“So how can I help you, Hannah?”
There I was, sitting in front of the GP, age going on 33, a decade of anorexia behind me. Was I going to tell the whole story? “I’ve had a chest infection for six weeks and I’m scared I’m losing my hearing. Pause. Deep breath. “The real reason I’m so ill is anorexia. I’ve got anorexia.” It was out there.
“And how long have you had it, Hannah?” Go on. Say it. I was ill and suffering long before it became so visible, before it showed in the blood tests and bone density scans. “Ten years.” Ten years of the slow fading away of my body and my soul.
What made me decide to change it? Like so many people with a chronic eating disorder, I’d come to accept it. I was stuck with it – not ill enough, it seemed, to get the help I needed, but too ill to live a full life and to avoid the damaging effects on my body and my mind. I’d tried to open up on a few occasions – to GPs, friends, boyfriends – but it mostly led nowhere, or worse, it was met with triggering responses. So why did I try again? Why am I determined to show full recovery is always possible?
Yes, I was partly driven there physically, pushed back to the GP by my frightening state of health. But nearly a year on and doing just a little bit better, I could have just stopped and accepted my partial recovery. Maybe this was as good as it gets?
But one miserable wet Saturday afternoon sitting on my sofa, something snapped. I didn’t have to accept this! Yes, I’m 33, not 15 or 23. Yes, I face obstacles caused by the length of my illness – long-term loss of periods, osteoporosis, and the challenge of breaking deeply ingrained habits around food. But either I could accept a half-life or I could start fighting back harder. I realised that by fighting things could only get better with each step forward, so I started to really fight.
I’m just a few months on from that afternoon and my life has transformed. I’ve started to speak out about my experience and my recovery, starting online with my blog and now building the confidence to come offline too. Yes, I still have tough days both physically and mentally. But I’m ready to tell the world that recovery is always possible and always worth it.
Only very recently, the media has started to notice that adults also get eating disorders, that people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and older are suffering. But these stories seem to be hopeless tales of whole lives lived in the shadow of illness. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I know through my own experience that it can be hard to access help and treatment. But I also know that the climate is changing, awareness is growing, and mental health is starting to be really talked about. So it’s time to try again. To blurt it out to the GP as I did. And even when that help is slow or hard to access, there is a growing space to talk to those around us – to loved ones, friends, and organisations like Beat – and to reach out for support.
I know it can be even harder to sit on our sofas at 33, 43, or 53 and think we can never escape the eating disorder after so long. But we can always try. I’m determined to show that a full recovery is possible at any age, that it’s never too late. That’s part of my fight.
The other part is to push as hard as I can for treatment to be more accessible more quickly for all of us. That’s why I’m embarking on my Sock It Tour of London, raising funds for Beat and doing what I can to help Beat support more people and campaign for better access to treatment.
From 4 Feb to 4 March, I will be touring my home city of London, taking 125 photos in my brightest, wackiest, jazziest socks for the 1.25 million estimated to be suffering with eating disorders in the UK. I’ll be posting my tour on Instagram @hannabeatsana and across my social media (Hannah Bird on Facebook, Twitter @HannaLou84, blog www.hannabeatsana.com)
Let’s show that we can all sock it to all eating disorders everywhere and at any age.
I needed to find some way to disappear and become inconsequential, as if I did society maybe wouldn’t notice the disability. The eating disorder was the only way I could see to do this.
The myths of eating disorders are stopping people getting help. These myths are making people more ill and in my case these myths destroyed my 17-year-old life.
You have to learn how to live again and, like with any lessons, you often have to fail to learn the best way or the right way...