On my 17th birthday, I was admitted to an inpatient clinic for the second time, though it was my first time in an adult unit. Each time I’ve celebrated a birthday since that day it has felt like a milestone to reflect upon how far I’ve come, and how different my life looks now.
After a couple of faux recovery attempts, a handful of relapses and plenty of denial, I am approaching my 29th birthday in the best physical and mental state I've been in my adult life. I generally dislike labels, but if you are that way inclined, I guess I'd say I'm a recovered anorexic.
I don't know if I believe there is such thing as a “cure” for any eating disorder, but I don't mind that thought anymore. I used to be terrified of the idea that I would never fully and completely be free of it, but I'm at peace with it now.
So, what does being a recovered anorexic actually look like? The journey to recovery and the meaning of being "recovered" looks different to everyone.
For me, there might be a day or a couple of hours where I feel like I don't fit into my own skin, and I want to claw myself out of my body. I find shopping for and trying on clothes quite uncomfortable and often upsetting. There are certain ingrained behaviours that involuntarily reveal themselves as still lingering; I find myself pacing on the spot subconsciously and I sometimes unintentionally eat food in a particular order.
These hangovers from the depths of my illness can be irritating and require daily management, yet they no longer affect the quality of my life. I consider anorexia to be something that I will always need to monitor and keep an eye on, but which occupies only a very small part of my mind.
The reality is that twelve years on from my 17th birthday, I have the most supportive friends and family (to whom I owe so much) who have never given up on me; I have responsibilities to commit to, I have people who depend on me, and I have found great love. There is not just one reason to live for, but a multitude, and that makes the prospect of continuing to battle eating disordered thoughts or behaviours possible. These reasons, the ‘why’s’, are no longer purely sentimental and notional. There are also practical, logistical reasons that mean I can't give in to anorexia; I've worked incredibly hard to qualify as a solicitor at a global law firm, I'm a Godmother to my nephew, I have a mortgage with my boyfriend, and I have friends who are getting married and having children.
Although one could be dismayed by the prospect of living with an eating disorder for the foreseeable future, perhaps even forever, I am in a place where I simply accept it. Anorexia is no longer my whole life; it is just one tiny part of it which I view like any other health concern – consider if you had chronic back pain, you would take steps and put in place measures to manage it, but you would not let it dictate your life or take over your personality.
12 years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea that I would be speaking with this optimistic outlook on my life – I am so glad I never abandoned hope and kept fighting to reach this point. Beat has been incredibly helpful throughout. When I was first diagnosed with anorexia, age 15, mental ill health generally was not spoken about and eating disorders were (and still are) largely shrouded in mystery and stigma – Beat provided clear and helpful guidance to me, my family and friends who were all navigating it together for the first time and Beat’s Helpline has been a continued source of advice and support. Contributed by Hannah
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.
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