Laughing. Dancing. Sleeping. Exploring. Writing. Travelling. Eating. Working. Partying. Loving. Crying. Existing. Living. This list is one that I began when recovering from anorexia, that I resumed when suffering with bulimia and that I carry with me to this very day. It serves as a constant reminder of a life worth living and a recovery worth chasing. To some, the elements on this list might be considered banal, even boring. Working? Where’s the fun in that? But to me, each and every one of them is a reason for recovery. They are all things that I took for granted before my eating disorder journey but that I now consider with gratitude every single day.
It saddens me that I had to hit rock bottom before learning to view life with positivity, gratitude and a great big smile, but I am able to look back on my experience today and know that it made me a stronger person. I am not grateful for my eating disorder, but I am thankful for the position I am now in: to educate and inspire others, to bring attention to the destructive mental illnesses that are affecting more and more people and to turn a personal negative experience into a universal positive one.
Like so many, my story began long before I thought it did. I always thought I had a ‘normal’ relationship with food and my body but essentially, I always thought that I was the largest in my friend group, and made it a goal to eat less than the others. But it was never anything extreme. Little did I know that it wasn’t the behaviours that were a problem but the thought process behind them. My story took a turn halfway through my first year of university when I was told by my doctor that I had put on weight. A harmless comment that targeted all of my old insecurities resulted in me crying in front of the mirror, grabbing wildly at my body and wishing that I could just disappear. All of my perfectionist tendencies came into play as I flung myself wildly into weight loss culture.
Little by little, my behaviour became more extreme. My entire life revolved around food and yet I barely touched it. I planned all of my meals down to the tiniest calorie. I began cutting out entire food groups and exercised to the point of exhaustion. No matter how tired or ill I was, I powered through until I stopped feeling hunger or pain. I stopped feeling anything. I learned to purge. I got better at saying no, at hiding away, at avoiding people, at lying. I didn’t know how to stop. I became spiteful. I shouted. I cried. I even ran away from my house, too scared to face the dinner that had been so lovingly prepared.
Eventually, my old self cried out, lost in the eating disorder that had enveloped me. The eating disorder that was at once my best friend and my worst enemy. I saw, for one fleeting moment, everything that I had lost. My friends. My family. My smile. My enthusiasm. My hobbies. My passion for theatre and for writing. My life. I turned to the Internet, and found a whole community of brave people in the same position that had chosen to fight. I made appointments and visited clinics. Only then did I realise what a scary world I had entered. Recovery wasn’t easy, and unfortunately I had to get worse before I got better. While I was physically recovered, my mental state was at its very lowest and I soon turned to a different type of self-hatred.
It took me a while to realise it, and even longer to come to terms with it, but I had bulimia. Every day was a cycle of restrict, binge, purge, hate myself and restrict again. I went from entirely rejecting food to making it my only source of comfort and release. Just like people with anorexia, people with bulimia are not themselves. They become their eating disorder. They become secretive, isolated and depressed. They cancel plans to binge and purge. They spend money they don’t have on food they don’t keep down. They hoard and they steal. I felt stuck. I was sure there was no way out. An eating disorder had entirely consumed me. I had not been myself since the comment my doctor made. I pushed people away to the point of almost ruining relationships.
But I also made it to the other side. I learned who my true friends are. I learned that there is forgiveness and compassion in the world. I slowly learned not only to accept myself, but to love myself, exactly as I am. I learned that there is, surprisingly, always hope. And this is why I am sharing my story. To tell all of you out there who may be suffering that you are not alone. I have seen both sides of this awful spectrum and probably every stage that you can fit in between. But hey, I’m still here. I’m still smiling and I’m still fighting.
You are not alone. You are loved. You are important. You are not worthless. You are beautiful. You are strong. And you will beat this thing. I promise.