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Real, raw, recovery... It's all about the little things

I've had EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), for twelve years now. Although first diagnosed as anorexic binge purge subtype, my habits and behaviours were constantly changing as the years went by. Before the eating disorder came, the anxiety loomed its ugly head. My anxiety has always been here, I think. Although I remember being a happy and confident child during my primary school years, the anxiety must have been there, just hiding away and only creeping out little by little. I was always afraid to be 'far away' from home and the thought of getting the bus or having people look at me, always terrified me. I was always taller than any of the other children, broad, with frizzy hair and Caribbean roots. I didn't know curl cream existed and I was so desperate to be anything but ME. I think this is where my anorexia snuck in, bringing depression with it.

At fourteen, my world changed because I'd gone from growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, never having had a birthday or a Christmas, never sitting in on the school assemblies, to being able to do all these things. I had never had a boyfriend, and whilst all the other girls in my Year Nine class were wearing makeup and going out with boys, I was struggling to catch up. I felt as though I went from being a part of a big family. I had this whole group of people surrounding me and I felt safe and comforted and protected because I was a part of something that made me different, and it was okay. I was proud to be different, and proud to be a Jehovah's Witness because it was all I knew.

Suddenly I was free to socialise with everyone else and drink and swear if I wanted to, and I thought it would be great but I just felt even more isolated and left out. For my first ever birthday, my fourteenth, my Year Nine class did a surprise cake and sang to me and made this big effort. Suddenly though, I felt exposed and I didn't feel happy to be sticking out; I felt awkward and embarrassed and I wanted to hide and crawl into a cave.

My class liked me, and although I wasn't one of the cool, popular ones, I wasn't one of the girls you avoided either. I was somewhere in the middle, and I was the go-to girl if you wanted help with your work. I could mingle with the cool during class, and it would be okay. But I wouldn't spend lunch with them or go out after school with them, you know? I didn't feel I belonged because I didn't belong. I wasn't the geek, I wasn't the blonde, I wasn't the cool 'emo', I wasn't the awful weirdo. I was just medium. Nothing. Somewhere floating in between. I didn't have a particular subject that I amazed people with, so I was always left feeling as though I had to constantly fight and work so hard to get good grades. That then somehow turned into me having this idea in my head that I had to get the best grades, and I had to be better than anyone else. Perfect.

That word, perfect, it's a funny word. Nothing in this world is perfect. So, how can we, and by we, I mean us mentally ill folk, think that we will ever reach perfection? And why perfection? Why don't we have the urge to strive for happy, or just bog standard okay?

Although I know, deep down, that perfection doesn't exist and is a bunch of hoohah, I strive for it nonetheless, and I still hope that one day I will reach it because for me, my eating disorder and anxiety and depression will to some extent always be here.

So, at fourteen, just after my birthday, when I didn't feel special any more, and I had to work twice as hard to achieve the best grades because I wasn't naturally bright, I felt I needed to be seen as something, someone. I decided not eating was the best thing to getting me there. By not eating, I would be thinner, healthier, more in control of my life. Then I would be a better person and therefore a brighter person, I guess, and more able to achieve these non-existent amazing grades.

I started to restrict, which months down the line, turned into bingeing, which then turned into throwing up, which then turned into a pattern. Which exercise and laxatives then became a part of. Through this path, I tumbled further and further into someone I didn't know or recognise any more, and I became just a ghost, a shell, a body. There was nothing in me left to give. I didn't care any more about grades or school, and yet, I still did deeply. The eating disorder cared for nothing, yet there was still just a small bit of me in there, and she still wanted to be the very best.

The eating disorder stripped me down like I was old mouldy wallpaper waiting to be tossed out. It tore me into pieces and left nothing inside. I became empty and I felt nothing any more. There wasn't even the great sadness that had been there so many times, on so many days, often after throwing up, whilst holding onto the sides of the sink, would the tears start to fall. In the end, it took so much, and gave such little back, that the depression found me curled up and withered on the floor and it took me whole. I felt like nothing. I was nothing and I had nothing left for people around me. My spark, my light, my soul was gone, and things just became numb.

This brings me to today. From all this great sadness, I found great hope and great light. When I emerged into my first recovery period, I shone. I was so happy, so healthy and so full of life again. I was seventeen when I felt like I had beaten it. I didn't know then that it was a monster that would remain tucked away inside me, but for that time, in college, I was free. I wouldn't have found that college course if I had not been sick. My mental illnesses led me to my future, and that course found me a best friend who remains today, ten years on.

I don't feel like I'm ever going to be fully recovered. I am in awe of people who say they are recovered and never hear the eating disordered voice any more. I recognise for me, I'll always be in recovery because I know It will be with me forever. That's okay, though, because I know my triggers and I know when I'm heading towards possible relapse.

Things do happen for a reason. I believe that. I have to believe that. Although our mental illnesses take us and destroy us, they also give us a direction in life we would not take if not for them. It's been twelve years since I first got my eating disorder, anxiety and depression and yet, here I am, still fighting. If that isn't a small victory, a small step of recovery, I don't know what is.

Contributed by Leonie

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