Mental Health Bites

Surviving or thriving with an Eating Disorder

mhaw17This week (8th May – 14th May) is Mental Health Awareness Week; the theme this year being “Surviving or Thriving”.  This is an important focus in the wake of the Mental Health Foundation’s latest research, which shows that just 13% of people report high levels of mental health wellbeing. The other 87%, arguably, are surviving, rather than thriving.

You can pop over to THIS PAGE to download (free of charge), their full publication.  So, instead of repeating their research, I want to focus on this idea of ‘surviving or thriving’ in relation to those with Eating Disorders.

I meet many people at many stages of illness and recovery from an Eating Disorder.  However, one issue presents at my therapy practice far more than others.  This issue is that of ‘partial recovery’; those individuals who, over the years may have learnt to manage their behaviours, or may currently be a ‘healthy’ BMI, but who are still experiencing a daily and often constant internal struggle.  In fact, research would suggest that this is the vast majority of those with Eating Disorders, as only 10% of sufferers are underweight – the remaining being ‘healthy’ or overweight.

My personal and professional experience tells me that it is often HARDER to be in ‘partial recovery’ or ‘surviving’ than it is to be obviously and overtly struggling and unwell.  When an individual enters partial recovery, they may be able to manage their food ‘enough’, they may return to school, or university or work.  Support may reduce, people stop offering as much help and, well, life goes on.

The person might LOOK as if they are coping, and in some respects perhaps they are.  However, under the surface and when alone they may be fighting with all they have got.  The ‘new duck’ metaphor comes to mind; calm on top of the water, but underneath paddling like mad just to keep them afloat.

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The sad, but simultaneously hopeful message here has to be that it IS possible to go on to thrive.  It is possible for an Eating Disorder to become just a fleeting and dismissible thought.  It is possible to live a life without food, weight and body shape being a main focus.

Standard Eating Disorder Services – in my opinion – only offer ‘partial recovery’, there is little expectation of a person going on to thrive.  However, when people seek it – either via self-help, or private support – it can be as close to freedom as a person has ever known.

So, this Mental Health Awareness Week I want you to know that as long as you (or your client) wants more change, more freedom, and to shift from surviving to thriving then there is hope. Reach out – ENGAGE with recovery in whatever way you need.

You deserve to thrive.

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