My anorexia started when I was just 11 years
old. However, I wasn’t officially diagnosed until 10 years later. That is a
decade of illness before I started treatment, by which time my ED was well and
truly ingrained. So how did this happen, and why?
Anorexia is a very secretive and sneaky disease.
Looking back, I can see the trigger came in my final year of primary school
after the death of my beloved grandmother. I remember on the day of her funeral
being completely obsessed by the size of my stomach – it seemed enormous and I
spent ages in the bathroom measuring it, feeling utterly disgusted with myself.
I vowed then to make it go away.
Instead of losing weight drastically, I simply
failed to gain as a growing child or adolescent should. I think this is the
main reason my illness went undetected. When I was 13, the school nurse was concerned
by my weight. However, my parents and teachers mistakenly believed I was fine
because they saw me eat. I think there is a common misconception that people
with anorexia don’t eat. I ate when people were looking, just never enough to
Alarm bells only went off when I was at
university. I was training to be a doctor. Already a low weight, I couldn’t
cope with the pressure of the course, the feeling that I didn’t fit in, and
being away from home. I starved myself to numb difficult emotions. My weight
plummeted. I had to drop out of med school. Then one day I collapsed. I was
admitted to a general hospital to medically stabilise me before I could be transferred
to the ED unit.
For years I had revolving door hospital
admissions. I nearly lost my life more than once. I would be sectioned under
the Mental Health Act and force-fed. I fought and fought to keep my anorexia.
It was my friend. When I was 28, my psychiatrist informed me that they were
withdrawing active treatment and would switch to a more palliative approach.
This frightened me. My family refused to believe that anorexia was a terminal
illness. I ended up going to a clinic on the other side of the world for
intensive treatment – therapy as well as food.
Now, aged 35, I can say I am in recovery. My
body has found the place it wants to be. It is a point I do not have to
restrict to maintain. But eating disorders are mental illnesses and
therefore not about weight. So how is my mind these days? Part of my illness
was the feeling that I was not good enough. In my anorexia I was always
comparing myself to others and I never measured up. In early recovery I
compared myself to others in recovery and I was coming up short. A recovery is
as unique as each of us is. We all have our own paths to get there and I think
you just know, in your heart of hearts, when you arrive. I thought recovery
would see me married, baby on the way, amazing career, etc. Have I been sold
short because I have achieved none of these things? No, I don’t think so. I
have something I value far more. I have contentment and a feeling of peace that
comes from my new-found self-acceptance, and above all, I have hope. For me,
these are the gifts of recovery. For you, it may be something different, but no
less valid, because it’s your recovery.
I still hear the anorexic voice. It’s quieter
now, but it’s still there. I just don’t act on it. For me, recovery is managing
this chronic condition as one would, say, diabetes. I live with it, the keyword
being live. I no longer merely exist. I enjoy my life. I have my
struggles, my bad days, my lapses, even, but I keep going. I use my voice now.
I ask for help when I need it. I am incredibly lucky to have such supportive
family and friends. I am good enough. And you are too.