"People find it very difficult to understand other people."

Posted 01/11/2016

People find it very difficult to understand other people. This seems like a very obvious statement, but it's one of the reasons that living with a mental illness is so difficult.

I had suffered with anorexia nervosa and bulimia for a year. Many people already have perceptions and stigmas with these words, and fail to understand that every case is different.

I didn't choose to be anorexic. It all started so innocently – I was simply a female dancer whose diet was very poor, who had been overweight and the biggest food lover her whole life, and I wanted to change that. Healthy, right? 

I began to be careful with my food choices and exercise more. It was working so well! I was getting complimented on how I looked for the first time in my 16 overweight years – it was great! 

I'm not sure when the line crossed for me. As I finished my GCSE exams I had so much time to think. I began to weigh everything and become obsessive. I couldn't watch my dad eat, and I became angry at the sight of unhealthy food. I outgrew all my clothes but still wasn't satisfied. My family started to worry but I didn't understand why. My mindset was right: how dare they think food is enjoyable – it's only there to keep you alive. 

I began to hate food and the idea of enjoying it. I would get angry very easily at my family suggesting I enjoyed food. 

Summer passed and I started college, and with a new-found group of friends to impress I became even more insecure. My parents knew I was unwell, but people would tell me "you're not thin enough to be anorexic", which is rather confusing, as there's no such thing as not being thin enough for a mental illness. 

I had been bullied throughout my 16 years and always associated it with my weight. As I was nearing 17 I became so conscious of having fat in all the wrong places. I hated myself and thought everybody hated me because I was fat, and that I deserved punishment for this. I began to self-harm by making myself sick, which eventually developed into a type of bulimia in which I didn't binge – it was more of a self-punishment than a method of weight loss. 

I started having hospital appointments, in which I was really adamant about not speaking much about my self-harming. We had so many appointments that turned into arguments. I am very stubborn by nature and would not let my counsellor or my family "win". My anorexia was speaking out for me and I refused to change.

I became so anxious and genuinely believed everyone hated me, that I was a waste to the world. I wanted to die, but my suicide attempt failed – I couldn't even do that right. Honestly, I gave up on even trying to die and decided to give this whole meal plan and recovery thing a go; I was willing to try anything.

It started with a simple meal plan that changed everything. It's funny how what your counsellor tells you is actually true and makes sense. I was told that if you fuel your brain properly it will start functioning better, but why would I believe that? 

I cried every night forcing pasta down my throat for the "greater good", but eventually I felt less weak and lethargic and actually had energy for college for once – weird. 

My counselling sessions became easier, and I began realising I actually enjoyed eating mango. My eyes began to open to the world and I stopped associating my looks with how I was treated by people – and stopped assuming everyone hated me. 

I was learning about healthy foods and eating the right amount of the right stuff and it interested me. I wanted to eat things that would help me get the most out of life. I became less angry and accepted that some people like cake, my dad included.

The only trouble was my body had got into the habit of throwing up, and only when I caught my mum crying her eyes out and having a panic attack did I want to change that.

I can honestly say it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Keeping your body from a habit is more difficult than I thought. I had to physically stop myself and it was so difficult it bought me to tears. And yes, there were times where I wouldn't be able to control it and yes, I did feel so guilty. 

I would be lying if I said I hadn't done it again. Eventually, however, these times became less and less frequent.

As my appointments drew to a close I was still so insecure, but was more careful with my health. I began to value my life more and discovered I wanted to survive and to do this meant looking after my body. My brain started functioning again and I began to find myself.

I've been at a healthy weight now for a year, but will never forget how it felt to believe so strongly in something your mind is telling you. I will always encourage the idea that no eating disorder case is the same – everyone's mind and body is different. I think the acceptance of this is vital, and understanding that you may not be able to work out why someone is thinking or feeling something because their brain is different to yours. Once you've worked this out you can help, and help them to realise they're not alone.

I'm not perfect to this day, I'm still insecure about my body and suffer with anxiety about many things – but I'm alive and breathing, and am lucky to have had so much support throughout the battle. You're never alone in this, and I would always encourage anyone suffering to seek help. It does NOT make you weak to need counselling or help – it may be the best thing you'll do.

Contributed by Hannah