Eating disorder numbers grow exponentially yearly. This day-to-day individually enforced limitation impacts every area of a sufferer’s life. A quiet achiever, eating disorders find victims across all walks of life. Imagine feeling so hungry you just want to run to the nearest food outlet and eat as much as you can, quickly. Imagine the dialogue battle in your head yelling, “No!” Imagine living in fear daily that others may discover your truth. Finally, imagine trying to work at the same time. Eating disorders can be a debilitating workplace nightmare challenging many. It challenged me.
Whether detected by work colleagues, or not, perceived fears filter every conversation held, restrict amounts of allowed foods and governs social engagements, resulting in isolation similar to that of being the bully-victim in the schoolyard. Except for this time, there is no bully – other than the thoughts turning up daily to keep this victim in line.
Enduring immense hunger, what I so cleverly disguised through spending my workday primarily with myself, was interpreted as someone preferring their own company. I yearned belonging. I observed others able to work, laugh, eat, socialise, play sport and enjoy long hours of functioning. How could this be? I was no different. And this is where eating disorders fool the carrier; to think that our experience of life mirrors that of our work colleagues. The puzzle as to their ability to do so much more conflicts with the thought that, “Nothing is wrong with me”.
Then out of the blue, one of those seemingly ‘not knowing’ work colleagues steps from the shadows, carefully crafting their chosen words. The response to flee, deny, turn away, met with a resilience to awaken the person they obviously care about. Tears of exhausted acknowledgment flow. Fear is acute; from somewhere deep inside a voice encourages. That dreaded, yet inevitable day had arrived.
This colleague had witnessed the passing of a dear friend from an eating disorder. They knew the signs. The perfect person, timely delivered for I had had enough, showed up to support my path toward recovery. We are not each this fortunate – I am extremely grateful.
The road traveled would be filled with massive blocks of fear; solutions presented for recovery a never-ending guessing game. Weight restored, additional illnesses developed. Suicidal depression almost took me. Then right on queue, a wonderful female psychologist practicing Reality Therapy/Choice Theory, the work of American psychiatrist William Glasser, entered my life.
Together we explored my life, my thoughts, behaviours, emotions, and physical symptoms. Life events carried as fear showed themselves. Beliefs, values, needs, and wants were examined. Gradually the chapters of my life demonstrated my greatest learning – that connections made through relationships often hold the key as to why our bodies take on illness. The messages received as we grow become navigational tools. Where they are lined with fear, hold residues of anger, are characterised by criticism, laced with memories of frightening punishment or carry blame, the body eventually yields to the weight; mental illness the messenger as to why the body hurts.
The process of honestly facing the fears that drive the illness, now replaced with peaceful alternatives, sees freedom walk through the door. With explanation given as to who I had become – no, why I had become – saw recovery triumph.
Where ever we commune there is an opportunity to learn, support, and grow. Workplaces are filled with a variety of people behaving as they have been taught by the relationship connections and messages received during their life to date. If only we understood the enormous impact relating has to either empower or disempower. Opening myself to facing a line of inquiry that made absolute sense, triggered by a caring colleague who carried the scars of loss, is the gift I now own and share.
In encouragement, take my knowledge with you. Look to discover the power connecting habits have when relating to all – supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating. Observe the role played by disconnecting habits – criticism, blame, punishment, complaining, nagging, threatening, and bribing. Examine your life with the view to acknowledging the impact for you, and others.
For me, workplace colleagues were not the influence for guiding my eating disorder, it would be the place where recovery began. The relationship connections born from a life of disconnection were. The filters acquired determining how life works were built upon ideas given to me as I grew. Loaded with damning consequences, an eating disorder was inevitable. These filters impacted how I was seen by my work colleagues, affecting our connections. For you, an alternate way of exhibiting your pain may be in the form of gambling, alcoholism, OCD, depression, and the likes.
My workplace nightmare became my workplace triumph! The change in me puzzled some – the authentic me so vastly different from the one they had previously known!