I used to think that writing about my own story and struggles with an eating disorder was a bit self-absorbed or maybe even pretentious. But isn't sharing our stories and beliefs with each other just the whole of what life is anyway? I think so. So that's why I'm no longer worried about what people think of it, and if it helps even one person along the way, it’s worth sharing.
So I’m writing about choosing rediscovery. I call it a rediscovery because I think that in the process of recovery, you begin to discover who you really are. So many times along my journey, I uttered the words: "I just want to be back to how I was before all of this." But, when you come out of the other side of the storm, you start to realise that the person that you are finding is different to that distant memory, but in a marvellous way. The person you are rediscovering is you. Day by day, you will laugh, cry, smile and learn to love yourself even better than before, and that's why you have to begin. Who knows what wonderful places it could lead you to?
I can remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted to get better – completely better. I'd love to say that it was after this huge life-changing event at the top of Machu Picchu, or in an intense therapy session when everything just clicked, and that might make for an interesting story, but it wasn't. I was just out on a walk by myself, during a mundane day in the inpatient ward I was living in at the time. As I wandered off to the supermarket to escape briefly and get a glimpse at normal life, something really strange happened. It may sound as though I’ve embellished this but it's true, bizarrely enough, and I'm just as sceptical of these sorts of things anyway. A voice came out of nowhere, and I've only recently just started thinking about who this voice was again:
"I don't want you anymore! I am so completely done with you, Anorexia. That's it – I'm leaving you behind for good!"
It felt like every negative bit of energy was just flying up out of my body, into the sky, and dissipating into the air around me. That's it! I'd cracked it. No more eating disorder. No more depression. No more life of stupid worrying and low self-esteem. No more fear. This felt amazing. I was finally choosing my own life rather than a soul-destroying illness. This might sound hard to believe, but it's what happened to me.
However, (and you could probably sense a "however" coming) this was just the start of a journey, and people had always said: "There will be setbacks, but this is an important realisation – well done!"
This much was true. Wanting to get better and physically getting better are almost two different things. It takes effort. It takes failure and most importantly, it takes getting back up after falling down hundreds of times, because deep down, you know you have to get up. You know that there is more to life than misery, and you know you have the power to find whatever it is you're searching for. That's why you get back up. There is a saying: "Happiness is a journey, not a destination," which of course makes sense here. I believe that rediscovery is something continuous, as you grow into a happier and stronger person, day by day.
So how do you do it? How do you escape from the grips of an eating disorder that you could have been trapped in for years and years? I think it comes down to honesty, not only with family members and healthcare professionals, but with yourself. For so long I refused to accept that there was anything wrong with me, because I didn’t perhaps seem “as poorly as other people with the illness.” I can say with confidence that this is how most people with an eating disorder feel. Everybody thinks they’re not quite as ill as the next person, but that type of comparison isn’t going to help. Once you’ve recognised that something isn’t “right” with how you’re feeling and how you’re behaving around food and weight, you deserve to get help straight away and at least share with someone how you’re struggling. You owe yourself this. Yes, it can be terrifying to say this out loud, but the day you choose to accept your struggles is the first day of the rest of your life and the only way out of the torture.
So if any of you are waiting for the right moment to recover, take this as a sign. There will never be a time when you feel completely ready to choose it, so that time to begin has to be today. It doesn’t mean you need to do everything perfectly from the beginning. Of course there will be dips and bumps in the road, but I truly believe a recovery, rediscovery or whatever you choose to call it is possible. And that’s just it – you have got to choose it now.
It will be tough. There's no denying that. There'll be times where you want to scream out, "I'm not better, how can anyone not see what I'm going through?" At these times, I'd tell you to breathe, feel the air coming into your lungs. You are alive. There will be dark days. There are always dark days, but acquiring the strength to get through them is possible. The truth is, you already have that power within you. You just have to discover it.
You have to learn how to live again and, like with any lessons, you often have to fail to learn the best way or the right way...
In the past I’ve wanted to hide the eating disorders that are part of my history, but I want to shout from the rooftops: I'm proud of how far I had come!
What a year 2020 has been in general for everyone – it was a year no one ever could have imagined, from panic buying, toilet roll shortages, lockdowns and restrictions. Yet for so many, including me, the battle against an eating disorder continued.