I realize this post could easily get into the boo-hoo my life sucks realm rather quickly, so this is going to be a little disclaimer that I'm not wallowing in self-pity. It's more of what one of my Aussie friends would call a good little bitch 'n whinge.
I know that I've made plenty of progress in recovery over the past six months. I'm not trying to deny that. But considering that I'm in a fairly protected situation, it's easy for me to forget just how far I have to go. Swimming in a pool is different than swimming in an ocean with currents and riptides. I'm in a pool right now (metaphorically- the thought of wearing a bathing suit sends me into a panic), but the world out there is one big, big ocean. And every now and again, I realize that the pool and the ocean are very different places.
I was out with my parents all day yesterday, and I managed lunch just fine (which is progress, I know), but the afternoon snack was much more anxiety-provoking. I was in an unfamiliar area that had several places where we could stop. My mom asked "Would you like to stop for a snack?" and although I get that she was trying to be all nice and supportive, I really wanted to say "No, actually, I'd rather not stop for a snack!" But seeing as that wasn't an option, I started thinking of all of the different places where we could go. My mom encouraged me to pick something, and I just stood there, totally and utterly unable to decide what to do or where to go. My dad was getting impatient, as stopping for a snack wasn't on his agenda (we were shopping for furniture and only furniture, and snacktime and poking through the bins at Crate and Barrel were not Part Of The Plan), so he just hustled us along and I ended up eating some of the snacks we had packed for precisely just an emergency.
I talked to my therapist about this, and I can see that I was reasonably effective. I didn't skimp on my snack because I was anxious or couldn't decide. Again, progress. But what caught me off guard was how anxious that decision still made me. It wasn't the prospect of eating that made me all twitchy, it was having to decide what to eat. I have a meal plan, I have supervision, I haven't had any urges to binge or overeat, so I can be reasonably confident that I'm not going to drastically exceed what my body needs. Also, my hunger and fullness cues are in (reasonably) good working order, so it's really not the eating part that causes the crippling anxiety anymore. But the task of deciding what to eat? Holy cats. Massive anxiety.
Part of the anxiety comes from this internal dialogue of trying to decide whether ED is calling the shots or healthy Carrie is calling the shots. One of the upsides of anorexia--if you can call it that--was that I didn't have to ask myself what I wanted. Eating was a big part of that, obviously, because I was always full or had just eaten or [insert random reason here]. But as long as I could figure out which decision would help me lose weight, I could decide. Easily. I'm not used to asking myself what I want to eat, and having to decide is so hard. I do pick out and serve my own snacks at home, but there's a relatively limited array of options to choose from. No one is getting antsy for me to make up my mind so we can price out that sectional.
Besides the anxiety of figuring out what I want, there's the anxiety of wondering if I made the right decision. Because, as we all know, perfection is possible in an afternoon snack...right? The rational part of me understands that not ordering the perfect item at the perfect place is hardly a life and death matter. I could order something different next time and the world would not end. However, very little about an eating disorder is rational. I worry about potential calorie differences in the snacks at Place A and the snacks at Place B. I worry what other people might think of me if they see me walking around with something from Place A instead of Place B. I worry what people must think of me if they see me eating, period. I worry about cost. I worry about where other people might want to go. I worry about looking like a slack-jawed freak as I stand in the middle of the mall, not moving, as I try to decide between Place A and Place B, but then what about Place C just around the corner?
And on and on it goes.
I get that these worries are pretty darn irrational (okay, completely and utterly irrational), but they're still very real, and they're part of the reason why a simple question like "Do you want a snack?" can leave me frozen in my tracks. I can probably find something wherever I end up--which is one of the upsides to being given plates of food with relatively little input--however much I might not like the options. And if somebody says "Let's go to Place A," and I really want to go to Place B, I am feeling more free to suggest Place B unless the other person really wants to go to A and I don't have a huge preference for B. But if that somebody asked "Where do you want to eat?" or even "Do you want to eat at Place A or Place B?" it's like that anxiety immediately kicks in and I start second-guessing everything.
I guess we can add this to the never-ending list of Things I Need To Work On In Therapy.