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've struggled with something like this, maybe this will be helpful for you too.
If discussions of anxiety, food, and eating disorders are triggering for you, this may not be the series 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 2019, right before I turned 25. Also around that time, I discovered ARFID or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and begun the difficult task of untangling my lifetime trauma around food.
Growing up, I was the chronically "picky eater" in the family. Fortunately, my restricted diet has never caused me any significant health issues or malnutrition. Unfortunately, that also meant it was easily overlooked.
Eating has always been at best a chore, and at worst a nightmare. As a child – and really up until just a few years ago – I simply didn't have the language or understanding to communicate the paralyzing anxiety I often suffered at mealtime. Because it was more than just my own anxiety about actually eating, it was also anxiety about my mother's reactions and emotions when I refused food.
Finally learning about ARFID gave me the context I needed to begin unpacking my feelings around eating, recognize the severe anxiety I'd dealt with, and forgive myself for not being able to do any better until now.
Around the time I became a teenager, the pressure from my immediate family lessened significantly. Which meant that there was a lot less stress around mealtime. Which meant that I would actually try new things once in a while of my own volition. However, that was also around the time that I started developing worsening GI symptoms and had to start cutting things out of my diet. It was very much 'three steps forward, two steps back.'
Things continued like that until the end of 2020 when I decided it was a good time to finally address this. I felt more confident and centered with the understanding I had about my neurodivergence and how that played into this, and I had spent a few years in therapy learning how to deal with my overall anxiety. So I decided I would conslut a professional who could help me navigate the complexity of my ARFID, GI issues, and being vegan.
At the time of writing this, it's been one day since my first appointment where I was given a couple of goals / things to focus on until the next one in two weeks. Making decisions about what to eat each day already felt like a chore, but now there's additional factors to consider: how much protein I'm getting and whether I'm hitting certain food groups, etc. And 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. This is hardcore avoidance mode.
One of the goals is making a habit of meal planning to lessen (at least the frequency of) the anxiety over these decisions, but it's only been one day so I'm still waiting for the chance to sit down and actually do that.
Here's what I think is happening:
- There are too many goals to "focus" on. 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, there can only be one priority.
- I underestimated the level of trauma I was addressing. Pretty much as soon as I had more than the usual to think about regarding my next meal, my stress and anxiety skyrocketed to levels I haven't felt in years. I was emotionally unprepared for this.
#4 on my goals list from my dietitian is asking my therpaist about methods of managing my anxiety. Lucky for me, I have an appointment with my therapist later this week. Until then, I guess I'll just suffer. I can feel a tension headache coming on.
And, it's dinner time...