Sunday, 24 September 2017

Travelling in Recovery



This summer I was fortunate enough to be offered a teaching position in China, which became the financial springboard for a further spectacular 3 months of travel. The most fantastic opportunity of my life has also been maybe one of the most difficult.

Travelling East Asia is paradise for food lovers, but can slip and twist into a dystopic nightmare when you are a food-lover-come-bulimic-in-remission. Hot and buttery banana pancakes, sweet coffee with condensed milk, soft and sticky noodles, cloying and honeyed sticky rice, gooey and gelatinous dumplings, hot and sour soups, nutty and oily curries. An incalculable sensory landscape that has sometimes been bittersweet. 

For three months I have slurped and munched and chewed through the most wonderful myriad of colour and flavour and texture. Augustus Gloop loose in the chocolate factory looks feeble by comparison. But Augustus and I share the condition of having gotten stuck. One minute I'm promising myself no restrictions, the next I'm plotting and scheming meals to miss, carbs to cut, and conscious of the familiar feeling of sick rising in my throat. 

I tread this endless and exhausting oscillating movement, desperate to navigate a space in-between. For a person who is publicly very scatty, privately I meticulously plan each cycle of food consumption and expulsion with surgical care. With no space or time to plan, I was propelled forward into an assault of feasting and snacking and gorging. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. 

I watched bits of my body switch from hard to soft, and wept and mourned their transition. Six years of purging and restriction means my body clings to food quicker than most, my metabolism slowed by my own mistreatment.The strange pattern- that collapses the distinction between my mind and body- triggers involuntary vomiting each time I dwell on policing my intake, or on my changing shape. 

"You have to get comfortable in feeling uncomfortable" insists my remarkable and eternally patient friend. I repeat this to myself over and over. Moment to moment my mind and reflection shift. I smile at my softer stomach, my thicker thighs, and then suddenly catch myself from a different angle and feel as though the world is crashing in around my head.

This point is made again and again, but eating disorders do not just thrive in bodies that are thin, they continue to live and feast in bodies of all shapes and sizes. 

I made promise after promise, to direct myself toward thinness, or to direct myself to recovery- all hollow. I could only extend into space as a deviant scribble, a betrayal to both sides of my conflicted self.

My lovely friend watches my feeble attempts at being better, hearing me slip back into my old disordered lexis, where normality is defined by restrictions. Then she makes me do something very difficult. She makes me sit and be with my lowest self. Rip it open, face it, feel it. 

My second year of university was coloured by my worst relapse since I was very ill during my A levels. I felt absolutely unreachable. I have the most wonderful group of supportive friends and yet, lots of the of the time, felt utterly and impenetrably alone. 

And so there we sat, in a coffee shop in Vietnam, tears streaming down my face, recalling all of it. The isolation, the sneaking off after meals, the crying, the cramps, the foggyness, the exhaustion, the total neglect of the subject that I love. 

She made me call a spade a spade-  and pushed me to stare that spade in the face. I think I owe her- quite literally- my life. (Thank you.)

I am used to matching pictures of my skinny self with romance, and validation, and worth. The reaction- as my body slims- is always positive. I tangle well-intended compliments into a monster mandate to validate my own nasty habits. 

But for the first time in my life I can say with conviction that I want to be better more than I want to be skinny.

I've posted bikini pictures- admittedly well-angled- but nonetheless markedly different from the image I've so long been chasing of my 15 year old twiggy self. 

I'm eating desserts when I want to, eating bread because I like it, eating sugar because I like it (something that I've told myself I hate for too long.) And when I feel food come up, I focus all my energy on keeping it down, rather than succumbing to its force.

I have to consciously and constantly tell myself off- talking back to the voice that has for so long told me that I'm not enough, that I need to "earn" basic sustenance. 

At the end of my self-indulgent gap yah enlightenment, I am happier and heavier and ready to face the illness I've been running from for years. I don't know quite how to love my body yet, how to stop seeing change as flawed, but I'm getting there slowly. 

I still have daily wobbles- but that's all they are- momentary wobbles, in what is actually a very real and meaningful recovery. 


  1. Same problem here. I now use my size as an advantage in sport and I guess it has in turn kept me super fit, even if I don't look it!!!

    1. That’s great to hear! In terms of good books on staying body positive, Megan Crabbe’s Body Positive Power is a fantastic read and real support


Failure, Individualism, and the Complexities of Self-Care

CN: Mental health, bulimia Failure and the self We exist in a moment where threats are immediate, physical and existential. Lives...