In the past several weeks the foundation on which many of us experience our lives has been pretty severely shaken. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would spend my days running art therapy groups and working alongside patients and their families battling eating disorders. Now, like many of you, I spend my days at home trying to care for myself and my family as best I can. And watching a lot of Disney’s Frozen. I miss my work greatly and, more so, miss my patients.
I have been wishing that I could reach out to my past patients and their families during this time to provide support and encouragement. This world we find ourselves in is new and unsettling. We are being asked to cope with big things, often without much support. Since eating disorders often function as a maladaptive means of coping, I know this time is particularly challenging for those working hard to cope without seeking solace in their eating disorders. If I could reach out to my patients and their families to offer support, I would want to remind them of these three things: (1) This is hard; be kind to yourself; (2) You can only control how you respond – and doing so is difficult and important work; (3) Stumbling, or even falling, doesn’t mean you have moved backward. Keep doing the next right thing. I write this now with the hope that it reaches them, and touches you along the way.
- This is hard; be kind to yourself. I encourage you to take this time in isolation as a gift to practice self-compassion. My favorite way to suggest patients begin practicing self-compassion comes from Christopher Gerner and Kristen Neff’s The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. Gerner and Neff note the discrepancies between the way we often talk to ourselves and the way we talk to others (2018). We tend to default, without practice, to responding to ourselves with criticism rather than compassion. I often recommend my patients practice self-compassion by having them voice or write what they are going through. Then, respond to themselves the way they would respond to someone they care about. If you take nothing else from this post, please take this: you are deserving of goodness. Notice your self-critical voice and counter it with self-kindness.
- You can only control how you respond – and doing so is difficult and important work. I understand how our patients’ find comfort in control, because I do too. We have a subsequent tendency to strive for it. Throughout the past month, I have struggled with heightened anxiety and, when I am anxious, I notice that I often try to control. I have had to consciously remind myself throughout this past month that a lot of what is happening right now is outside of my control, but what I can control is how I respond. This is something I talk with my patients about all the time. When met with adversity, there are two things you can do: (1) Advocate for what you are wanting/needing and/or (2) Examine your beliefs around the adversity and respond to it with awareness and choice rather than your automatic response. One of my favorite quotes by Marcus Aurelius speaks to this: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your opinion of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
- Stumbling, or even falling, doesn’t mean you have moved backward. Keep doing the next right thing. As I mentioned above, I have been watching a lot of Disney’s Frozen movies as I am home with my young child. The first time I watched Frozen 2, about three weeks ago, I was experiencing the aforementioned heightened anxiety and grief about what was happening in our country and around the world. There is a scene in the movie during which Ana’s character sits alone in a dark cave, grieving the felt loss of two of her most loved companions. I remember watching that scene and pondering how odd it felt that this cartoon resonated with me so deeply – and likely would resonate with anyone watching it during this unsettling time. Despite Ana’s grief and fear, she gets up and continues on. She sings to herself, “Do the next right thing.”
That song has gotten stuck in my head many times since then as I am coaching myself to keep doing the “next right thing” despite the sometimes lacking motivation. I encourage you to keep doing the next right thing, too, even if your motivation falters. Follow your meal plan – nourish your body, practice that positive coping skill – nourish your mind, make that social connection – nourish your soul. Doing the next right thing is difficult when the motivation to do so seems absent, but you will be making progress with each “right” choice you make. If you mess up, no worries! Stumbling does not take you back to the start – just dust yourself off and continue to try and do the next right thing.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” We are certainly in the midst of difficulty. Here is an opportunity for you to be gentle with yourself. Give yourself some love, practice challenging those automatic responses, and keep taking that next step toward wellness. You are worth it and I am rooting for you.