Over the past few weeks, my husband and I have often imagined how we might have experienced this pandemic in different seasons of life. We’ve envisioned how our middle school selves would have coped, high school selves, college selves, etc. We’ve thought about how COVID19 is creating nuanced and specific grief for people all over the world depending on their age, stage of life, and individualized life circumstances.
As I’ve thought back to prior seasons of life, one thing has struck me time and again: if I was still in the throes of an eating disorder, COVID19 would have been my undoing. Not being able to control my body through a daily workout regimen or diet foods would have caused sheer panic.
If you know my story, you also know that my disordered eating past includes binge-eating. If this pandemic happened in my early 20s when I felt utterly dangerous around food, having additional food stores in the house would have felt terrifying.
Like most of us, I’ve experienced waves up anxiety over the past few weeks. The anxiety has hit me unexpectedly and has been over a myriad of things from health concern to financial concern to concern for others. As these waves have hit me I’ve made a conscious decision to ride those waves. I don’t shove my feelings down or try to pretend they aren’t there.
1. What emotion am I feeling?
2. How can I validate those emotions (because our emotions are ALWAYS valid and typically point to past experiences)?
3. What is at the root of my emotions?
4. What do I long for in this moment?
5. Am I ok?
By asking myself these questions, I can be present with myself and allow my emotions to exist. At the same time, it helps me to see that I am separate from my emotions and they don’t have power over me. I am attuned to the impact they are having on me without letting them drown me. Miraculously, when I do this, my anxiety simply comes and goes. It doesn’t stick.
My younger self would have used food (either through restriction or binge-eating) as a way to avoid big emotion.
I want to be loud and clear on this next point: if this is where you are finding yourself during this pandemic, you are ok as you are. It took years for me to look at my emotions and even now, even as a licensed therapist, I have my moments of choosing food to cope. I will ALWAYS be learning myself and how my mind and body are going to react to stressful situations. I will never reach a point where “I’ve got this.” It’s unreasonable for any of us to think that we will.
For anyone reading this that finds themselves struggling with body image or food during this wild, unprecedented season, know that you don’t have to do this alone.
If you feel dangerous around all the food you have in your house…I see you.
If your sense of security depended on a daily gym routine…I see you.
If you feel deprived because you can’t eat the food you crave in this season…I see you.
If you aren’t used to eating around roommates, and it is really scary to do that now…I see you.
If you are sinking in shame because you consistently binge-eat all your quarantine snack…I see you.
If your disordered eating habits and rituals are being exposed around roommates/family members and you feel like you can’t hide the way you used to…I see you.
Now, more than ever, is a time to be gentle with yourself. This is your first global pandemic. A lot is shifting in your world. Remember, an eating disorder is not about food, but a way to manage deeper emotion and control your experiences. You’ve probably never craved that control more than you do right now. You might even feel as though you are spinning out of control. Again, I see you and I urge you not to battle alone. FaceTime a friend. Set up a zoom call with people you trust. Call our office and set up an appointment or find a local dietician. Let safe people in.
If my younger self was able to peer into my life as a 32 year old in the midst of the coronavirus, I think she would be shocked. Eating disorder recovery used to feel scary and out of reach. I had no idea the abundance of life that awaited for me when I chose to heal; when I chose to make meaning from my story. No matter your circumstances or what you’ve come through, know that healing is possible for you, too.
To learn more about therapist Lindsay Buono, find her profile here.
If you enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy her series on Intuitive Eating. Here’s the first one in the series: