Anorexia was not a part of my early life. I was a pretty normal teenager, I didn’t really rebel, I enjoyed school and sports and managed to make it through the ‘stressful’ points of teenage life fairly unscathed. I say “fairly” – wanting to do well at everything meant there were a few (bucket loads) of tears cried and the need for many a pep talk from my mum, but I survived and did what I needed for my university place.
After college I made a bold decision and planned to take a gap year of solo travel to the USA and Australia. At 18 this small-town girl left Penzance to discover the world! I spent a summer working at an American summer camp, had a couple of months back at home, then headed off to Australia before returning to NY for a second summer at camp (I went back for another two after this)! By the end of that year I’d grown in confidence (and had a pretty decent tan to show for my year in the sun) and was ready for the next stage in life, university.
Moving to a new city, living with a block full people, starting a degree and generally trying to find my feet at university was overwhelming (at times a little too much for this shy introvert) but thankfully I made some great friends and got stuck into Oxford life quickly. By the end of my three years I’d achieved far more than I’d ever expected, and the shy and nervous fresher of 2006 had become the slightly less shy, much more confident graduate of 2009 – I even managed to stand on the stage in front of my whole cohort to give the graduation speech on behalf of the graduating students!
Whilst at university plans for my future changed; I’d become a Christian and decided to spend a year working with my church on an internship programme. I was so excited for all that this year had to offer. What I was not expecting was that along with the amazing experiences of that year, I was also going to be faced with some of the toughest.
At 22 life got tough; my weight dropped, my mood dropped, normal life became hard. I fought it, I fought hard. I did not want anorexia to take over, but it did. Slowly it took over, slowly, but aggressively. Anorexia is not something that can be a small part of you – once it takes hold it wants to be everything. I tried to fight it myself, but I failed. My friends tried to help me fight, but that wasn’t quite enough either. In the end, after a lot of encouragement (and a little bit of pressure) I agreed to enter hospital treatment. If I was going to rid my life of anorexia, I was going to have to enter the alien world of the ‘mental hospital’ for intensive specialist treatment as an eating disorder day patient.
In April 2010 I took those first terrifying steps onto the ward; I wanted to cry; I did cry. It was horrible. It was hard. I did not want to be there. I didn’t need to be there (or so I thought). But I was there; I was there for eight months. Nearly every day for eight months I took those steps onto the ward. They never became comfortable; they got easier, but not comfortable. For that I am actually glad. I never want an eating disorder unit to feel comfortable, I want more for my life than what anorexia has to offer.
After my hospital admission, I slowly got life back on track. I was learning to be well again. I embarked on my next challenge, studying for an MA in Development and Emergency Practice. Life was no longer just about my recovery, but about being a graduate student, a friend, a family member… Fast-forward a few years and I had all but beaten the disorder. I’d been discharged from outpatient treatment, I’d graduated with an MA, had worked a couple of different jobs, was leading a kids group at church, life was on the up.
That was until it all happened again. I’d promised myself I’d never allow anorexia back in. But it is not that easy. I’m currently coming out the other side of another stint back at the same specialist unit. In 2016 at the age of 29 I found myself taking those terrifying steps back on to that ward yet again. As before, it was hard and uncomfortable. Anorexia the second time around has been far worse – I think I am now all the more aware of what I have to lose, and how much better life can be.
Another reason it has been worse this time around is because my body started to fail – and though I am now a long way through my recovery journey, my body (and mind) are still going to take some time longer to heal. Many times I’ve thought it would be easier to just give in to the anorexic thoughts, but I know it is not worth it, and I so want to get back to being the Hannah that has much more to offer than a complex medical history.
Getting to where I am today has been hard, but has been possible because of my incredible family and friends. This EDAW, Beat focused on the importance of getting people into treatment as quickly as possible. Recovery is possible, and a person’s chance of making a full and sustained recovery is greater if they can quickly get into treatment. My friends made sure this happened for me, and have continued to remind me that I can do this, and I have so much more to live for. Now, for the most part, I believe this, which in itself is a victory!
Finally, and most important, is the part my faith has played. It has been central to my recovery – I’ve always held on to the promises of hope and a future, this verse being one I’ve read and have chosen to believe many times over – choosing recovery isn’t always easy, but then Jesus never said life would be!
“FOR I KNOW THE PLANS I HAVE FOR YOU,” DECLARES THE LORD, “PLANS TO PROSPER YOU AND NOT TO HARM YOU, PLANS TO GIVE YOU HOPE AND A FUTURE.’
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.