You asked, and I answered! Thank you to all those who submitted questions. I chose a few to answer and will definitely do more in the future! I truly hope to bring the dialogue about eating disorders and recovery out into the open in order to stop the stigma, educate people, and ultimately help those who, like me, struggle with food, weight, body image, or mental illness in general. Please never be shy to reach out to me for support.
How do you balance schooling/studies throughout your recovery?
Quite honestly, it was very difficult to get through university once the eating disorder became a part of my life. One side effect of food deprivation and starvation is a lack of concentration. Getting through pages and pages of readings and sitting down to write a paper or study for a test became near impossible. I was not feeding my brain enough to allow myself to understand or comprehend or absorb anything I was learning, so I had to work even harder to get myself through the course material.
Physically, I became very weak. My muscle mass was deteriorating and walking around campus, and to and from the train, was exhausting. I would panic because sometimes I felt like I really did not have enough energy to make it home at the end of the day. I remember walking to the metro station after school and literally praying to God that I would have enough energy to get home. It was an extremely frightening experience.
My anxiety got a lot worse as I continued to lose weight. The whole thing was kind of a vicious cycle; I would get anxious, restrict my food intake, lose weight, and as a result become anxious once again. The cycle kept turning for years. A good portion of my anxiety came from my perfectionist tendencies. I’ve done a bit of research on perfectionism, and have found that it can be adaptive. Striving for excellence, dedication, and hard-work can catapult someone to success. Who wouldn’t want that? But in certain instances, perfectionism can be maladaptive. Harmful. Detrimental. I feel that my perfectionism lay on the latter end of the spectrum. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect that it took a toll on my mental health. I worked incessantly on my studies and the goal was never to pass a test; the goal was to get an A. Never less than an A. Of course, there were times when I didn’t meet the personal goals I set for myself, and I would react in ways similar to a meltdown. There were tears; tears of anger, frustration, and sadness. I was very, very self-critical, and never gave myself a break. And then, there were the people I wanted to impress. I wanted to show my teachers that I had it all together, and that I was smart. I started studying not only for my own personal growth, but to give off a certain impression to others.
Somehow, though, I graduated. It took me seven years to obtain my Bachelor's degree but I walked across that stage with the biggest smile on my face and I think it was the proudest moment of my life thus far.
It was hard, though, having to interrupt my studies over and over again to go into treatment. I didn't graduate with a whole lot of college friendships. People kept moving forward and I had to put a pause on my schooling every couple of months. I isolated myself a lot, too. I locked myself in my room for hours on end in order to complete my schoolwork. College was not filled with parties and boyfriends and adventure. Instead, it was filled with loneliness and sickness and sadness. But the thing is, I pushed through. I managed to graduate top of my faculty despite adversity. And for that, I am proud.
For anyone struggling with an eating disorder in high school or college, please reach out for help. Find a teacher to confide in. Go to therapy. Surround yourself with loved ones. And know that if you have to take a break from school, DO IT. Get the help you need so that you can go back to school healthier and stronger than ever. Your classes will wait; your health should not.
What is it like to work full-time while in recovery?
Let me tell you... it's BUSY. Life is so busy right now but I wouldn't have it any other way. Currently, my schedule allows me to have Fridays off, so I make sure to schedule my therapy and nutritionist appointments on Fridays so they don't interfere with my work hours. Work, too, keeps me on my toes. There is not much time to sit around thinking about eating disorder things. And it helps, too, to have incredibly supportive supervisors. We always make sure to break for lunch together and being in the presence of people I trust and admire during meal times has helped me beyond belief.
But it's tough, too. Sometimes I wake up, get dressed, look in the mirror, and cry. I am still adjusting to my "new" body and all the weight I gained in New York. Getting dressed can be a very difficult process for me. Finding the balance between looking professional yet being comfortable enough at the same time is complicated. It would be so easy to call in sick and stay home in sweatpants when I have those self-critical body image or weight thoughts but I push myself. Because ultimately, I have a job to do.
It helps, too, that I love my job. I recently read that those who are happiest at work are those individuals who choose a job based on the people and not the benefits or the salary that the job offers. I am so incredibly lucky to work with people who I admire and look up to and SUPPORT me through this confusing process called recovery. When I went into treatment this time, I was open with my co-workers. I told them where I was going and why. I was very apprehensive about how they would react, but they were wonderful. I kept in contact with them while I was in treatment and now that I'm back, I continue to be open with them. People have such kind hearts. We often worry about judgment from others, especially in terms of mental illness, but everyone has their issues. Everyone has their baggage. And while the people of this world are all so incredibly different, we all have similarities, too.
Am I able to exercise now?
Exercise is such a tricky topic when it comes to eating disorder recovery. I encourage those of you who are in recovery, at any stage, to PLEASE speak with a professional concerning exercise. I'll speak for myself, but what I say here does not necessarily apply to you and your journey.
Ultimately, my biggest struggle in recovery is weight maintenance. I am an expert at losing weight, and I have a handle on how to gain weight as well. The thing is, to this date, I have never been able to maintain my weight for more than a couple of months. So that makes the idea of exercise difficult.
What it comes down to is: calories in, calories out. If I exercise, I will be expending a lot more energy, and in order to maintain my weight, I will need to "eat more" to replace those calories that I burned. Right now, at this moment, I recognize that I am not ready to do that. Quite honestly, I would love to go for a run. I grew up running cross-country and track and I miss it a lot, especially in the fall. But as tempting as it is to pick up those running shoes, I know I would need to increase my food intake accordingly, and that is just not something I feel capable of tackling at the moment. So I'm going to hold off on exercising.
Now, I don't sit on my couch all day doing nothing. I live an active lifestyle. I don't have a car, so I take public transportation everywhere. I love being outside, so sometimes I go for short walks in my neighbourhood. I play loud music when I clean and can at times be found dancing around in my pyjamas. But it's important to keep in mind the INTENTION behind what you are doing. When I am active, it is for PLEASURE. It is, after all, part of life to be up and moving. But I also know that for me, any kind of physical exercise (right now) would be to burn calories. And because I am aware of that, I refrain.
Again, these are all things that apply to MY recovery, and your therapist or doctor might have more insight as to what makes sense for you. But ask yourself: "why do I want to exercise?". Is it for the endorphins? Or is it because you had a lot to eat yesterday and you're trying to compensate? Learn to be aware of the "reasons why".
What do you think of eating disorder recovery accounts on Instagram?
Social media is so incredibly complicated these days! For those of you who don't know, there is a whole eating disorder community on Instagram. Men and women, boys and girls, document their recovery journeys by photographing their meals and snacks and posting it on their Instagram accounts. Doing so is a way to show accountability, gain support, and share successes. But, like anything social-media related, there are also pitfalls. A small subset of this community are people who are struggling and/or relapsing. TW (trigger warning) is written in their bio, accompanied sometimes by LW (lowest weight), CW (current weight), and GW (goal weight). Some even mention their BMI, or how many hospitalizations they have had.
It can be dangerous. I did have a recovery account for awhile, and gained a TON of support from both people I know and from strangers who I met along the way (and who I became very close with). I was very careful with who I interacted with and made sure to only follow positive accounts. Yet somehow, the eating disorder did suck me in to following certain accounts who were not so positive. And that's the competitive nature of the eating disorder. "How do I measure up to others?".
Taking pictures of my food started out to be really fun. I would get creative with lighting and placement and the details. But it became out of hand. Once, I was late for work because I couldn't get the perfect picture of my breakfast. And the more I started to struggle, the more pressure I felt to post things that looked "acceptable" to my followers, even if it was not actually what I was eating.
Like anything in life, there are pros and cons. I am not saying that eating disorder recovery accounts are bad. Far from it; like I mentioned, it allowed me to connect (and receive support from) so many incredible people. But I decided to give up my account after awhile, and there's no looking back. I use my personal account now (@meghanturnbull) to share my story, without placing so much of a focus on food. But, that is what works for me. It may be different from you, which is totally okay. Just be sure to protect yourself from all the nastiness and competitiveness out there in the eating disorder community.
What is one piece of advice that you have for someone struggling in recovery?
My favourite nurse had the best words that I still apply to this day: "BE KIND TO YOURSELF".
Eating disorders are not choices; they are mental illnesses. Don't expect your recovery to be perfect. Don't expect your recovery will be seamless. It takes time. Trust me, it takes time. I am not recovered yet; far from it. For the most part, I am genuinely happy, but I still have moments where I would LOVE to go back to my eating disorder. Sometimes I act on urges. Sometimes I give in. But I always go to bed, get up the next day, and continue the fight.
One step back is not the end for you. Get back on track as soon as possible and please, please reach out for support. As humans, we were not meant to live this life alone. We need people in our lives. Find someone you are comfortable (enough) with and let them in. You never know what kind of magic that will bring.
So, there you have it! What did you all think? I loved sharing my answers with you. Never feel shy to send me questions... I would love to do another Q+A!
HERE IS YOUR SUNDAY NIGHT REMINDER THAT YOU CAN TACKLE WHATEVER THIS WEEK THROWS AT YOU.