Relationships are confusing. Add an eating disorder to the mix and it becomes even more confusing. Around the time I started recovery in the beginning of September I also broke up with my boyfriend. Although it may be seen as selfish I just needed to get out of the relationship. Being single I felt free and that I was finally able to commit myself to recovery.Ofcourse though there are many factors which contribute to a break up.
I just couldn’t be in a relationship anymore, I didn’t want to but I was scared of hurting my boyfriend. I blamed myself for not communicating to him how I felt and being more open about my struggles. I don’t like showing weakness and also I didn’t want to burden him with my problems. I think I also could not verbalise at that time the pain the eating disorder was causing. I had no energy,felt like fainting,was cold all the time and I can’t explain how it hurts to not be able to concentrate or feel love or hapiness.I was also worried that I wouldnt be taking seriously. I almost wanted to be validated, I wanted to be told that I do need to get better and that this is not “ok”.
Being in a relationship when you have an eating disorder feels kind of like a love triangle. As crazy as it sounds I felt as though I was cheating on my boyfriend with the eating disorder. I would make excuses to not see him as I didn’t have the energy to do things which we used to enjoy like going on long walks or being outside due to being too cold even though it was summer. I also felt so much guilt and shame about spending time with someone after I had binged and purged. Or not being able to him because I was too low. Keeping these secrets and all the avoidance was mentally and physically exhausting.
In a way I was also scared of “losing” the eating disorder. I didn’t want to have anyone intruding on my relationship with the ED.I know that sounds crazy. I wanted to get rid of the binging and purging but I couldn’t at the time bring myself to do it.I was addicted and each day I tried to stop I failed.The binging and purging “marathons” meant I had not had a day free of purging for months and was losing hope.I was either restricting or doing the opposite.
I read a article once and there was a quote; “love takes away masks we know we cannot live within but fear we cannot live without” I wore a mask and said I was ok,after all I could still function. Now I realise though that There is a difference between just surviving and actually living. I knew the eating disorder was causing pain to my parents too but I just couldn’t stop.
Physical contact and sex is a part of relationships. This can be very difficult for people who have low self esteem which often accompanies an eating disorder. Its really hard to take off your clothes and be confident.Also if you are trying to hide weightloss this poses another dilemma. Lack of sufficient nutrition can result in low mood/depression which can decrease sex drive but also make you isolate yourself. At times I hated being touched, I didn’t want to be hugged or held, just wanted to be alone. At the same time I despised myself for upsetting my boyfriend and just feeling selfish for wanting to be alone. Some days you can feel numb,. Nothing matters and there is this horrid heavy weight in you dragging you down. You cant snap out of it.I didn’t want someone to see that I didn’t want to put that on them. Eating disorder sufferers may struggle to accept love as they do not like themselves or do not think they deserve it.Fear of hurting the other person can lead to you pushing them away which ironically probably hurts them more than if you opened up and let them in.When you are 18 and pretty inexperienced it is hard to know what love actually is.Personally I don’t see the need to always label feelings and the pressure to feel the same for someone else as they do for can make you anxious.The thought of long term commitment at 18 made me anxious!
Another thing which is difficult is if the people you are with do not eat regularly or what would be enough for you. This can make it harder to eat. I would find myself at times unable to speak up and say “can we have lunch please? “The eating disorder wouldn’t let me.It told me that was greedy and I didn’t deserve it.When I did eat a meal and my boyfriend didn’t I felt so much guilt and upset and as horrible as this will sound resentment and frustration towards him. I think it was my fault that For a long time I didn’t say that this was something which really bothered me.I am sure to an outsider it seems like just such a silly and trivial thing but honestly it’s easier to not eat than to have all the thoughts afterwards.
Recovery is the best choice I made but it does require a lot of commitment ,determination and energy. I think I would have struggled to recover and be in the relationship I was in.Recovery has lots of ups and downs and in the first few weeks things like bloating, stomach pains,indigestion,night sweats, being really emotional can feel embarrassing as well as accepting your changing body.And though it may sound selfish recovery is also about putting yourself first and realising you are ok and its ok to take care of yourself and your body. Also once you get to a better place physically and mentally spending time with others can become easier and enjoyable once more.
Recently I feel like I am in a much more stable and happy place in terms of my mood and weight. I am not sure if I feel ready for a relationship though. I am worried of going through a breakup and fearing hurting someone else.I have other worries too, like I don’t want to become attached or dependant on someone. Its like I want to make sure I am in a good place first and I fear undoing the hard work that has gone in the past four months. Being single is also quite underrated I reckon!
On the outside, the cycle of an eating disorder is complex to understand if you have not experienced it yourself. Watching someone you love slip away must be difficult. I guess it can feel like the person you once knew is now only a shell and unreachable.Whats important to remember is that the person and the illness are two different things.The person you love and care for is still there. They are not just the “anorexic” or the “bulimic”.
Taking someone’s problems seriously is of utmost importance. Just because someone does not look “that ill” doesn’t mean they are not. When you have an ED you can take things related to food and weight very personally which other people consider trivial.I think it is hard to know how to help someone but turning a blind eye is not the answer. Although its not your job to “fix them” you can still be supportive and avoid saying/doing things which your partner has said is unhelpful.
I am still grateful for the relationship I had as it did have its good points and you can always learn from your experiences. Guilt over the breakup still surfaces for me sometimes but I never question my choice as I believe it was 100% the right one at the time.Maybe I could have tried harder to make things work out but some times think the best option is to walk away from something that doesn’t feel right and weighs you down.If you have explained yourself a 1000 times and the other person does not respect your decision I don’t think that is very fair. Recovery I think is also realising you have a voice and that your opinion and feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. What I would advise though is to think it through carefully and avoid making impulsive decisions in the worst of times or the lowest of moods. You may not only lose a girlfriend/boyfriend but also a friend.
To wrap this post up I want to say that just because you struggle with an eating disorder or depression does not mean you cannot have a healthy, loving relationship. Communication is important I think and explaining to your partner what is helpful and what is not so that they can support you. I could write a lot more and I haven’t covered the topic as thoutoughly as I’d like but these are just some thoughts I had recently.