Isolation and Eating Disorders: Why being homebound is a challenge and an opportunity

18 Aug, 2020

Staying at home and isolating can be a challenge for people living with an eating disorder. But, as eating disorder survivor Heidi Fabien-Lee writes, it can also be an opportunity for positive change.

Isolation, change and uncertainty are all part of our lives now with COVID-19 – and it affects us all in different ways. With the threat of a second wave of COVID-19, many of us are continuing to spend more time at home than ever before. Some of us are homebound due to policies and curfews, while many others are choosing to stay home as much as possible.

Being homebound so much reminds me of living with an eating disorder in many ways; self-imposed isolation from normal life, fears and concerns of being out, and the inward self-focus. Also, the challenges of moving forward with recovery are, in some ways, like getting back out of isolation.

"Eating disorders thrive in secrecy”

For many people with an eating disorder, isolation will provide an opportunity for their illness to thrive. It is well known that eating disorders thrive in secrecy. People can stay home and binge, restrict, exercise and avoid social eating - without having to explain any of their behaviours.

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When I had an eating disorder, being at home was a struggle as it would trigger daily binge eating episodes. Over the years my eating disorder moved towards anorexia and being homebound meant mental torment. I could not escape the eating disorder thoughts and anxiety, which would seem louder at home, making it hard for me to eat and escape the inward focus.

So for some, isolation could be a time when the eating disorder will become so vocal and prevalent that the person may get tired it's taking up so much room in their head and life - and want it gone. Look at it this way: You have a relative staying with you that just never stops talking, going on and on nonstop, and eventually, you do need for them to move out of your space and leave.

In recovery, I got professional help and I worked to shift my focus. Along the way, I discovered the practicing yoga and breathing techniques helped my awareness, mindfulness and centring. Then I found art - a place that helped me express myself and spend the time drawing and creating. Eventually, it became easier to simply be at home - without the mental torment.

Limited access to people and places

Being homebound also means we are away from the environments and the people that may provide us with comfort, distraction, relief, joy, a voice of reason or understanding. When the opportunity to access these places and people is limited, it can allow the eating disorder voice and negative beliefs to become louder – which may leave you feeling like you are doing it alone.

Be assured that you are not alone in these feelings. Give yourself time to feel what you need to feel and remember to be kind, caring and considerate to yourself. We are, after all, living through a global pandemic!

Remember: Help is a phone call, message, text or zoom away. Thankfully we’ve adapted and found new ways to access our social networks - virtually. And mental health and medical professionals are available online too, through telehealth.

A time of positive change and possibilities

Refreshingly though, I also believe that these days of isolation could also generate new possibilities and positive change. My own recovery was marked with long stretches of time to look within myself – not unlike isolation.

When I was in an eating disorder clinic, it was a form of isolation. I was isolated away from my normal life. There, I was able to look within and used the time to identify my own thought patterns, reactions and triggers.

Likewise, this time at home may provide an opportunity to see things in a new way. It could be a time for challenging your thoughts and emotions and start to bring a focus towards recovery.

Getting back out into the world

On leaving the eating disorder clinic, I faced the challenge of returning to normal life and getting back out into the world. At the time this was anxiety-provoking, but I learnt to set small goals, recognise that it was a transition period, and be caring and considerate towards myself along the way.

Now, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that I was able to get back out and eat at new places, buy food and, in general, be active in the community - all familiar experiences to what we are all going through now.

As we do all venture out of our homes and back to our lives, it can feel a bit daunting. Please rest assured you are not alone, and we are all here walking familiar paths. Make a note to remind yourself there is support, care and compassion all around you (and within).

Although we are still somewhat isolated, together we can all help each other by listening, including and sharing - and above all supporting.

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