Anorexia is an illness that seeks to destroy. It strips down who you are, leaving behind a shell of a person. It takes away your dreams and desires until there is no positive future imaginable. You believe you have nothing to live for, and anorexia is all there is. I want to tell you how wrong that is. I am living proof. Struggling with mental health is not the end, and if you fight it, you can emerge empowered and stronger.
My journey began when I was 17. When faced with the daunting question of ‘why did your eating disorder start?’, it was so easy to attribute my struggles to body issues or spiralling disordered eating habits - but there was something much deeper going on. For me, anorexia was a means of escape. It was a way for me to break out of the confines that I believed my future held for me. I felt trapped on an endless conveyor belt: school, A-levels, university, and then a career. I never admitted to myself that I didn’t want that, because what else was there? Burying this despair manifested itself as an eating disorder – the only way I thought I could take control of my life.
I wish I could shake 17-year-old me and tell her that anorexia was not the way out.
I wish I could tell her how much more there was to life than what I could see. But I likely wouldn’t have believed myself anyway. So, I got ill. Things spiralled quickly. I struggled through my first year of college, and like many sufferers, I didn’t know what I was doing to myself, and I certainly didn’t know I had a problem. All I knew was that it was helping me feel better. But then my family began to notice. And after an unsuspecting check-up at the hospital, I was diagnosed with anorexia.
The diagnosis changed everything. I was forced to drop out of college, and I became drowned under meal plans and check-ins – a life I never would have imagined for myself in a million years. Eventually, I was admitted to an inpatient hospital. At this point in my eating disorder, I didn’t know who I was. It wasn’t so much of an existential crisis, but more a lack of self. I couldn’t see a way out of my illness, and I didn’t see a reason to fight, because what possible future could there be for me that was worth fighting for?
But I did fight. Initially, the drive to recover didn’t come from me. It came from my family and friends, from nurses and doctors. I began to recover physically, and my mind began to repair itself. I remember being told so many times in the depths of my eating disorder about how physical recovery would give my mind the strength to fight. Of course, I dismissed those comments, just as most do, because I couldn’t envision a version of myself that would even want to get better. But everyone who said that to me was right. Eventually, I began wanting to fight too.
Recovering from anorexia made me look at myself in a way I never had before.
I explored myself in therapy, I discovered the depth of my relationships with my loved ones, and I learnt what it was that inspired me to get out of bed each morning. As I built myself up again, my passions made themselves known to me. I loved reading, writing and languages. I didn’t want to be an engineer or study maths. Once I was discharged from hospital, realising that is what gave me the strength to continue my recovery. I didn’t have to return to the life I had before. There had never been any confines in my life, aside from those I had put there myself.
I changed everything. I swapped to a different college, and I decided not to go to university. The way I interacted with the people around me changed because I was a different person. Beating anorexia allowed me to discover the authentic me, a person with a future I could be excited about. I wish I hadn’t needed to go through so much to discover this, but I also know my struggle could have ended so differently.
If you can take away anything from my story, know that you need to fight. Even when you cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise, there is something waiting for you. There is a version of yourself out there that you can love. There is a life unlived that will give you joy and hope and happiness. But you cannot fight alone. Beat offers a range of online support groups that I can honestly say I found invaluable. Eating disorders can be so isolating, and just knowing that others understand you can be the first step to change. You must harness the love and support of those around you in your battle because it will be the steepest uphill climb you’ve ever faced. But it will be worth it.
-Contributed by Isabel
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in Isabel's story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.