So I'm visiting the place where, in one respect, it all ended but, in another, where it all began. Hospital, an eating disorder unit, The Priory – it's called so many different things, but to me, it's the place that saved my life and helped me, not only to get my life back, but to have a better quality of life than I have ever had before.
It marks the end of my hospital visits, and maybe even the end of my ‘visible’ battle with anorexia, but in fact leaving here was only the beginning of my recovery and the beginning of my story. I may have been weight restored, and therefore well enough to be discharged from hospital, but I wasn't just ‘fine’ as soon as I walked out of the doors and back into the ‘real world’.
And I guess that's partly why it's not as simple as hospital being a ‘cure’: there is a massive difference between recovery in an inpatient unit and recovery in a world where there is a constant focus on how people look, what they do or don't eat, how much exercise they do and how much they weigh.
To begin with, I struggled with this and felt like I would be ‘safer’ back in hospital where those triggers didn't exist. I thought life would be easier if my control was taken away and handed over to somebody else. And the truth is, it would have been easier, but I also realised that it would be less fun and less ‘normal’ to stay in this bubble. Quite soon after my discharge, I was already beginning to do things that I wasn't able to do in hospital, such as going on holiday with my best friend Alice and moving to university. I had great flatmates, was on the university squash team, loved my course and loved the city I was living in. I felt a part of the community, was happy and, to top it all off, had an amazing therapist who really helped me to understand myself, my difficulties and how I could overcome them. I realised that actually recovery has given me so much, including the ability to help other sufferers.
That's a very good question, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure what the answer is either. The only way to explain it is that anorexia was my way of coping with difficult situations and it took a long time to accept that other, healthier coping mechanisms worked as well as (or even better than) the eating disorder. Letting go of anorexia meant taking a risk, because…
It was always what if ….
Gradually though, I began to turn the questions around.
What if the coping mechanisms I had learnt did work?
What if they were actually better coping mechanisms?
And most importantly, what if I could live the rest of my life free from anorexia?
So I began to challenge my eating disorder and, slowly but surely, both my physical and mental health started to improve. This process took a long time, with many blips along the way, but I can honestly say that, now, I feel happier and healthier than ever before. My battle isn't completely over and sometimes, anorexia will try to sneak its way back into my life. However, now I have developed positive coping mechanisms to deal with this when it happens and I also truly believe that I am strong enough to defeat anorexia once and for all!! From my experience, recovery is so much more worthwhile than the sheer exhaustion, the constant bite of the cold across your entire body and the absence of your true personality!
Like I said, it’s scary at first, but doing the total opposite of what my eating disorder was telling me to do was definitely worth it in the end and I would encourage anyone struggling to do the same - take the chance.
After all, with anorexia, a lifetime in and out of hospital, with consequent health problems and with a much shorter and less interesting story were the only things on the cards for me. Yet, my future without anorexia holds so much more. My best friend, her family and I have just booked our second holiday to France since my discharge and this year, I’m ready to go for the whole month!! Also, I will soon be finishing my first year at university, as well as being fully discharged from the eating disorder services – a much more interesting and fulfilling story, don’t you think?
So to finish with, I’d just like to say: there is hope for every single person out there who is suffering from an eating disorder and you all deserve recovery! Believe and trust in yourself, because YOU have the power to write the rest of YOUR story. It might seem impossible now, but trust me, if I can do it, so can you!!