You feel that others are judging you for your mental illness, and so you are scared to face the world. You withdraw to avoid this stigmatization. This social withdrawal is emotionally very costly. But this is a two-way street — the mentally ill withdraw from society–society withdraws from them.
People with severe mental illness are probably the most isolated social group of all. They are judged, disrespected and made into pariahs. They fear rejection from others, who may be afraid of the mentally ill, so the mentally ill person may feel overwhelmed by the thought of attempting to form new friendships. Just avoiding any contact is often the choice. Or, they may make a great effort to conceal their condition from others, which results in additional stress from worrying about their true condition being discovered.
Here is one major truth about these pervasive illnesses: Eating disorders lie. They deceive us into believing that whatever and however much we eat is wrong. They insist that whatever we weigh is shameful, and that whatever size or shape we may be is never good enough. When it comes to recovery, however, the most pernicious lie in ED’s arsenal has nothing directly to do with eating. Rather, it’s the notion that we “need” to be left alone.
A second critical truth: It’s not the person but the disorder that depends on isolation. Starving, bingeing and purging are secretive and solitary behaviors that feed on shame. And shame itself is alienating. Shame tells us that no one else could possibly understand, care for or help us. Shame insists that we don’t deserve friends or loved ones, especially not those who attempt to nourish us. Shame makes sure that we feel alone in the world, and stranded. As a result, isolation becomes the hollow core around which an eating disorder spirals. Setting the stage for recovery means confronting the eating disorder’s lie of isolation.
Isolation and eating disorders go together for many reasons. Often people find themselves avoiding situations where food will be involved because they are either afraid of overeating or they don’t want deal with the questions or the looks if they are restricting. People also find that they begin pushing away friends, family, and partners in order to spend more time with their ED behaviors. Some women or men prefer to spend the night alone or away from their boyfriend or girlfriend in order to spend the night bingeing. Some will prioritize gym time at the expense of loved ones. Many bow out of social obligations because they are not comfortable with their bodies and are afraid that they will be judged.
Reaching out is a huge part of recovery. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to an eating disorder recovery group or a support group or 12 step group, although these things can be very important for recovery. This can be as simple as reaching out to friends, parents, family members or even people who you don’t know very well, who you can just be social with. Being out in the world rather than being alone with your disorder is one of the great ways to find recovery. Connection with people – even when you feel imperfect, even when you’d rather be at home bingeing or running on the treadmill or avoiding food and people- can help you heal. We are interdependent beings. You don’t even have to talk about your feelings or what you’re going through, just being with people who you enjoy, just having contact with others and getting out of the isolation trap is a giant step toward freedom from your addiction.
Everything quoted above is so true about how ED’s isolate you and cut you off from what is the most needed part of recovery. Sophie hated going to school and being ‘exposed’. She felt awkward, left out, different, odd, embarrassed etc. It was just so much easier to creep home and stay here. Which is literally what she did. She has been home for over 3 months. No socialising apart from family, no outings unless I take her out, no contact even by phone or social media. She craved the isolation and now she has it, it weighs very heavy. Not only does isolation mean it is easier to relapse, have struggles etc, but the voice in the head grows louder. There is no outside activity to drown it out. Nothing else for the mind to focus on. So during the day, the thoughts and voice grow loud, circling over and over all the same stuff. Strengthening the message that she is worthless and unable to do anything right. She lives in her mind which is the opposite of what health means. Recovery is about breaking down the isolation, living outside of the mind, finding focus other than the lifestyle dictated by the ED.
Living in isolation not only increases the worthless thoughts, it brings depression which creates its own vicious cycle. It also brings paranoia and a distorted view about others. Sophie comes out with some real clangers about how she perceives people think about her – only because she is so locked up within herself and this house. She thinks people talk about her, thinks they don’t like her, thinks they don’t support her. Isolation also brings fear. Fear of going outside the house, fear of socialising with others. Sophie finds it now really difficult to go out without me or my father with her. But fears also build up inside the house. She binges partly out of bordom and being home – she now fears being left by herself. Although most of the time she has binged there have been others home. I am very much looking forward to next school term and getting her back into a routine and back with people her own age. It will be very scary for her and the ED will be on full alert at the big change. I also have a few plans for the next few weekends and holidays to push her out a bit more (with me there for some of them) to try to break the hold the ED and isolation has.