“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, simply surrounded by assholes” – William Gibson
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”
There are a number of, shall we say, personality characteristics which strongly predispose a person to developing Anorexia. These are not usually enough to cause the full-blown illness, however, when combined with genetics and environment one can make a pretty lethal combination. One of these traits is the need or want to help other people to an almost pathological level; that is, to the expense of one’s own needs. To be perfect – the perfect athlete, friend, student, child, employee and so on.
Probably the single most important part of the recovery journey in my opinion, is learning to put oneself first. To put your health and wellbeing as the first priority. And in doing so, to truly understand that the only way we can be helpful to those around us is to be fully healthy and happy ourselves; this is where we get our strength. I say it to my patients all the time, and particularly to mothers, who love to put themselves last – it is imperative that you look after your own health and wellbeing first and foremost, so that you can be a pillar of strength for all those around you. In fact, not putting your own basic health and happiness needs first is the true form of selfishness, when you really think about it. I’m sure if you asked your friends and family would they prefer you to be a shining light of energy and health, or the ‘perfect’ person who always pleases others, deep down, you know they would want you to be your own person, imperfections and all.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. It has been 6 days since my foot surgery (more on that later), and it’s been an overwhelming 6 days in that it has highlighted a very important task in my recovery journey – having the strength to look after myself first; but as a part of this, surrounding myself only with the people who embrace me just as I am, no ‘perfection’ required. Task completed!
About 4 years ago, as I was getting on a roll with my recovery, something occurred to me – that some of the people in my life made me feel completely drained, stressed, or judged (ie relapse triggers!); while others made me feel happy and warm and most importantly, made me laugh and be “me”, crazy as I can be sometimes. I made a decision at that time which was one of the hardest choices I have ever made – to only foster those relationships which are 1) mutual and even (ie not me ‘giving’ all the time); and 2) supporting my recovery. I knew by then where I wanted to be with my life in the future (which is pretty much where I am now!), and I also knew deep down that some “friendships” and family members were holding me back from achieving that. As scary as it was, I decided to let go of the drainers and hope that the Universe would open new doors to new friendships in the near future (which it absolutely did, thanks Universe – you rock).
So, easier said than done, definitely stating the obvious. We can’t choose our family, and if yours are part of the problem, I strongly recommend talking to a professional about this as the core issues are different for everyone and it’s clearly an extremely sensitive area to deal with. My psychologist has been worth his weight in gold with making the hard decisions, as has my husband for helping to implement said changes over the years. As for friends, for me there was never a conversation or a set “end point” – it was just a matter of me stepping back and waiting to see what happened. Some reached out and stepped up and our friendships have become stronger for it; others I have not spoken to since, other than the odd social media interaction. I make it sound easy; it wasn’t. I lost my best friend through the process, however I had to acknowledge that our relationship was formed when we were both unwell and it was not able to evolve past that point (whereas others were). I also had to have some very confronting conversations with family, however over time it has meant we are all able to move forwards into much more functional, adult relationships.
And the upside? The short period of pseudo-loneliness and hard conversations was quickly replaced by stronger, more meaningful friendships that continue to evolve all the time. Many of my ‘new’ friends have no idea about the severity or extent of my ED history and that is fine with me, as it reinforces that fact that they value me for me, just as I am. Those friendships that I had from before have moved well beyond my ED era and I am sure many of them forget about it on a day-to-day basis, which is as it should be. It is part of my history, but it doesn’t define me – I am so much more than that. All of these people are my new “family”. And all of them have reinforced how much they mean to me over the last week and no doubt will continue to be looking out for me over the coming months, just as I would do for them.
My advice? Give it a shot: put yourself first. Set a trial period – for a month. And while you’re at it, notice how your friends and family react. Notice how you feel after seeing different people in your life – uplifted or drained? Stressed? Calm? Energetic? Embrace those relationships that make you feel great, and perhaps reconsider the ones that drain you. Above all else, don’t let fear hold you back – I have no doubt you are an amazing person, and losing a couple of “B” class relationships will most certainly open the door to a few more “A” class ones.
Life is too short to not be celebrating every day!