By Sterling Renzoni (He/Him)
Mental Health Warrior and Writer
2020 was a challenging year for all of us. As someone with an eating disorder, I found every year spent sick challenging; 2020 at first was no different.
Near the end of 2019, I was discharged from my longest admission at SickKids hospital to treat my Anorexia. I was definitely significantly better physically upon discharge; however, I had not started to recover mentally. In the past, previous admissions into inpatient and then outpatient hadn’t been successful. This admission was different. It was much longer, I was 17, I applied to University in hospital, and I agreed to admit myself to residential care. The plan was during this admission to voluntarily admit myself to residential treatment and have a smooth step-down in care.
As I am sure members of this community are aware, in publicly funded systems, it doesn’t usually work that way. Instead, I was put on the waitlist for residential care, then discharged from the hospital in November of 2019 and received outpatient care. I did relapse and I did re-engage in harmful behaviours. About 5% of myself wanted to get better, but at the time it wasn’t enough to overpower the disordered voice inside my head. Finally, in mid-February, my dad got a call from the residential treatment center and they had a spot open up for me. It felt really scary; I was scared of change, and I was also scared of losing my eating disorder, which was 99% of my identity. I made the right choice and agreed to pack up my stuff and go for residential treatment. I made it into residential treatment before it was too late, though I was in a dark place physically and mentally when I arrived.
However, I did get better, much better physically; and importantly, for the first time, mentally. My perspective on food started to change for the better and I started to work on my disordered relationship with exercise. I was supported through the basic aspects of food preparation that I found really challenging. I was supported to accept taking medications to help manage my anxious and intrusive thoughts. My time in residential treatment wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. I struggled, I had panic attacks and I cried (a lot); however, I was getting much better.
Often times when I am in inpatient treatment I feel like I am in a bubble, like what happens in the outside world doesn’t matter. COVID-19 was different. It went from something distant in my mind to being very real when early discharge was recommended. It was a difficult decision to agree to go home; for the first time in my history of receiving treatment I felt that I wanted to stay. I wanted to get better for myself. I knew that when I went home I would have the opportunity to relapse. When I did go home, I was being supported virtually: receiving therapy, meeting with a dietician and a recreation therapist.
However, the way the support was set up wasn’t working for me. I did have a mini relapse, however, I started journaling, which was something I learned from being in treatment. I started journaling about how I wanted to make positive changes in my recovery. I kept telling myself I would make the changes next week, or tomorrow. I kept doing this for a month, then looking back I was able to see I hadn’t made the changes I wanted a month ago. I knew I couldn’t do it alone! I had the insight to know I needed a change to the way I was being supported. I asked my dietician how she could help me remain accountable virtually and she came up with a creative solution, involving me taking pictures of my meals and snacks and reviewing them with her. That slight change to my support system allowed me to start making progress again in recovery.
I was supported to introduce foods I found challenging and continued doing that for months. I was able to get a job and handle the increase in stress without resorting to my ED to cope. By August of 2020, I was packing for University; and then in September, I went off to University. Was I scared of a relapse? Yes, my ED started during the transition to high school, so of course I was worried. We also hadn’t done the supported food exposure outings to my university that were planned when I was in in-person treatment. I did it though, I went to university and I started to engage in the experience. I was able to eat all of the foods, even the ones I previously found challenging, even ones that I hadn’t be able to eat unsupported. I was still supported by a therapist and an outpatient team.
What has recovery brought me?
- Energy, the energy to engage in mental health advocacy, the energy to study a joint major in chemistry and psychology at university
- Time, the time to be present with friends and family, the time to do what I truly want
- Opportunities, the opportunity to write this blog post for F.E.A.S.T, the opportunity to write for EDify talks, the opportunity to share my experience in virtual treatment on CBC radio
- A “Life Worth Living” without an eating disorder!
None of the above would have been possible without recovery. If you had asked me just over a year ago if recovery, let alone anything that I have accomplished, would be possible ever, I would have said no. But here I am now! This goes to show that no matter what situation that you find yourself or a loved one in, recovery is always possible and is so, so worth it!
Here are a few pieces of advice if you find yourself or a loved one in virtual treatment (some can be applied in general)
- No one can recover for you or someone you love! In order to see a lasting change, you must choose recovery for yourself! This definitely applies to virtual treatment where you may not receive the 24-hour care possible in inpatient treatment, which is why you need to be there with your support system at home to hold yourself accountable
- If something in your support system isn’t working for you, you NEED to do something about it, you know yourself the best and you know what isn’t working for you
- You must be honest with yourself and others, no one will know how you are truly doing unless you are completely honest, especially in virtual care
- Prioritize recovery. If you are receiving virtual care at home, it may be tempting to get engrossed in other aspects of your life and put your recovery on the back burner – that is not sustainable.
- You can do hard things; even if you are receiving virtual treatment, you still can recover!
- Virtual Therapy doesn’t replace in-person medical monitoring, I still required medical monitoring throughout my recovery.
- Virtual treatment isn’t for everyone at every stage of their recovery. Had I received virtual treatment before my admission to in-person residential care, I likely wouldn’t have been able to make it work. It’s ok if not every form of treatment works for you!