I have always thought of myself as a very logical, objective person. But looking at the person that anorexia has made me become, I couldn’t be any further from that. When firmly in the grips of an eating disorder, your mind becomes full of irrational and untrue facts about yourself. I became so weak and tired; I just wanted it to stop, stop obsessing about food, calories, endless exercise, but its complete hold on your mind and therefore your actions stop you back from making steps to recovery and seeking help. For me, anorexia was always sitting there lurking and waiting to happen, but did not manifest in full severity until I was 32 years old. Just after the birth of my daughter it hit with a vengeance. My daughter is now 6 and I can honestly say that only now am I beginning to make the difficult daily choices of life and recovery over my eating disorder.
Why has it taken me six years to get to this point? Entrenched in this illness you cannot see any way out, so I listened to the lies that I heard in my head: “You are not thin enough, you are not ill enough, no one will take you seriously,” or: “You are not ill; you are very controlled and should be proud of that.” Deep down I knew that my behaviour was wrong; I was desperately unhappy but I continued to hide my illness and ran from thoughts of asking for help or making the choices necessary to recover because it was easier to stay ill.
As I gain clarity in my recovery, I can now begin to see that it was actually the eating disorder itself that was holding me back from making change. I would not allow myself to ask for help, ask others for support, not from fear of judgement, but from fear that the eating disorder then would no longer be in control. So I did not reach out. The anorexia controlled me as it wished, and I became more and more ill.
The decision to let others in, to be open about my illness, has only been a recent one, but I can instantly see that it was very positive and necessary. To beat this illness, I need to challenge myself. I need to be accountable, and having others aware of what I am going through allows me to be stronger against it. I can take power back to myself and say, “I am doing X, and it is really hard for me but I will do it.” And I will, even if I don’t manage it that day. I will challenge myself again and again until I succeed. (And there are so many setbacks. Every. Single. Day).
This change in me did not come from the rational thought of needing to be well for my daughter. Anorexia does not do rational. It was just that I couldn’t go on living as I was any longer. Living with an eating disorder is not a life. It is an existence that leaves you with nothing, no feelings, no energy, nothing, isolated and alone. Numbers, calories, exercise… it is relentless in your mind, but you are so entrenched and ill that you cannot see it. I sought help because deep down I knew how ill I was and anything had to be more bearable than that. I still don’t think of myself as strong, but there is truth in the saying: “You do not know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.”
I am so, so grateful that have decided to make this choice. It is exhausting, painful and confusing trying to go against an eating disorder every second of every day, but when you listen to the real YOU underneath all the guilt and chatter, every little victory that YOU have is so empowering. The eating disorder comes back in so quickly, but every victory, no matter how small, teaches you that YOU can do this, slowly and baby steps at a time, but yes, life can be better than the existence that you know. I now have glimpses of what life could be like and I cling to them. Having the energy and focus to engage with your family and walk and play with your daughter for even five minutes is priceless compared to before. There is a wonderful life ahead, beyond anorexia, but I have to keep making the correct choices to get there. Every day (well, most days) I become stronger. I have gratitude. I can truly begin to feel and love more deeply that I could ever have imagined. I want more of this and I will keep fighting. Some days that rational voice inside me is unstoppable. Other days I am overwhelmed by anorexia’s lies. I still have a long way to go, but only with the clarity of small steps of recovery can I see that. But I also know that I want to fight this. I want recovery.
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...
In the past I’ve wanted to hide the eating disorders that are part of my history, but I want to shout from the rooftops: I'm proud of how far I had come!
What a year 2020 has been in general for everyone – it was a year no one ever could have imagined, from panic buying, toilet roll shortages, lockdowns and restrictions. Yet for so many, including me, the battle against an eating disorder continued.