The Post-Eating Disorder Narrative
Shell-sea Ellem on why the narrative surrounding eating disorders needs to change.
A poem that came from the years following an eating disorder—
‘And perhaps the sun has ventured North by only a degree
In the last forty days, but I noticed this and celebrated it.’
The trouble with eating disorders is that they never seem to completely go away. Within the life of someone ‘recovered’, the soul-robbing, sleep-depriving, self-scorning thoughts can often live on, even thrive.
I have written a lot about the eating disorder I battled in my early teenage years, but more interesting to me now is the (still-unfolding) story that has followed. It has been six years since I ‘overcame’ my eating disorder, and in the last few I reached a point where I thought I had fully recovered. I felt as though I had arrived. I thought I had— until I found myself in the midst of a breakdown which had me leaning over a toilet bowl wishing I had the courage to throw up my dinner. I surprised myself. I had really convinced myself that I had arrived in my journey of womanly self-love.
I hadn’t. At first, this was a crushing realisation. Until (after a lot of time spent vigorously looking into myself and a few late-night calls to my Mum) I came to understand that there is no destination. No arrival. Simply the journey. One where you work towards loving yourself more and more. One where you are continually and habitually working towards liberation. A journey suggests motion— a destination suggests stagnancy. We can only ever be journeying because our relationships with ourselves can never be stagnant. We are always changing, evolving, developing, and becoming, so of course our relationships with ourselves are too. It’s not always forward motion either; there are days when you move backwards, get lost, spin in a circle, or fall to the ground not wanting to go on.
Even the most self-assured woman still occasionally has unloving thoughts towards herself buried secretly somewhere within. It’s normal, something to acknowledge. What’s more astounding than a woman who has negative thoughts and overcomes them— a woman who embarks on this journey, returning to herself with her head tilted inquisitively, asking, “darling, how do you fare today?”
I am on this journey and the answer to this question varies daily. Looking forward, there is a long way to go. But looking back, I have come so far, and this is reason to celebrate. Sisters, it’s a journey that we are all on and as long as the sun is moving North in your journey, I urge you to celebrate too.