I was walking around my local library looking for a new book to read, when I saw a book called “How to deal with difficult people”. Great, I thought, I could definitely use that. I feel like I’m forever struggling to deal with other people’s bad behaviour. I went and sat down and slowly, after reading some of the chapters, I realised something.
I was a difficult person.
I had always struggled with life, with people, with situations, with everything. I had experienced some really awful social situations, but it had never crossed my mind that my behaviour might have been the cause of some of them.
Little did I know that in a few months’ time I would learn that it was not that I was difficult, but that I was starving.
I won’t go into the reason why I developed bulimia because I want to focus on recovery. I was diagnosed at age 35, and I had developed it as a teen. Roughly 18 – 20 years of malnutrition and semi-starvation.
Walking in to my first appointment with my clinician, I had no idea that what I was about to learn would be so completely life changing.
The reason I found life so difficult was that for the brain to be able to deal with everything life throws at us, it needs energy. I had been stuck in a pattern of fixed and rigid thinking for so long, I thought this was who I was; I thought I just didn’t fit in this world and I would always go from misery to misery, feeling utterly alone and isolated.
I realised that I didn’t know who I was. This angry, guilty, frustrated, narrow-minded woman full of pain was the eating disorder. It was not me. I did not know who I was.
But then I realised something truly wonderful. This was not the end; this was not all my life was going to be. I can heal and find out who I really am.
So over a long time, during treatment, I began to redefine what was important to me.
Looking like the women in the magazines was no longer important to me. Being a slave to a diet and fitness industry that puts lives at risk to make money was not important to me. Listening to hate and prejudice and other people’s judgements of me was not important.
I was not going to let my eating disorder decide who I was any more. I was going to decide for myself.
My brain was damaged in such a way that there was only one way to fix it. Mindfulness and mediation has its place, medication has its place, and human connections have their place. But there is only one way to fix a starving brain.
You can’t make a car start by positive thinking – it needs fuel.
Eating has taken on such a new meaning for me now. I eat a variety of foods, from every food group, and I eat regularly.
Each mouthful takes away the frightening and frightened person that I used to be, and replaces it with the real me. Each mouthful encourages my brain to heal and cope with life. Each meal takes me to a future where I don’t beat myself up over every tiny mistake, where I can have friends again and find peace and happiness.
Each meal loosens the grip of a terrifying illness and allows me to break through to a brighter future which, as each day passes, I’m beginning to glimpse.
I have now been eating regularly for seven months and I am learning that it takes time to heal, but the darkness is starting to recede and I can’t wait to see who I really am.
If I could give advice to myself, back in that library, realising I was someone I didn’t want to be, it would be this:
Hold on, help is coming. You will need to take a huge leap of faith and it will be frightening and strange and you will want to stick to your old ways because they are safe but one day your brain will be your best friend instead of your worst enemy. You will learn that there is more to life that you ever thought possible.
One meal at a time.
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!
I want to shed some light on diet culture and what it drove me to do to myself for eight years. I will never get those eight years back, but what I do know is that I will never put myself through all the self-inflicted pain it took in order to look a certain way.