Three months into the Wide Wonder bus tour, in the heart of Coos Bay, Oregon, after spending my week advocating for those struggling with mental health issues to ask for help, I found myself in a fetal position at the back of the bus, unable to think straight. There, I had nearly 16 years of long-term recovery from an eating disorder, but I was still crippled by the revving motor within—anxiety.
My thoughts were rapid, scary and intrusive. I had “what if” thoughts so brutal that I couldn’t even speak them in fear of what they may have said about me—my character. “If I think them,” I fretted, “does it make me capable of them?”
There, amidst a year-long tour to help others to end the stigma by making mental health an everyday conversation, I began to panic. How can I talk about what is going on with me? What will my thoughts say about me? “Is this recovery?”
I asked myself. I began to cry. It was way overdue. What I had been doing wasn’t working.
It’s not like I hadn’t asked for help before. Of course, I had. I had many times. It’s just that I had only ever asked for help when I was in a critical state—yes, like when being in a fetal position where glaring intrusive thoughts accompanied panic attacks, which were then treated with anti-anxiety med and a promise that it would get better. But I had very little tools to help the very illness that hid beneath another. That could be said to be the reason I sought comfort in unhealthy relationships: people, food, substances, etc.
Having fully recovered from an eating disorder, documenting it in the second edition of Making Peace with Your Plate
, I thought that my recovery had come full circle. And in a way, my eating disorder behavior did once I ceased the behavior. However, that was just the beginning of the recovery process that began to uncover what actual lay beneath the food and my relationship to it—anxiety. A lot of it.
For years, I had focused on building a new and healthy relationship with food, and besides some Kombucha every now and then, I officially did not indulge in any behavior that I suffered negative consequences from. I also didn’t engage in any behavior that buffered me from the very anxiety that still greeted me most mornings upon awakening long, long into my recovery process.
I am not alone in having long-term recovery from one disorder and still being plagued by another. And if you are struggling, whether in recovery from one disorder or trying to step into the recovery process and dealing with anxiety, nor are you.
Eating disorders and anxiety
The National Eating Disorder Association website shares that one study “of more than 2400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 97% had one or more co-occurring conditions, including: 94% had co-occurring mood disorders, mostly major depression, 56% were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, 20% had obsessive-compulsive disorder, 22% had post-traumatic stress disorder and 22% had an alcohol or substance use disorder. ”
Substance use and anxiety
People with primary substance use disorder deal with anxiety, too. One study suggests that “the presence of an anxiety or substance use disorder is also a risk factor for the presence of the other disorder…” Meaning that just like eating disorders, anxiety and substance use often go hand in hand.
Anxiety affects one in five people
Whether you have an eating or substance use disorder or anxiety only, recovery from the engine revving within is possible.
There, at the back of the bus, in the heart of Coos Bay, I understood that I needed to address the anxiety just as I had the eating disorder. Yes, anxiety is a normal part of life. It serves a purpose. But I began to question if reaching a panic cycle every six months was really as good as it gets in recovery.
Hand on heart, I wanted more from my recovery. I wanted freedom. I had worked hard for myself and for others. Freedom and feeling empowered in recovery was what I advocated for. Looking out the window at the bay, I saw the sun hit the water.
It was time to provide myself with more tools to make my recovery really worth fighting for. It was time to truly equip myself with as many tools as possible for dealing with the very issue that I had long suspected was the core reason I used food to medicate my emotions and to attempt to block the world around me.
It is never too late or too soon to ask for help. Even if you’ve asked for help before.
Do you have a question about the role anxiety plays in your recovery? Join National Recovery Advocate Robyn Cruze and Lara Effland, LICSW, Regional Clinical Director West, as they share tools for support during this time of social distancing.
Friday, March 27 at 3:30 p.m. MT
Internationally-recognized author and speaker Robyn Cruze published Making Peace with Your Plate (Central Recovery Press) with Espra Andrus, LCSW, which will enter its second edition in February 2020.
Her work has been featured internationally in media outlets including ABC, Sky News (Aust.), CBS, The Mighty, The Temper and Refinery 29. Robyn is the cofounder of a family mental health awareness initiative, Wide Wonder, that aims to make mental health and addiction recovery an everyday conversation.
She also serves as a Director of Advocacy consultant at Eating Recovery Center. Follow Robyn on Instagram