Rewind to a few years ago. On the surface, I was a happy 26-year-old who seemed to have her life all worked out. I was a successful secondary school teacher. I had been living in my lovely new home for six months with my wonderful boyfriend. I had a loving, caring mum who I adored. I had a strong network of friends that I could rely on for anything. I trained regularly in the gym and seemed, to others, to eat well. Yet underneath, I was coming up to my tenth year battling bulimia. I wasn’t meant to suffer from a mental illness… people who seemingly have their lives together don’t suffer with their mental health, right? Wrong.
I spent ten years living with bulimia, mostly alone, too scared and ashamed to talk to anyone. I hated myself for having the illness. I hated myself for not being strong enough to overcome it. I hated the fact that the love I had for my friends and family wasn’t enough to pull me out of the hole that I was in. I tried countless times to stop but every time, it would creep back in and I would feel like I was back to square one. The task of overcoming bulimia seemed too mammoth and I had resigned myself to the fact that this could well be a part of my life forever.
Then in November 2016, something inside me changed. I told myself that it was finally time for me to overcome this illness. To this day, I cannot quite put my finger on what changed but whatever it was, it saved me. In the early stages of my recovery, I doubted myself every day, but I just tried to make it to one week without purging. After one “clean” week, I tried to make it to two weeks. Then I hit my month milestone. Then it was full steam ahead to six months. Then it was the big “one year anniversary”. And now here I sit, over two years later, confident that I have left that part of my life behind.
A friend asked me not long ago “How did you beat it?” and at the time, I couldn’t quite find the words to articulate an answer. I think there were a multitude of things that helped me in my journey to recovery. I started being more open with my closest friends and my boyfriend. I would ring one of my best friends or talk to my boyfriend at times when I felt like I was close to losing control. They were a superb support and talked me through some difficult moments when I felt mentally drained. I fell in love with resistance training. Even though I had trained regularly for years, had run two half-marathons and met the love of my life in the gym, I was training because I felt like I had to, not because I wanted to. Finding resistance training was one of the best things to ever happen to me because it changed my outlook on exercise. I now exercised to be strong, not to counteract the guilt that I felt from food. I also started to learn more about nutrition. I started tracking my food and found that having this level of control over my diet replaced the control that I thought I had by bingeing and purging.
The past two years have been far from easy. There have been days when I have questioned myself and felt like I had gone backwards mentally. There were days when my friends questioned whether I had become too obsessed with counting calories. There were days when I looked in the mirror and hated what I was seeing. But I can honestly say that I sit here today, more confident than ever in my recovery. This Christmas, I moved into the next stage of my recovery by making the decision to stop counting my calories and move towards a more intuitive outlook on my diet. Up until that point, I didn’t feel confident that I could cope without that high level of control. But in December I took the leap and I am so grateful that I did as it has given me the freedom to just trust myself without having to overthink about everything I eat.
I wish I hadn’t spent the majority of my 20s hating myself but I sit here now as a happy, confident young woman who sees that there is more to life than the number on the bathroom scales. Yes, I still get bad days. Yes, I sometimes look in the mirror and don’t feel my best. Yes, I sometimes eat a smidge too much chocolate (Why do they make Terry’s chocolate orange so more-ish?!). But I am on the right path now. I eat without guilt (most of the time). I exercise because I want to, not because I have to. When I think of my progress over the past two years or so, I don’t think about how my waist has shrunk or how my abs are more defined or how I fit into my clothes better. I think about how much I have grown mentally. Each week, I learn to love myself a little bit more and I am excited about what the future holds.