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My journey with Anorexia Nervosa - Emma's story

I never in a million years thought that Anorexia nevosa would be something that would affect me. I vividly remember saying as a child ‘I love food way too much that that would never happen to me.’ But it did and it can happen to anyone.

My journey with anorexia started as the first lockdown ended. Before lockdown, I had never worried about what I looked like and was just happy being me. But when lockdown ended, I really struggled and I had this newfound anxiety over meeting people – what would they think, do they think I’m pretty and smart enough?

I have always been an overthinker but it was on a different level. I had just finished high school and was moving on in my life, going to a brand-new college where I knew all of two people. I had told myself as I began college that I was going to become ‘that girl’ that you see on social media; ‘that girl' who went to the gym, ate only clean foods, and prioritised becoming what I deemed ‘perfect’. When I started at college, I just wasn’t myself anymore. I managed to make friends but had this constant voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough – this voice held me back from being my true self with them.

My period had stopped quite abruptly but I was in denial that anything was wrong because I wasn’t ‘skinny’ enough to have anorexia. The first time I realised something was wrong was on our family holiday over Easter. I am very close to my family and loved our little trips away, but this time was different – I was full of dread and anxiety over the fact I was going to have to eat ‘convenient’ or ‘junk’ food. I remember breaking down multiple times that weekend screaming at my family over the fact they were taking me to a burger restaurant. My parents started to get genuinely worried and upset because they didn’t know what to do. But I was still in denial – I just saw what I was saying as me trying to be healthy. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about and now I know that my family were showing me that they cared.

After that holiday things got worse, I was so blindsided by the fact that everyone applauded me on being ‘so productive’ and ‘having my life together’ which at the end of the day was what I wanted. I have always been close with my family – they mean the world to me – but during the years I was struggling with anorexia, I pushed them away. There was one time when I was in therapy and I just burst out crying talking about my sister. My sister and I have always been close, but she deals with emotions very differently to me and when I was going through my eating disorder, we just couldn’t talk like we used to. I remember during my recovery my sister and I went out for coffee and cake and I just broke down in front of her saying I couldn’t have a cake and a milky coffee. I remember after my mum told me that she’ d had a message from my sister saying that she couldn’t be around me anymore because she couldn’t deal with the fact there was nothing that she could do to help me.

I avoided social situations where I knew food would be involved. I never felt as close to people because they didn’t know me and I barely knew myself anorexia consumed me.

One of the biggest driving points for me to recover was that I loved my friends and my family – a life without them just wasn’t worth it. I never stopped eating or stopped going out and I think that’s a big misconception about anorexia, but I could just tell that I wasn’t the same person as I used to be.

The third time I went to the doctors about my period was the time that I needed to start getting help for anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight since the last time I’d seen the doctor and the scariest thing is I had no idea. Throughout my eating disorder, I never weighed myself as being ‘skinny’ was never the end goal for me – I just wanted to be ‘healthy’ and make my family proud of me for being what I thought was ‘perfect’.

I was luckily placed on a programme very quickly and was given immediate help. I am just so grateful that I got help when I did. Even after I’d taken that first step toward recovery it took me quite a long time to establish anything was wrong. I still pushed people away and anorexia still consumed me – it was not a quick or easy fix. I saw a therapist weekly who I got to tell my story to and I started to understand that maybe I wasn’t okay and that this ‘healthy’ lifestyle I had created in my head maybe wasn’t so healthy at all.

I initially struggled to regain weight as I was in denial that I needed to gain for a very long time but I was determined to continue with my life and focused on my studies and getting into a university.

A lot of people feared the thought of me going to university. People had even told me that I was never going to be able to go after summer, but I was so determined to not let my life go on hold. Going to university was honestly the best thing I ever did. I knew I had to deal with my anorexia – it was not going to ruin another chapter of my life.

I received support from my councillor throughout my transition to a new area and the best part was nobody at university knew me as the girl with anorexia unlike at home. So, I relied on my personality to make friends and make progress. I now realise that who I am as a person is so so so much more important than being an unrealistic version of what I deemed as ‘perfection.’ Looking after myself and ensuring I’m fuelling myself to have energy to be the best version of me is what I should prioritise over everything.

My friends and family love me for me, and they really don’t care what I look like as long as I’m happy. I know that now. When I finally got discharged from treatment, I remember ringing everyone I knew to tell them and I will never forget the genuine smiles on their faces.

I have learnt to love myself a lot more now and I know that I deserve to be happy – but it took me a long time to get to this point. I spontaneously go out for food, and I see how beautiful the world is again. I have also got my sister and my friends back and I no longer push them away. Even the people who I never felt close to before having anorexia, I’ve become closer with just by being myself over text.

I know anorexia doesn’t just leave you overnight. It’s a long battle that can affect any one of us, but we can get through it. One positive thing I have realised throughout my journey is how strong I am as a person. We are all strong – our minds are incredible and we use them for something positive, there’s nothing stopping us from achieving whatever it is we want most.

Anorexia is one of the hardest things ever to recover from and there are times where I wanted nothing more than to just disappear, there are ups and downs but I know if I can get through anorexia, I can get through anything.

Contributed by Emma