Today marks one my one month anniversary of entering eating disorder (ED) recovery. While I do admit it has not been an easy journey (but rather one full of setbacks, binge episodes, several boxes of tissues, and a couple of breakdowns along the way), it has been a journey that has taught me more about my relationship with myself, my body, and the food on my plate. 

I try to avoid romanticizing my illness as much as possible. It is hard, it is physically and mentally draining, and it hurts. Constantly. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, you know how hard it can be to cope with symptoms, let alone managing those symptoms in a time where the world around you is filled with fear and existential dread. 

Enter the coronavirus (or COVID-19). It's shocking to realize it's only been about a week since the United States essentially "shut down" because it feels like we've been repeating news headings every single day for the past month (without any clear answers). X amount of people dead! Can I still go out and purchase groceries in a global pandemic? Is there any way to stop the Coronavirus? Does President Trump know what he's doing to fight Coronavirus? 

The reality is that the majority of the U.S. population is going to be perfectly fine. However, I don't want to underscore the importance of empathy throughout this difficult and uncertain time in our history. Clearly, there are people who have been physically impacted by the Coronavirus, like those who are immunocompromised or in a shelter-in-place position. But have you considered that for others, Coronavirus is more mentally than physically isolating?

Expressing empathy towards those who are mentally stressed during this time is equally as important. By being a friend and extending a supportive (even if it is virtual) hand to those who might be struggling with other illnesses, you can help make the outside world a little less terrifying. To give a little perspective, here's some of the ways my mental functioning has changed in the era of Coronavirus. 

Limiting exposure to gyms, high-volume activities, and alike has limited my ability to decompress. 

Most people's first reaction to hearing about coronavirus may not have been "Oh no, does that mean the gym is closing?" But, it was certainly mine. As someone who needs constant physical activity to avoid binge-purge cycles and to keep my brain occupied away from negative thoughts, I was very apprehensive for what the future held at the onset of the pandemic. Of course I have been able to keep active with running, yoga, and at-home core-intensive workouts, but I still feel like a part of my brain is missing now that I'm shuttered in my retrospectively tiny apartment. For the good of public health, I understand why social distancing is critical, but it is still a difficult pill to swallow for someone who has relied on physical settings for emotional gratification for many years. 

Like many other college students, my appointments with counselors and ED recovery staff have ceased. 

Counseling is a critical part of treatment for people with eating disorders (there's no magic pill to get rid of them, unfortunately). As the university is adjusting to online classes, I've lost a lot of physical time with my treatment team, so it's been challenging to  replicate the value of in-person sessions over the phone. 

I can't keep large stores of food in the house because of my binge triggers. 

While the people around me might be stocking up on essentials, I'm still trying to live day-by-day. This means I have to manage how much food I eat (almost down to a science) to make sure I'm meeting my nutritional needs while also not sending myself down a 48-hour binge spiral. As a result, I need to go to the grocery store often to purchase in small quantities- which is counterintuitive to preventing viral transmission. 

Social distancing has often meant "emotional distancing." 

Having a supportive network of peers and friends is vital in recovery. Now that most of my friends have moved back home or are currently shuttered away in their Burlington apartments, I don't get to experience the same emotional connection with others that I got to before. 

I've had more time to reflect on my illness, my self-awareness, and what my journey holds next.

Having more time for reflection holds radical positive and negative consequences. While I have been able to celebrate how far I've come in one short month of treatment, I have also been made more aware of the tangible manifestation of eating disorders on my health. The same thought stream process also holds true for those with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and other mental illnesses; the more idle time one has, the more opportunity for "wandering thoughts" emerges. 

So what can you do to help people who are mentally struggling through this period? First, offer kindness and empathy. Understand that not everything going on in the minds of others is necessarily rational, but nonetheless valid. After all, the way you process is almost undoubtedly different from the way others cope with stress and challenges. 

Next, be reasonable. The state of the world might require a dramatic shift in functioning and thinking, so it is important to recognize that these transitions will come with their challenges. As someone with an eating disorder, I have come to realize that my whole paradigm has had to shift as a result of the recovery process; going though a global pandemic will certainly further shift that recovery process off its course. 

And lastly, be present and tune into your own opportunities for reflection. What do you need right now? What can you do to help others? You might not know the answers to these questions, which is perfectly fine. 

Recovery for anyone is not a linear trajectory. At this point in history, there are loop-de-loops, points where the rollercoaster appears to be moving backwards, and rickety rails. However, that does not make anyone's journey through recovery less valid. I am determined to continue my recovery journey, in spite of whatever is happening in the world around me.