Do you remember the first time you ever got glasses? If you do, I’m betting you remember the confusing, slightly dizzy feeling you had for the first day or two while your brain tried to get used to the new setup.
It’s been exactly 7 days since I had the majority of my visual acuity restored (thanks to some really crazy contacts called scleral lenses, which correct the way light passes through my very oddly-shaped corneas). And it’s been a really rough week—that part I wasn’t expecting.
I went in to the doctor’s office last Tuesday with eyes that couldn’t see who was on the TV a few feet across the waiting room, and walked out with eyes that could see the names of the businesses across the street. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Colors were much brighter—the greens of trees and plants and grasses were all suddenly bright, and slightly different from one another instead of the drab grey-green they’d all been.
It was exciting. But by the time I’d walked to the car, I was as seasick as when I’d come in from hours on a sailboat in the Gulf a few years ago, and I was really glad someone else was driving me home.
When I walked in my apartment, things were instantly painful mentally. I was seeing far more than I have in years, and it was all just too much. I couldn’t focus well on anything within a few feet of me, most of all not a computer or television screen.
It’s been a week, and that’s still true—though it’s very slowly getting better as my brain figures this out. Still, things feel unfocused and too intense, and after how wonderful the first moments felt, it’s even harder. My brain has been taking turns between working hard, pushing to make the shapes and letters look like shapes and letters I recognize, to beating me up for not expecting that such a giant change would take my brain a bit to get used to.
I’ve been thinking about my eating disorder recovery a lot this week, because with my newly different vision, thinking has been one of few comfortable choices. It didn’t take long for me to remember that I’ve had a very similar feeling before.
In very early recovery, things felt fresh and new. It was indeed better, and I was rather awestruck at how much nicer the world in ways I hadn’t even been aware I was missing, much like this past week.
But quickly, I started to feel just a bit overwhelmed, this time by all of the emotional feelings. And then, suddenly, “just a bit” became tremendously painful.
I couldn’t keep up with the greatly-reduced list of activities I thought would be fine, because my brain couldn’t quite process all the new emotions. Like now, I could sometimes tell things looked much better in this land of recovery, but often my brain just felt exhausted and overwhelmed from trying to figure out so many new things. Often, I berated myself for being far too slow to acclimate to the world as others see it; at the same time, I felt foolish for expecting the adjustment would be simple and smooth.
It makes sense that a large change in vision, even for the better, will take some time to get used to, so it makes sense that things were wonderful and pretty terrible, all mixed together, this week.
Yet, in recovery, we don’t think there is any reason in allowing ourselves that time and space to accommodate, even when others openly encourage us to do so. We feel weak, and often even more like a burden than we had in our eating disorder, thanks to that rush of newly-intense feelings. It takes much longer than we planned—if we’d planned at all.
We figure that “getting better” should equal “feeling better.”
When it doesn’t, we fight to hang onto some scrap of the hope that felt so impenetrable in the first months of recovery.
But, recovery isn’t like getting better from a week-long cold or flu. An eating disorder changes your social and emotional “vision” very slowly—just like my eyesight changed. By the time you find a way out, things have been drastically different for quite a while, and even something radically improved feels threatening.
That doesn’t mean recovery isn’t as good as you hoped, or as good as it felt early on. On the contrary, it’s like eyesight. If recovery were only a little bit better, you would have adjusted easily. The fact that the adjustment is so damn hard for your brain to figure out is an assurance of just how much more beautiful the world is going to look.