Eating disorder recovery is exhausting, and for empathetic people it can seem downright unbearable. Being an empath adds a layer of difficulty to the recovery process, because we eat or restrict to stuff our constantly-changing feelings along with the emotions we pick up from other people.
I once considered myself an extrovert, but since being on my recovery journey I’ve realized I prefer to be alone or with my closest loved ones the majority of the time. When I was working full-time as a nursing home activity director prior to becoming a writer, I would come home mentally exhausted and never really know why.
A few years ago, I heard the term “extroverted introvert” and it resonated with me. I don’t mind being out with friends and acquaintances from time to time but, with a few exceptions, being with people tends to drain me. I need peace and quiet to recharge my batteries. Unfortunately, browsing my Facebook feed or seeing heartbreaking stories on the news can be just as exhausting. Just this morning I stumbled across a news article about a little boy who was left in a daycare van and died from the heat. I didn’t open the article, because the details would have taken over my thoughts and wrecked me emotionally for the rest of the day, but I was overwhelmed with grief just from reading the headline.
One more example: A few weeks ago, my ex-husband’s wife got sick and he needed to bring the kids home. He told me how bad he felt that he had to cut his time short with the kiddos. When I heard the sadness in his voice, I took on that emotion. Then I thought about his wife having to make the decision whether to send the kids home, and I felt bad for her. I felt additional sadness for the kids, because they hadn’t seen their dad much that week. I also felt bad for my husband, who was looking forward to our evening alone together. Finally, I felt frustration and guilt for being disappointed that I wouldn’t have time to re-energize myself with some R&R before the kids came home. By the time they got here, I hadn’t dealt with my own emotions at all because I was too filled with everyone else’s feelings.
In the short-term it’s much easier to cope with difficult emotions by using food, excessive exercise, or other behaviors rather than attempting to sit with them and let them pass. Unfortunately, stuffing the emotions or avoiding them ensures that they’ll continue to pop up again and again. I know this because the same issues popped up for me for over 15 years. I binged and dieted to avoid them, but they always came back.
These days, I know it’s time to deal with an emotion through journaling or reflecting or talking it out when a hurtful comment or unresolved issue keeps unexpectedly interrupting my thoughts and altering my mood. I continue to struggle with this part of my journey, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. I do know that recovery for empaths takes additional work… It adds twists and turns to the recovery labyrinth, but I believe it’s possible to emerge from the other side.
If you are an empath and struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, know that you’re not alone. If you’ve found any books, blogs, or other helpful resources, please share them below. We’re all in this together, and I’m so grateful for that!