Recovery from an eating disorder can sometimes feel like walking through sludge. I swear I’m working hard but feel like I am making zero progress. If I zoom in and look at the day to day it can be very defeating.
The truth is, recovery is a slow process. The body and mind don’t heal in a day so sometimes it takes a year to even really notice a change. It’s hard to keep going with such slow progress, but it’s better then no progress right? (I actually hate when people say that slow progress is better then no progress haha. It's true but EW!)
A few weeks ago I had the rare, yet encouraging opportunity to see clearly that I am still progressing even if I don’t feel like it!! I say rare, because I honestly just can’t really see it most of the time. Sometimes it takes obvious, in my face, examples for me to see that things ARE getting better!
I’m a professional photographer and I lived in the Washington D.C./Metro area for seven years before moving to Ohio two years ago. I still have a pretty big clientele base in DC so every fall I head back to DC to do photo shoots for about a week! It’s usually 15-20 shoots in three days so it’s a lot.
Last year when I did this it was pretty brutal to be honest. I was still at my highest weight, swelling and just felt wiped out all the time. My husband travels a lot for work so he had a ton of hotel points and booked me a hotel room for the time I was working there. I just remember waking up in the morning, struggling to get up and get dressed. Stressed about what people would think about my weight when seeing me again and wearing large baggy clothes in eighty degree weather because I just wanted to hide. I would go do four morning shoots and then have to lay down for hours in the room to get my swelling to go down and my energy to build back up in order to do four more shoots in the evening. I was SO sore from the shoots and looking back I honestly don’t know how I did it in the state my body was in at that time.
Fast forward to this fall and off I went to DC to do a bunch of photo shoots again!
In the year between these two work trips I trudged through recovery. I ate well, didn’t relapse, started walking and incorporating exercise again. I went on medication for my anxiety and BDD, and a lot of the overshoot weight started to fall off. It sounds like a lot but going through it felt very slow. I truly never saw the weight loss and most of the time still don’t. I’m really hard on myself about working out so when I started walking I just would hate on myself for not being able to run instead. It was hard and felt like a daily uphill battle to not go back to old disordered eating habits. I think when I was anorexic I was use to fast results. Starve, fell control, see the number drop. Easy peasy. Now that it’s slow and healthy, it takes a long time to even see anything change.
Well, two weeks ago I drove out to DC for my annual week of shoots! (For those worried about Covid and my travel, I was safe and so were my clients! We are all ok and got beautiful photos!) Considering how wiped I was last year doing these shoots I was kind of nervous if it would be just as hard this year. I went anyway and hoped for the best!
UMMMMMMM what a complete 180 from last year!
It’s time to pull out the Asti because it became VERY clear to me during my work trip that this past year I have made HUGE strides in my recovery and they should be straight CELEBRATED!
First of all, for 90% of my shoots I didn’t worry about what my clients thought about my weight. Truly, I just showed up and did my thing! I saw myself as a photographer not as a body that needed to be approved of. The only two clients that gave me anxiety were clients that I hadn’t photographed in 7 years. This means the last time they saw me I was close to my lowest weight ever. This is a LARGE weight difference. So yes, I had a bit of anxiety about it, but another sign that I have made huge strides was I reached out to a friend, shared how I was feeling and was able to get back on track fast. By the time I took their first photo the anxiety was completely gone.
Second of all, I had more energy then I knew what to do with! I came back from my morning shoots ready to hang with my niece and nephew, or stop at the store, or grab lunch with my sister-in-law! I would then go off to my evening shoots and come back ready to go to my nephews soccer game or bake a pie with family!
Last year = I had to lay down to get swelling to go down and gain energy.
This year = 4 morning shoots, lunch with loved ones, 4 more shoots, running around and laughing all night!
WHAT?!?!?! YOU GO SARA!
Clothing. Let’s talk clothing.
Last year I wore baggy sweaters in really hot weather because I just wanted to cover every inch of the body I had at the time. This year I walked around in a t-shirt and leggings and called it a day. It isn’t that I love my body, it’s more that I just accept it and don’t want to be freaking hot while I’m working. If these people don’t like my arms then that’s a shame because they are the arms that hold up my large camera to take their awesome photos! Side-note - not one client seemed to care about my arms. If they did, I would have no idea. They all are just worried about how they look on camera, not about how I look behind the camera.
Some other things to note that were different....
-I ate freely this year and didn’t freak about every bit of food I put in my mouth.
-I literally jumped around playing a game with my nephew while he recorded me doing it. I HATE be recorded. I also, just didn’t care and his laughter over my Arnold Schwarzenegger impression was more important then how dumb or large I looked in a video.
-I did get glutened (I have had celiac issues, I’ll have to blog about this). When I get glutened it’s pretty bad. I get tired, moody, my stomach blows up, I have "other" stomach issues, my whole body swells, my body image plummets and I have anxiety attacks. Sadly this happened my first day there, BUT I was able to recognize it, calm down and move forward. Something like that a year ago would have wrecked me for days.
I won’t go on and on about all the differences between these two work weeks, but it’s clear that while I didn’t see a lot of this progress day to day throughout the year, when I looked back a LOT had changed and I’m doing pretty dang good!
I’ll leave you with this. Day to day we struggle against our ED’s. We take the little steps to choose to eat, choose to rest, choose to walk, choose to fight thoughts. We win small battles and lose small battles, but overtime, if we just keep going we slowly DO win the war against our eating disorders! Changes do happen, they just take a while. I encourage you to zoom out and look back to a year ago and find things are clearly better! I know there are some! Find them! Maybe you have gained more weight, but have you been able to eat bagels? You still like your size, but have you been able to go three days without skipping a meal? Celebrate those things! Then get back to work! Full recovery is my aim and I encourage it to be yours too!!!