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The opposition was my own mind

Note from Beat – Amy explained: “The first section of this I typed at my worst, highlighting the MENTAL impact of the illness, and the second one is the one I typed on the day of my discharge. This should show a big contrast to how I used to be and who I am now.” The piece abides by our media guidelines, but please be aware that the first section contains elements that some readers may find difficult. 

“I am the Eating Disorder” – written April 2016

My ‘behaviours’ are the only thing in my life that are constant and stable. It’s there when I’m at my worst. It gives me constant security when I feel nothing but lost. It allows me to feel completely numb when emotions and feelings become too much for me to handle and process. It encourages me to push myself to feel a sense of achievement. It gives me control, especially when everything feels like it’s spiralling, and it might not even be spiralling out of control in other people’s eyes but that doesn’t matter to me. It always has my back and sticks by my side no matter what, and I feel comfort and reassurance that it will never leave me. It gives me strong will to strive for what I interpret as ‘perfection’. I can trust it like no other.

“It” is the compulsion that draws me into forcing myself to feel ‘empty’. It assures me that if I keep this going, then I have that one control that has the power to change how I see myself. The way I see it is that if things don’t go as planned or ‘right’ or things feel like they spiral out of control and I can’t stop them, at least I know that I have control over the one thing that no one can take from me: my appearance and how I physically feel in my own skin after doing ‘normal-everyday’ things like eating. I know that in comparing my eating habits to a ‘normal’ person’s, I seem crazy and such an outsider, which I feel I can’t control because I can't just ‘stop’ my habits. But more importantly, these habits are MY normality and they make me feel better. They are the only things that get me through a full day at school, study for A-levels in order to get to uni. If someone takes this from me there’s no way I’m going to get through my life.

This ‘control’ I feel I have doesn’t seem like I can actually ‘control’ it. It controls me. I tell myself to do all these behaviours to control my input and output of food, but the moment I’m on my own and there’s food in front of me, I cannot stop. I don’t care what food it is, my body makes me eat and eat and eat to compensate for it all, compressed into five minutes. Then immediately afterwards I’m overwhelmed with guilt and dark thoughts and I will do WHATEVER it takes to get rid of it. It feels torturous; it’s physically and mentally exhausting and my brain always feels like it wants to explode afterwards. The physical and mental pain feels like no other. But I never feel ‘empty enough’, regardless of how long or how much it takes to do this to myself, so I’m always compelled to keep doing this to feel remotely satisfied. It’s a constant cycle. Nothing else matters other than feeling empty to reassure myself I’m not big. If I feel empty, I can go to sleep, I can study for exams and I can go out with friends and feel safer and ‘confident’ in my own skin. Everything will feel perfect.

I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want to smile as I don’t want to fake being happy. I don’t really know what’s wrong with me. My doctors and family say this isn’t me, I’m very ill, but I don’t feel it. Why can’t they understand I’ve accepted myself like this? My personality is dead, I’ve no humour, I’m not a very interesting person, but at least I’m content with it all. I always want to be alone but then I’m always feeling lonely, but at least no one will constantly ask me what’s wrong and not take “I’m fine” as an answer, and I really can’t be bothered to explain to them as I know they won’t understand anyway. I genuinely do not care about anything and I don’t want to get better. People have stopped being comforting but at least being alone never does. My sense of identity is unknown to me. My thoughts have stripped my individuality and personality. But those thoughts are my thoughts, it’s who I am. I am an empty shell, not ‘living’ but just simply existing. I float about clueless of who and what I’m capable of. I don’t know what a healthy relationship with food even is and I wonder if I ever fully will.

I have missed out on many life experiences and social events as I always isolate myself from everyone and everything. But I cannot risk being separated from the one thing I feel keeps me going. I feel like I’m losing my friends (or they’re losing me), my school education and the things that made me ‘me’, but more importantly I feel like I’ve lost myself. I feel disconnected from everything. Numbers, food, and strategies to get rid of the food consume my every thought and I can no longer concentrate on the things that are actually important, such as my A-levels. I don’t feel remotely interested or excited for any of it or just life in general. I cannot separate my mind from it as I’m so interlocked and attached with it. It is not a ‘voice’; my mind is what it is. My mind is toxic and I can’t stop it. In the end, no matter how bad and out of control things feel or become, I know that whatever happens, I will always have my appearance, and that is something I can use as my own security to keep me sane. No one can or ever will ever take that away from me. The eating disorder is not a voice. am the eating disorder. and I’m okay with that.

Post Eating Disorder Recovery – written January 2017

9 1/2 months later. I typed that at my lowest point where I didn’t care about what happened to me. The worst part was that I did not fear death. It took this long to realise how ill I really was. Recovery did not feel like a ‘journey’; it was a war that felt like no one could win. The opposition was my own mind. It was the most painful, exhausting, torturous time I’ve ever had. However, I can say the months of no sleep and staying on the sofa, the constant crying, anger, loss of friends, physical pain, panic attacks, dark thoughts (list goes on…) feels worth it now. Although it was a very soul-destroying time for me, I find difficulty in trying to remember those moments now. All that matters is that I am finally happy, healthy and content with my life, and for me that is an achievement like no other. Recovery made me recognise how abnormal my mind and fears were to my family and the people trying to help me. These thoughts were all fuelled by my eating disorder and I hated people telling me that, or at least the eating disorder didn’t like to hear those words.

There is a fine line between ‘Disordered Eating’ and having an ‘Eating Disorder’. I would definitely say that at this time and day, disordered eating is an epidemic. It is SO easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Developing an obsession with calorie intake, food groups, what and when to consume it, when/how/what will you do to burn it off and how far will you go to make sure you do? The media is guilty of fantasising over all these ‘weight loss’ strategies and ‘gym obsessions’. I bet you know at least three people who obsess over the gym or what they eat…and that it’s their main topic of conversation. It is not healthy to be obsessed about how you consume a fundamental necessity that gives you the energy to function as a human being and to live your life. Both females and males are guilty of this and this demonstrates the slippery slope from having disordered eating habits to developing an eating disorder.

The media has constructed this world of perfection that a lot of people feel they need to be a part of. This includes poses at angles they feel makes them look ‘slimmer’, and then they post it which compels society into thinking they are ‘goals’, the ‘normality’ and how they are supposed to look. Not to mention the pressures of the education system inflicted onto the younger generation to achieve grades they will have to work notoriously hard for, which makes them struggle over how on earth they are supposed to balance their work life and leisure/social life. Everyone is pressured into striving for perfection in all aspects and everyone is so unaware in recognising this oblivion.

What even is ‘perfection’? A perfect body? A perfect mind? Perfect grades? Perfect life? This term ‘perfection’ has brainwashed everyone to the point that they start to lose themselves. When you attend a funeral for a fellow lost one, do people talk about what body they had? Their grades? How happy they looked on Instagram? How many friends they had on Facebook? They talk about their personality that made them who they were, their achievements in life in general and struggles they overcame, what made them so different and individual compared to every single other person in this world. How even what we regard as their flaws and imperfection made them so perfect the way they were. and how irreplaceable they areThere is no such thing as ‘perfection’; however, people use this as a goal to gain a sense of control when everything else feels let loose. Or they harm themselves from feeling far from perfect and societies expectations.

These can develop into mental illnesses.

For me, my eating disorder was my control. Although there are ‘types’ of eating disorders, they all follow the same principle: controlling input and output of food as a coping mechanism for the stress and anxieties we have in everyday life. The only thing separating these eating disorders are the behaviours. Other than that, they are all just as deadly as each other and can severely harm at any weight. The only way I got to where I am now was the people around me. No one knew I had an eating disorder after two years (until my TWIN, who shares a room with me!!...noticed), I wasn’t even aware I had one until diagnosed. People who post ‘eating disorder awareness posts’ with pictures of them at their lowest weights are only highlighting the physical struggles of their recovery from a MENTAL illness, rather than posting about what they ACTUALLY are.

My page about my mind being the eating disorder – that is what an eating disorder is. They are too complex to put into a short sentence so people can define them from a dictionary. Not even solid facts such as my weight, my blood tests were enough to show how ill I was, logic wasn’t enough to convince me I had a problem. Eating disorders do not settle, they want to put you in a hospital bed, they never think you are ‘ill’ enough and you can have one without even being aware of it. The only way of getting through one is having the right support. Eating disorders are a form of self-harm and long-term suicide that are very easily masked, hence why it has a high mortality rate. I can only hope people start to develop their understandings of these mental illnesses from a mental perspective rather than basing it upon physical appearances so they can start to notice all the warnings much earlier than nowadays, when sometimes it’s too late.

Contributed by Amy