Recovery From Anorexia – a letter of advice and encouragement
You’re 15 and struggling with anorexia. I’m your 40-something-year-old self.
You’re in a dark place, but it can get better. It will get better. You have to believe that. You have to fight.
You may think you’re in control but you’re not. Anorexia is in control of you.
You have your whole life ahead of you, but you’re throwing it, and your health, away to lose that bit more weight.
You’re in a cycle of self-destruction. You fight help from parents, friends, teachers, professionals. You are so stubborn. But I understand how trapped and helpless and ashamed you feel. I was there.
It’s not your fault; eating disorders are complex illnesses. Your mind and body are not well. You didn’t choose to hurt those that care about you. That guilt and shame is self-destructive too.
You can like yourself again. Your life does not have to be controlled by anorexia. You are strong enough to starve yourself, and you are strong enough to eat.
You will slowly regain all the weight you lost. It will be difficult, but you will get there. You’ll be well enough to leave home, study and work, and you will be desperate to leave anorexia behind.
You’ll deal with it by yourself. As a student, you won’t talk about it. You won’t tell any of your new friends it was once part of your life. You will fear stigma and shame.
You won’t want to worry your family, as they have been through enough already with your behaviour.
Don’t do it alone, though; don’t be so ashamed and isolated. Be brave enough to be honest with those you trust, tell them how you are struggling. Don’t keep it secret, the more you share, the less control it will have over you.
You don’t yet have a mobile phone, but professional help is still out there. Look for it. Get support through those years. It doesn’t have to be a lonely road.
You will act by eating normally until eating becomes normal. As you recover, you’ll spend years ‘re-wiring’ your brain, copying friends, flat-mates, colleagues. Copying portion sizes and positive habits. You will learn. You will eat and cook with others, and when living alone.
You will have ups, downs, setbacks, bad days, better days, good days. Be kind to yourself in the bad days. This is not your fault.
Be proud of yourself in the better days. You are a strong person and you will get there.
You will feel healthy, strong, you will enjoy food, you will get through your exams, you will do sport for pleasure, not to lose weight. You will rock climb, swim in the sea, walk in the hills with your friends, laugh, dance and enjoy life. You’ll enjoy eating: meals as celebrations, special occasions, eating with family and friends.
Anorexia will be in your past. You will keep it in a box in your head with the lid shut.
You will thank people, especially Mum, for all their help in getting you through those dark teenage years. You’ll stay in touch with that teacher who is really helping you now.
You’ll throw away your teenage diaries. You won’t want to read them, as anorexia no longer controls or define you.
You will experience things that can threaten to, and at times do, make your eating chaotic. Shift work, relationship problems, bereavement, exam stresses, work pressures, children. You’ll develop coping strategies over the years. Don’t slide down into a cycle of destructive weight loss.
You will work abroad and travel. In your work, you’ll deal with new life, illness and death. You will share basic food while working in poverty-stricken countries where food is short and malnutrition is everywhere. You will still feel guilty about your past.
But later, as part of your work, you will try and help others with eating disorders; you will know the signs, initiate the conversations, listen to them, and understand.
You’ll make the most of every experience you can, thankful you are well enough to do this. You will live life to the full. You’ll have close friends. You’ll get married. Your body will amaze you by having healthy children, even though your periods stopped for years when you had anorexia. You will be proud of your pregnancy bumps, and feel your babies kick. Your future children are amazing little people, and you will love them more than you thought possible.
On your road to recovery, be brave enough to ask for help, get support for yourself. You deserve it. Talk. Break your silence.
You will notice others who are struggling with an eating disorder. Help them to see there is a way to recovery, and encourage them to take that first step to get help.
The earlier you, or someone else, in the course of their illness can access treatment, the better their chance of a full recovery.
Love, your older self.