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"One of the best experiences I have ever had"

I have always been the type of person who wants to learn about things I don’t understand. If I read a word I don’t know, I automatically start flicking through a dictionary to find its definition, or if there’s a concept I don’t understand, I will do research until I understand it. This desire for understanding and learning is where my fascination with eating disorders began.

It wasn’t until secondary school that I properly came across the term “eating disorder”. There were a couple of people at school who had developed one, so I did a very small amount of research on the topic. But only a couple of years later, I found the term “eating disorder” to be closer to home than I had ever imagined.

It had crept upon me very suddenly and without warning. I felt trapped, fearful and ashamed that I had lost all control and was being controlled by my eating disorder. I longed for the happy, cheerful and energetic person I once was, but she had disappeared and I no longer recognised the person I had become. After months and months of keeping these problems to myself, I realised that the only chance of getting better was by talking.

It was extremely difficult at first, because I had always kept my feelings to myself. However, as I began to open up to my friends and family, as well as to my therapist, there were little signs that the old me was making a comeback. The journey to recovery was long, difficult and full of ups and downs, but I slowly began to see how much better life could be if I didn’t let my eating disorder control me. Opportunities such as moving to university and becoming a Beat Ambassador were only possible because I had chosen recovery. I finally felt at peace with myself and my past.

After overcoming my own difficulties, I wanted to help those affected by an eating disorder. But despite my personal experience, I still felt baffled by this complex set of illnesses. Why do people get them? What’s the best way of treating them? I longed to know more. And then the perfect opportunity came along. I was invited to attend the European Council on Eating Disorders conference in Lithuania. It was quite daunting, because I would be going by myself to an unfamiliar country where I didn’t speak the language. On the other hand, I knew I could gain so much from the conference and, since I have a love for languages and culture, I knew this would also be a great way to talk to people from other countries. Before I knew it, I was on the plane and ready to learn.

The three-day conference was packed full of activities: lectures, workshops, a film, paper sessions, debates, a gala dinner. From these activities, I learnt a lot about the different approaches in other European countries and found out more about current research that is being done in the field of eating disorders. The conference also helped me to become more analytical and innovative, learning from professionals with years of experience.

On the first day, I met a German psychologist who talked to me about the “Klinik” she works for and she later introduced me to her colleagues, including the founders of the “Klinik”. As I am currently studying German at university, I was very eager to take the opportunity to speak to them in their native language. I had such a lovely time getting to know them throughout the week, as well as learning much more about eating disorder services in Germany and was humbled when, knowing I had come alone, they invited me out for dinner. That evening, I took a moment to reflect on how far I had come. There I was, in an unfamiliar country, eating out in a restaurant I didn’t know, with people I had only just met. This would be daunting for many people, regardless of their past, and I certainly never thought I would do anything like this. In fact, there were times during my illness when I never thought I would get better, when I just thought I would be controlled by my eating disorder for the rest of my life.

One thing my battle has taught me is to take chances and to take hold of every opportunity going, even if it seems scary. That’s how I managed to escape a life controlled by my eating disorder and it’s also how I have gone on to achieve many of my goals and aspirations. Now that I have been to my first ever conference, I hope to attend many more, so I can carry on learning and discovering how we can help people with eating disorders both now and in the future. Going to the conference in Lithuania was one of the best experiences I have ever had, and one that happened because I chose recovery. 

Contributed by Rose Anne