The last few months have marked some of the most significant events in my life to date. After six years I am no longer under the care of an eating disorders service, and after five years I have qualified as a Doctor.
There was a time when the thought of achieving those things seemed laughable; if I couldn’t even care for myself, who would ever trust me to care for someone else? But here I am, on the other side – not across the finish line, but close enough to be forever grateful for the life I am now living.
It all began at 17; I started to change, just a little around the edges – more impatient, less flexible, punishing of myself. It was put down to stress – a little bit of short-term self-neglect would be worth it for the long-term gains of a place at medical school. Obviously, in hindsight, this was the beginnings of my anorexia, but by the time the alarm bells were ringing, I was in the depths of my disorder. I was completely out of control and so entrenched in my illness that only an eating disorder ward could provide the support I needed – I had to defer my place at university for a year.
The eight months spent there were some of the hardest and most haunting I have ever had to face, but I never realised those struggles would continue long after leaving. My difficulties at university were of a different kind; the motivation and dedication it takes to push yourself forwards when you’re only accountable to yourself is immense, and I faltered many, many times. So although I have many positive reflections of university, they are divided by large chasms of relapse and despair – long periods where the only comfort I could find was in my anorexia and where I let opportunities, friendships and happiness pass me by.
Thankfully, I always managed to pick myself back up, because I knew that everything I had worked so hard to achieve and had fought for every day on the ward would be taken away from me if I let myself fall as far as I had the first time.
My biggest regret for those first few years of university is that I always recovered to ‘just enough’ – just enough to keep one toe in each world: my life as I’d shaped it and my anorexia. It wasn’t until my fourth year of study that ‘just enough’ started to become a restraint, that in keeping my disordered habits going I was denying myself innumerable opportunities and tainting the good experiences I had. Since I made that decision to wholeheartedly throw myself into recovery, it really has given me glimmers of an existence I never could have imagined I would be able to live again. I can be spontaneous, I can say yes to anything, I can eat and drink without guilt or disgust, I can exercise for pleasure.
The driving force behind my desire for complete recovery is the knowledge that the life I have built around myself only works if I’m well – I have a wonderful boyfriend, a dedicated and fun group of friends, a career that I love and excel at, the physical strength to run half marathons and a thousand memories from my worldwide travels over the last few years. Why would I want to trade that for the one-dimensional existence of anorexia?
For me, the magnitude of knowing that the positive influences I have in my life are infinitely more powerful and meaningful than anything an eating disorder could ever offer me has been the lifeline to pull me out of darkness many times.
Six years ago, on an eating disorders unit, I made a list of what my life would encompass if I recovered: happiness, a career, relationships, friendships, skiing, singing, spontaneity. Now, it’s a description of the life I’m living.