It seems strange to write a letter to someone or something that isn’t a physical entity, but at the same time couldn’t be more real to me. You’ve played many a role throughout my life, from hated enemy to constant companion, from best friend to manipulator. At times I’ve felt you were the only person who understood the real me, and at other times you sucked out the very soul of who Angharad really was.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror, just before going on stage, at around the age of ten. The costume of choice was a powder blue tutu, in preparation for my dramatic ballet scene. I cannot say I remember a strong impulse of hatred, but I do remember thinking, “I don’t think I look right.” This may seem a simple statement, but it was the seedling of dwindling self-esteem that had begun to germinate from within.
Throughout my adolescent years, you plagued me now and then, rearing your head in times of stress or pressure, which weren’t exactly few and far between. But somehow, I kept you just enough at bay to strive through high school, cultivate extremely precious friendships, enjoy and endure romantic relationships, and got accepted to university, where you ceased to be dormant, and began to snake your way up the vines of my wellbeing. To fast forward somewhat, the situation became so dire, you became such a strong impulse, that I had to leave university and move home.
I felt like an utter failure. I was doing well at my course, I had wonderful friends (who luckily have remained steadfast friends) and you stole that from me. You stole my youth, my happiness, my sense of freedom away from me piece by piece until I did not even recognise myself. My daily routine consisted of blood tests, ECG scans, psychologist appointments, and friends coming to visit me in the house, where I had to be wrapped up in blankets with hot water bottles as I was constantly freezing. When I speak to friends about this time in my life, they say that when they asked what doctors had said or what my test results were, I answered as if I was talking about someone else. I would utter sentences like, “Oh yeah well they’ve said that my body is turning in on my organs for sustenance because it’s not getting anything to fuel itself with” and there would not be an iota of emotion behind my words or eyes. As if I had lost my sense of self so much I didn’t even feel like it was me this was all happening to.
Just before I was admitted to hospital, I went for a lesson with my singing teacher, who has always been and still is a constant rock in my life. She always recalls the conversation we had on that day. She asked me if I wanted to die. My answer was “I don’t necessarily want to die, but I’m not particularly keen on living either.” That evening, she told her two little girls that I was going to die. The following week I was finally admitted to hospital.
You may notice that bar my first mention of my reflection in the mirror, I haven’t really mentioned my feelings on my appearance throughout the anorexia, which you would think would be a huge focus point. But for me, it wasn’t about the weight. Yes, I was absolutely terrified of regaining weight. But it wasn’t because I wanted to look like a model or be pretty. I just couldn’t let go. You had ensnared me to the extent that I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted. I only knew how to be anorexic, and I was good at it and I knew it. You, anorexia, were the most dangerous comfort zone.
I was admitted to a hospital 90 minutes away from home, the nearest place that could care for me. I’ve been trying to remember my emotions upon entering the hospital, and I was terrified. I knew in this place I was going to have to face things and make changes that were so terrifying to me at the time that all I wanted to do was scream for an eternity. But another emotion was relief. I knew if I didn’t get the help I needed I was going to die. I also looked at my parents’ faces. My parents who had been there for me every step of the way, through my frustrated raging outbursts, my hopeless tears, my determined anorexic mind set; their daughter slipping away from them bit by bit, turning into this skeletal self-destructive monster before their eyes.
Whilst in hospital, I had 24-hour sitters for the first two weeks, who were usually members of a mental health team. I met the first and most influential one on my first day at the hospital. Her name was Cat. I cannot put into words how much Cat supported me through those first weeks. She was there when I had my nasal feed tube put in and I was frozen with fear, she showered me, shaved my armpits, and held me when my hair fell out. But practicalities aside, she gave me hope. By spending time with her, I started to remember who Angharad was again, without you smothering all the characteristics of me. We spoke about dogs, and going out with friends, and barn conversions of all things, and she made me feel like a young woman again. A woman who had her whole life ahead of her, where she could achieve, and be happy, and make a difference. Sorry to say it, anorexia, but Cat was the first person who made me feel I could live without you, and more than that, be enough just by being me.
I can’t talk about this whole experience without mentioning Ffion. Ffion is my best friend, and will forever and always continue to be. She was with me every step of the way, and never judged or abandoned me or questioned my actions. She was just there, and for that I’ll never be able to thank her enough. Its people like this, anorexia, that remind me I don’t need you. I don’t need you to feel safe, or good about myself, or like I’m doing something right. They showed me I can succeed and be loved as Angharad; they wanted me alive, and you wanted me dead.
From day one in the hospital, I told the doctors, psychologists and nurses I wanted to get better, desperately. I just didn’t have the strength to do it on my own anymore.
To keep remain positive in the hospital, especially on bad days, I would write lists (I feel like this is hereditary from my mother), and they would keep me on track and remind me that all of it, the gut-wrenching mental torture, would all be worth it. I recently looked back at the diary I kept while in hospital and came across an example:
Good and positive things I can do when I’m better
So just to fill you in, anorexia, I left the hospital after nine weeks of hard work, and I slowly began to build up my life again. The life that you ripped to shreds. I am now a part of a choir, I have been on numerous trips away, I’m still working on the driving part and I have a puppy. But mostly, I have found the true Angharad again. I’m not going to say that it has been easy, and that you haven’t almost gained control at occasions, because you have. I have relapsed and struggled, but I have fought back every single time. You took away everything that was dear to me. You turned me into a shadow of my former self, to the extent that I didn’t just not recognise my body, I didn’t recognise my soul. My life now is wonderful. I still have the supportive family and friends that I have had the entire time, plus a few more for safekeeping. I have a degree in a topic I’m extremely passionate about, and I have supported others who have struggled with mental health difficulties.
I cannot say farewell to you forever, as I feel that that would be a naïve thing to do. Life holds many challenges, and you may rear your ugly head from time to time. But let me tell you this. You will never hurt me, or my loved ones, the way you did last time. Life is a beautiful thing, anorexia, and I’ll be damned if you ever darken that beauty again.
“Daw haul ar fryn eto”
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.