Life can be challenging for the best of us, at the best of times, and there are lots of great resources for advice and support.  But for an anorexic or bulimic in recovery, those challenges seem even greater – and it seems near impossible to translate those resources into something applicable to our situation.

Hence, “Surviving LIFE” – a series that focuses on overcoming daily hurdles from the perspective of someone who knows how an eating disorder can complicate things further.  Writing only from my own experience and understanding (though perhaps borrowing from others in recovery), I hope these entries might be useful to others in similar situations.  Please don’t hesitate to send me your thoughts and suggestions!

The Office Job.

Desk Job Stress at the Desk

From early on, I always knew the office job wasn’t the one for me.  The idea of sedentary routine, of hours spent hunched in a cramped office chair, of submitting to the hypnotic brain-drain of computer screens and paperwork, was completely unpalatable.  And yet, I pursued a career as a freelance writer – how paradoxical can one get??

The reality is, certain jobs will inevitably land us behind a desk, in a chair, with physically inactive work.  Maybe we’re interning in pursuit of a different position entirely.  Maybe we’re covering reception during a colleague’s maternity leave.  Or maybe, as in my case, we’re just walking the necessary paces of our careers.  Whatever the case may be, the Office Job can drive us recovering anorexics and bulimics crazy as our obsessions start to reel.

Well, we may be facing time in a cubicle, but there are lots of ways we can ease our agitation – at least, enough to survive the experience.  Here are a few that I found helpful:

  • At the Desk Take your breaks.  All of them.  You may think you’re impressing your employer by working that nose raw on the grindstone, but you’ll be much more productive when you’re refreshed.  Breaks don’t have to revolve around food or small talk around the water cooler – that’s one misconception I fell prey to.  Get some air, go window shopping, find a quiet place to meditate, read a book, whatever gets your mind out of the grind.
  • Find a simple way to get some activity in, before and/or after your work day – and stick to it.  Make it part of your routine.  That way, there’s less space for contention or obsession.  Walk or cycle to (or part way to) the office, do some yoga when you get up or before bed, take the dog for a walk, whatever makes you feel good.  Focus on relieving your body of stress and tension, rather than on exercising for exercise’s sake.
  • Pack a lunch.  Even if it’s exactly the same thing each day.  If structure helps, then go with it.  Sandwiches are a simple and easy way to build a balanced lunch, as are soups and hearty salads.  Include snacks if you can; they don’t have to be big but it really helps to keep blood sugars stable.  Make a habit of planning ahead and shopping for what you need.
  • Stay hydrated.  It’s been said over and over, but it’s true – drinking water or other clear fluids helps sustain productivity and energy levels.  At the very least, trips to the bathroom will get you out of that chair and into a change of scenery.
  • buzz-lightyear-action-figure1 Make yourself at home.  Sure, it’s a desk – but it’s YOUR desk.  Surround yourself with things that make you feel good, like fresh flowers, photos, action figures, notable quotes, music, wallpaper samples, a cool lamp, cushions, etc.  On a bad day, you could even bring a little friend (mine’s a little plush giraffe) along with you to cheer you up.
  • Create a detailed task list that includes break times.  In addition to staying organized, it helps to stay motivated if you can enjoy crossing off items as you progress.  Reward yourself for your work – but don’t beat yourself up for anything unfinished or unplanned.  The day rarely goes exactly as we expect.
  • Enjoy moments of interaction.  It sounds pretty basic, but exchanges between coworkers, especially if they include conversations about life outside the office, are perfect opportunities to get outside your head and lighten things up.  Try to make a point of delivering messages in person, if possible, rather than sending an internal e-mail or instant message.  Greet others in the hallway and make a point of saying goodbye at the end of the day.Sleep
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  Trying to think through a cloud of fatigue or work with a team when you’re grouchy is never fun.  Why make things harder than necessary?  Go to bed and get up at the same time each day if you can; this will help your body settle in for sleep a lot quicker.  Find a way to slow down at the end of the day to prepare for rest.
  • Let go of your perfectionism.  Not easy for us anorexics and bulimics to do, but essential for surviving life.  If we continue to believe it’s up to us to get things done right, or we have to complete everything to the highest standard at all times, we wear ourselves out with unnecessary stress.  We also endanger our sense of reality and equality in the workplace.  Learn to identify and distinguish the times when detail is critical from when a task just needs to get done.  Your very best is all that matters.

The Office

Remember, these strategies take practice.  Very few of them feel natural or even comfortable the first time, but if you can make a routine of it, life gets easier.  Hey, you never know – you might even come to love your office job!