In the spirit of sharing more Neurodiverse experiences, I’ve decided to publish updates about my ARFID treatment. I don’t know how it will go, but I hope it will be a journey of exploration and healing for me. And who knows, if you have struggled with something like this, maybe this will be helpful for you too.
If discussions of anxiety and eating disorders are triggering for you, this series may not be for you. Please make the decision that is best for your mental health.
This week, after more than two decades of struggling, I’ve finally begun tackling my issues with food and eating.
And it sucks.
A little background…
I received my Autism diagnosis in January of 2019, at the age of 25. It was also around that time that I discovered ARFID or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and begun the arduous task of untangling my trauma around food.
Growing up, I was the chronic “picky eater” in the family. Fortunately, my restricted diet never caused significant health issues or malnutrition. Unfortunately, that meant it took us over two decades to figure out it wasn’t “picky eating” at all.
Eating has always been at best a chore, and at worst a nightmare. As a child — and really up until a few years ago — I simply didn’t have the self-awareness or the language to communicate the paralyzing anxiety I suffered at mealtime. Plus, being the bright and empathetic kid I was, I not only had to deal with my own anxieties about the food in front of me, I also had to deal with my mother’s reactions and emotions when I refused food.
Learning about ARFID truly gave me the context I needed to understand my feelings and experiences of food and eating, to recognize the severe anxiety I’ve dealt with all my life, and to forgive myself for not being able to do any better.
In the last decade, I’ve had less pressure from my family and from myself and have been able to relax and rest in regards to worrying about my diet. In that time, I’ve been able to slowly expand my food options by trying new things once in a while. But, I’ve also had to further restrict my diet due to worsening GI issues. ‘Three steps forward, two steps back’ I guess.
At the end of last year, I decided it was a good time to finally do something about this. I would consult an actual professional who could help me navigate ARFID, my GI issues, and being vegan. Because I sure as hell could not figure it out.
It’s been only one day since my first appointment, during which I was given a couple of goals/assignments, things to focus on until my next appointment. Making decisions about what to eat each day was already a chore for me. But now that I have to make conscious decisions about the amount of protein I’m consuming and whether I’m hitting certain food groups, the stress is paralyzing.
I have ample time between meals to think about what to eat next, but I desperately do not want to think about it. I am in hardcore avoidance mode right now.
One of the goals is doing meal planning to lessen the (at least frequency of) anxiety around meal decisions, but it’s only been a day so I’m still working meal to meal until we can sit down as a household and actually do that.
Here’s what I think is happening:
- I think there are too many goals/assignments. As someone who struggles a lot with Executive Functioning, having four things to “focus” on is far too many. I’m definitely with Greg McKeown on this one, you can only have one priority.
- I underestimated my level of trauma (as mentioned earlier). Pretty much as soon as I had more than the usual to think about regarding my next meal, my stress and anxiety about it skyrocketed to levels I haven’t felt in years. I was emotionally unprepared for this. And having only met me, my dietitian couldn’t have known any better.
#4 on my goals list from the dietitian is asking my therapist for methods of managing my anxiety. Thankfully I’ll be talking to my therapist later this week, great timing. Until then, I guess I’ll just suffer. I feel a tension headache coming on.
And it’s dinner time…