When recovery was forced on Ashley, only then did she begin to understand the degree to which her eating disorder is a mental illness.
To survive an eating disorder Ashley grabbed up and controlled the only thing she had the power to. It hurt relationships with family and with new people. Once she identified her problem she focussed on efforts to stop having control issues. But standard mental healthcare wasn’t part of it. Here’s Ashley….
A few months ago, I FINALLY realized that I have control issues.
I only really saw it because I’ve noticed a pattern whenever I begin dating someone: I feel the most safe and unused when I make the rules. Everything has to be kept at MY speed and on MY time. That may be so unfair to the person on the other end of it, but it doesn’t do me much good either. I’m very surprised by the patience some people have had with me, trying to make it work despite my compulsion.
I’m trying to relax my grip in an attempt to stop having control issues but it’s insanely hard. I’ve made a bad habit of ‘ending’ relationships before they even start, just so I can protect myself.
I think the most dominant reason why I need to control everything stems back to when I first got sick.
One of the most common causes of an eating disorder is the lack of control that person feels in their life. What a person eats can be one of the only things they have actual power over. I was 15-16 when I developed an eating disorder – a time of life when there are so few things one feels-control over.
This isn’t about what caused my eating disorder, but came after discovering it. When my parents or my doctors tried to “fix” me, they stripped away the last of my sense of control – the power over what I would eat. They took-over everything that went into my body and what activities I could and could not do. There wasn’t much left for me to control after that. And that continued for a long time.
I think that’s a very dangerous thing to do to someone – take away their power. The need for control that was part of the eating disorder didn’t just ‘go away’. You can’t take away all freedom and choices from a person without negative effects. In my case, as I’ve recently realized, it’s really been affecting my romantic relationships more than I ever could have thought.
The idea of seeking professional mental health care is not for me – not now anyway. There’s a reason for that. I came to distrust mental health services after they were forced on me. I feel that if someone else, professional or otherwise, has not also been sick like me, they can’t possibly relate to me.
Jim here – I recently read a great article on Psych Central by Margarita Tartakovsky about why people stay away from seeking professional mental healthcare. Issues like cost, time and energy, and misdirected pressure from loved ones leave a lot of people feeling like mental healthcare isn’t right for them.
But even if someone takes the plunge and decides to seek it out they are likely to come up against an unprecedented, contemporary lack of access to professional mental health services. The National Council on Behavioral Health found in 2018 that stigma, cost (again), and severely limited options create a chronic barrier. – back to Ashley….
Because I went such a long time without my own power, I’ve became extra defensive. But defensive doesn’t mean passive – I actually get very aggressive in a lot of ways. I think what’s happening is I am aggressively defending my right to make my own choices. I don’t want my power and decisions taken from me, not in ANY way, EVER again. That might not sound like letting go, but it’s a process. How do you stop having control issues? Time and effort and practicing letting go.
As I reflect on myself, begin to understand the causes and effects, it’s like an ongoing adventure. Why do I think the way that I do, or do certain things? This process of knowing myself is always changing.
But I started that process because I was tired of seeing my life wasted. Tired of being a shut-in. I had not done social things for so long. I wanted to live.
I find myself staying away from too many social things sometimes. But I stay away because I need a certain amount of solitude to be at my best. But how much is too much? Finding a balance is not easy.
I have developed my own personal therapies:
The photography has really helped me find acceptance and see my body in a beautiful womanly way. I had a hard time seeing that before. And lately, what’s feeling right for me has been an emotional sort of splitting-myself-open to let my fear, insecurities and thoughts bleed out.
Being open and talking about what hurts me is a way I have been releasing control. When I express myself that way, I don’t know what people will think or feel – I don’t have control over that. Accepting that fact is helpful. Sure, sometimes I end up sounding naive, or insecure, or silly. Oh well!! Sometimes I am naive! I have many insecurities. And I’m definitely silly! But I also haven’t met a single person ever who isn’t insecure in some way.
But I hope those who read this remember that it’s ok to be confused and to not have all the answers. That mental health issues don’t come with an instruction manual. Once you accept that, everything becomes much simpler. I don’t always remember that myself, but I’m trying.
If you can relate to what I’m trying to say:
I See you. I’m with you. And I love you.
Ashley Andrus works at a health resort in Rural Berkshires. She is now healing from years of living with an eating disorder. Ashley expresses and creates healing art through social media. You can find her on Instagram. Ashley was born, raised and currently resides in her hometown in Western Massachusetts.
Whether it’s an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or any other kind of mental or emotional health issue, access to good care for Americans is diminishing. According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness),
“People lack the same access to mental health providers as they have for other medical providers. And when they can find a mental health professional, many are forced to go out-of-network to do so. This leads to higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care compared to other types of primary or specialty care.”
Patients struggle to find mental health services at all. Research done by NAMI in 2015 found that when patients contacted mental health providers
Our own Catherine Kirch wrote an article about the difficulties of finding a therapist.
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