applicable to ALL of us fighting this battle. Anxiety, whether medical, social, or ED related, can be a monster, but understanding where it’s coming from, as painful as that is, can lead to the truth that will set us free. Inspired by your voice as always.

    Reply
    • June 6, 2017 at 11:55 am
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      thank you so much my friend <3. it's true, we need to face truths. we can't let anxiety or eating disorders or other vices act as "distractions" or barriers to that, or else we can't heal.

      Reply

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