Acute or chronic health conditions are something that everyone will experience in their lifetime. However, when in recovery from an eating disorder (ED), there are nuances with respect to health anxiety, our interactions with the medical system and certain medical advice or treatment can often contradict the strategies we have employed in recovery.
As someone who identifies as female, when I was most unwell with an ED, a main medical prerogative of treatment was to resolve my amenorrhea and have my menstrual cycle return. I often felt like this was weaponised against me, with (well meaning) comments of “if you want to have kids one day, you need to get better” or “you will regret doing this if you want to start a family”. Personally, being a mother was something that I have felt innately aligned to, so resolving my amenorrhea became both an intrinsic and extrinsic driver of recovery. When my period returned, I was so relieved as I assumed it meant I would automatically be able to have children.
Fast forward to when I was diagnosed with endometriosis and low fertility, shame and guilt that my ED had resulted in irreparable damage to my body was reignited. I ended up having surgery, and then began the process of exploring fertility treatment options.
Through this journey, I came across many well-meaning specialists who would make suggestions that felt unhelpful for someone who has an ED history. It was helpful for me to engage with my psychologist during this time and unpack my thoughts and feelings in regards to these suggestions.
I am now at peace with fertility diagnoses and the consequences it holds. I have a plan in place and feel empowered to navigate this next part of my life.
Here are some helpful thoughts I have learnt along the way. Irrespective of what condition you are dealing with, I hope these bring you some clarity and resolve.
- Health anxiety is real! However, ignoring symptoms to avoid seeking medical attention is not the answer. I did this for many years when experiencing endometriosis symptoms which only prolonged diagnosis and treatment.
- Irrespective of any other health condition diagnoses that you may receive, it is crucial that you advocate for your needs within the context of a medical treatment plan.
- This may mean reminding a practitioner of your ED history, outlining and seeking referrals to other health care professionals for more tailored input – rather than being told grandiose and flippant statements that can be quite harmful.
- If in these situations some of your ED thoughts become louder, touch base with a member of your treating team – such as a psychologist or counsellor – to address these quickly. It is not a failure if this occurs – it is how you deal with them which reflects your strength and determination in ED recovery.
- Be proactive and empowered to make decisions about your body and the medical treatment it received. Information and advocacy are key to a well-balanced relationship with both your short- and long-term health.
Contributed by Amy, Senior Advisor in the Peer Mentoring Program