Five years on from being admitted to an inpatient unit for treatment, I am stronger than I have ever been, further into my journey than I have ever been before, and speaking out and sharing my story beyond the handful of people I have ever told. Why? Because eating disorders grow in the dark. Sharing my story might help or maybe inspire someone else to keep fighting. It may even help me to get closer to that finish line where I am fully in control. And I am learning to not be ashamed of my story, like I have been for years.
Why me? I was very successful in numerous sport teams at high school, I played in the teams for the years above, I did well in individual and team competitions and I also did well in my exams. Good GCSE results, even better A-level results and a First Class Honours Degree. I was 21, I had even just bought my first house. I had everything going for me, I was successful, had a family who loved me, I was training to be a teacher … but I had anorexia.
How or why it started, I am not 100% sure, but from the age of 16 – 21 it got worse and worse. I started off eating a little less, cutting out certain foods from my diet, until five years later when I wasn’t really eating anything at all. Unable to hold my arm above my head, tie my hair up, drive because I didn’t have enough strength to move the gear stick, stand up for too long, or walk upstairs.
A memory I will never forget is being bought a birthday cake at work for my 21st birthday, one they knew I loved, but I could never possibly eat. Being in front of everyone I couldn’t say no, so I put a tiny piece into my mouth, but I couldn’t and didn’t swallow it. One bite of cake on my birthday and I physically couldn’t eat it!!
I knew I was ill for a while before it got to this point. I wouldn’t show my arms because they were too thin, have my photo taken, attend my graduation or eat a banana to save my life if I was asked… the list could go on and on, but I am not going to. However, even then, I didn’t know just how ill I was until I was taken off my PGCE teacher training course. My dream job, something I have always wanted to do, and now it had been taken away from me, so I agreed to go to the doctors.
First appointment: “You need to eat more and put on weight otherwise you might die.” This was no surprise, it was something I had been constantly told by my parents, but I didn’t have any control in what I was doing. My eating disorder had completely taken over me; I wasn’t me anymore.
Another appointment was made for a couple of weeks later.
27th February 2013, 10am. The day I will never, ever forget. I remember every moment…
I turned up and was expecting to be told the same thing as last time, but instead I was told they had no choice but to admit me, right there, right then, onto an eating disorder inpatient unit for the foreseeable future, or there was a high chance I would not survive. Quite possibly the worst moment of my life!
So I spent the next four months, should have been nine, in what seemed like a prison fighting for my life, being forced to eat foods I hadn’t eaten in years, in a watched, supervised dining room with hundreds of rules.
After initially getting worse and being unable to walk up the stairs, my weight started to increase. Physically I was getting better, but my eating disorder was just as in control of me as it was when I entered; I had no idea what I was doing or what was happening.
I hit my weight that is ‘perfect’ for me, great to tell someone that with an eating disorder! And so I was discharged on the 5th July 2013. However, I couldn’t stop putting on weight. I either didn’t eat or ate too much, my eating disorder was fully in control still, it just took a different form to the way it was before. I should never have been discharged, but as my weight was restored I was deemed ‘all better’. All that was important to the hospital was a number on the scale, drilled into every day, rewarded if it hit a certain number… a very damaging experience and one that still stays with me today.
Nevertheless, I started to do things again I had never done in years, but some things were still off limit. I learnt how to wear a t-shirt again and eat out in a restaurant (this is still a massive personal challenge now!) but they were all done with fear, anxiety and dread and all while still being fully immersed in my eating disorder.
It is only in this last year that I have really started to fully understand and change the power my eating disorder has over my life, the choices I make, the constant feeling I have of never being good enough and the things it stops me doing. And I have had enough… I want to be me! I want to feel good enough! I want to do the things that everyone else does and I want my control and my life back. I don’t want a number on a scale or what I have eaten to define me, my day, my feelings, my self-worth or my life.
I have set about achieving these things over the last 12 months, completely pushing myself out of my comfort zone (sharing this story is definitely one of them!), trying one way after another, failing and getting back up again over and over again, crying and having days where “I can’t do this anymore”, hitting rock bottom but then getting back up and fighting back stronger… and I think it is slowly starting to work.
I need to be proud of my journey: how far I have come, how positively different my life is now, how strong I actually am, my determination to get there, how I was so close to losing my life to my eating disorder and how many times I have fought back after hitting rock bottom… then hitting rock bottom again but even lower another month later.
This last 12 months would have not been possible without the AMAZING support of a couple of people (you know who you are) and my parents. You have helped me more than I ever could have asked and more that you will ever know; you have believed in me when I couldn’t and given me that extra bit of strength when I had used up all of my own. Thank you so, so, so much; I will love you forever for what you have given me.
My journey is far from over. I know the struggle will continue, with some days being far worse than others, but I know I am strong enough to win!
Keep fighting. Stay strong. Recovery is always possible.