Christmas has always been a very busy and exciting time for me. Singing with my church choir, playing at events with the school orchestra – there was an endless number of things that I looked forward to. Many involved food and going out for meals, which I also loved to do. I didn’t think once about what I was eating, or what effect (if any) it would have on my weight. That is, until I was around seventeen. Looking back, I realise that I was struggling to cope with things in my life and felt out of control. This led me to start trying to control what and when I ate. When Christmas time came around, I felt extremely nervous. I had promised the voice in my head that I would not tell anyone about its existence. But because many of the events at Christmas revolved around food, it was the most likely time I would be ‘caught out’. “All the more reason to be anxious and follow my rules,” the voice said.
I now know that this voice was anorexia. But at the time, I couldn’t make sense of what was going on. I remember wondering why I couldn’t enjoy and celebrate Christmas like I had previously. With everyone else being in a festive mood, I felt lonely and guilty, because all I could think about was food and weight. I, Rose Anne, wanted to join in with the celebrations and, as a Christian, be thankful for the birth of Jesus. I wanted to go out for meals with friends and family and have fun, but anorexia didn’t want me to do that. As I had promised my eating disorder, I didn’t talk to anyone about how I felt and tried to act as ‘normal’ as possible. I seemed to have succeeded.
A year later, however, things were very different. Both my physical and mental health had taken a turn for the worse and I was therefore receiving treatment in an inpatient unit. I had been there for around six months and, because of the progress I had made, I was allowed a few nights at home during the Christmas period. I was looking forward to spending Christmas Day at home, but then again, I was afraid, because I would be out of my usual routine. Even though the hospital helped us to plan and prepare for Christmas, it didn’t take away the anxieties I had. The best way I can describe it was like a race car in my mind. I was sat at the table, the food in dishes, waiting for us to serve ourselves. I noticed everyone else around the table. What will they think? I began to put the food on my plate. Is that enough? Is it too much? How much have other people got? “Okay. It’s safe, I’m safe,” I chanted to myself. But anorexia started to fight back. “That’s way too much. Look how greedy you are.” That carried on throughout the meal and, by the end of it, I was exhausted. That’s how anorexia made me feel. Absolutely exhausted.
But I kept on fighting. The year after, I was out of hospital and I still found it difficult to cope, but I felt more able and more equipped to deal with that voice inside my head. I also felt the added pressure of being further in recovery. Just because I was out of hospital and coping much more, it didn’t mean anorexia had completely gone away. Nowadays, I find it much easier to cope around Christmas. Yes, that voice still occasionally pops up, but I am able to quickly quieten it. I look forward to being with family and friends and celebrating that special day in the Christian calendar.
Everyone is deserving of help throughout the year, but especially at Christmas time. If anyone is struggling, I would advise them to speak to someone, whether a family member, a friend or one of the Beat advisors. Beat’s Helplines helped me to feel less alone and to just talk through how I was feeling. Nobody deserves to suffer alone, especially not at Christmas, and that’s why Beat are there to help.