With Christmas approaching, it’s important that we think of how this time of year can affect people with mental health difficulties. I’d like to tell the story of my first Christmas with an eating disorder and give some tips for coping with the season.
I was 14, my eating disorder had really begun earlier that year around February and I hadn’t yet received a diagnosis. I started having nightmares about Christmas around October – nightmares in which I would lose control with food and regain all the weight I had lost. How was I going to cope with there being so much food? How was I going to hide my ED behaviours from my loved ones? What would happen if I binged?
For the few weeks coming up to Christmas, I severely restricted my calorie intake in order to ‘prepare’ and to create a sort of safety net for If I ended up binging. This was of course the worst way to deal with my anxiety and made it so that when the food focused events started happening, my worst fear was realised. As soon as I lost control, I couldn’t regain it, and I binge ate over the course of the Christmas week.
When I stood on the scales again one evening a few days after I had managed to stop binging, I was over my ‘safe’ weight. This was the first time I had a panic attack. I didn’t know what was happening to me, I felt like I was totally out of control and that night I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake until 3 in the morning crying in my bed until I finally plucked up the courage to go into my mum’s room and tell her everything that had been going on. The next day, we went to the doctor and I finally recognised that I needed help.
Now I’m 20, and I’m able to enjoy Christmas with relatively low anxiety levels. My family know how to support me and food has become a part of the day that I can take part in, without letting it take control. If I could give any advice to 14-year-old me who didn’t yet have a diagnosis and was confused and scared by what was happening, I would tell myself not to suffer in silence. Even though Christmas would still have been hard even with my family knowing what I was going through, I wouldn’t feel so much like I was being silenced by my eating disorder.
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