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Distinguishing your ‘real self’ from your ‘eating disorder self’

People often asked me what started my anorexia. Therapists,  doctors, parents, friends etc. This was a hard question for me to answer at first, and this is what kept my eating disorder going for so long. I was a perfectionist, and I am able to recognise that now. I still am, but I am able to deal with it and recognise this. Being a perfectionist made me feel like I was a failure and that I wasn’t able to do anything successfully. Anything from my A-Level coursework to even brushing my teeth, I felt was I was doing in the wrong way and this was extremely hard to deal with on a daily basis. It stopped me from living. Now I can see why my eating disorder started, and that is one of the most important and hardest things to deal with but is essential for recovery. How are you ever meant to recover and prevent relapse, if you don’t know what started it in the first place?

Anorexia was something I felt I could thrive in – if I couldn’t do anything “right” then if I stopped eating I could be successful in making myself ill. Anorexia made me feel safe and in control. I felt numb. Feeling numb is better than having to deal with emotions, right? Now I can see I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, emotions are hard to deal with, but there are so many positives about them. Being able to empathise, feel love for someone, laugh until your stomach hurts is so much better than feeling nothing.

Everything I did would become focused on food, weight and exercise. I had tunnel vision. I couldn’t see outside my little bubble of these three things and that’s all I focused on for months. I cut myself off from my friends, family, teachers, everyone. Food was my only ‘friend’, but it was the enemy. I couldn’t trust anybody and I certainly couldn’t trust the food.  I was barely existing, let alone living. Some days, I would scream and scream to get the “anorexic” voices to go away, but they took over me. I was no longer an 18-year-old teenage girl. It got out of control, and the only option left was inpatient. Inpatient treatment saved my life. It was a challenging experience where every day my rational thoughts would argue with my anorexic ones as I started to eat, which made my brain start to function again. My old self had been forgotten and I was learning how to get her back again. A better me was coming.

You have to realise everybody is on their own journey, and you must not interfere with others or compare as this will get you nowhere. Although I am now free of inpatient, I still struggle with the anorexic thoughts on a daily basis. The voices are still there but my rational thoughts are able to tackle them and tell them that they are wrong. Before, I felt weak for not being happy and I put on a front that I was fine, even though it was obvious I was not. Being able to look back and recognise how far I have come makes me feel proud, and I no longer feel ashamed to say this or feel as if I am a failure. I no longer have rituals in my daily life that made it impossible to live. I can be flexible.

Recognising your healthy self from your disordered self is key. Recovery is the most amazing thing but I am still getting to grips that it is not linear. Nothing in life is. Life is not perfect. And I am okay with this. We all have ups and downs, but the most important thing is to speak up when we feel something isn’t right. Write it down, draw, write a song or poem - anything to get your voice heard. I kept my thoughts to myself. I was too afraid to speak out, but slowly I realised that food was no longer the enemy and I slowly started to trust people again. I am in constant battle with anorexic thoughts vs Rachel’s thoughts, but Rachel is now winning.

My name is Rachel. I still have anorexia, but I am no longer defined by it.

Contributed by Rachel