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What is recovery?

I have never once doubted the fact that recovering from an eating disorder is not easy and would require so much strength and determination you didn't think you ever had in you. I recognised I had problems with my eating in 2009, which led to me being diagnosed with anorexia and being hospitalised in January 2010. I was in hospital for four months and then carried on with weekly outpatient appointments until November 2011.

When you go through outpatient and inpatient care, it seems to everyone around you that you are recovering. Before I went into hospital for the whole year I was seen on an outpatient weekly basis, and I always gave the perception that everything was just fine. That included family, friends and the professionals. The weekly sessions were where I could say that everything was just fine; I was good at nodding and agreeing in all the correct places and would come away from the sessions determined to be more honest, but the longer the sessions went on the more lies and front I put on. I suppose in a way it was the same as my anorexia – the more time that passed the more the disorder took over.

Going into hospital was like a weight off my shoulders. I will always remember the doctors sitting me and my parents down and explaining the importance of going in as an inpatient due to my organs shutting down, and the prediction if I didn't I wouldn't be here in a few months’ time. I was away from home for four long months. When I say it was a hospital it was actually more like a house. I had my own room, there was a kitchen and living room so it made it feel so much more homely, especially being over an hour away from family. I needed the strict rules, weekly counselling sessions, weekly group sessions, meal plans, and not forgetting the fun sessions such as art and crafts. During my stay here, I engaged with all the sessions and meal plans and as my weight restored my mind became clearer. Instead of this shy, timid girl, the confident, bubbly, happy girl was starting to shine back through again. 

In the hospital there were stages and as you started to progress you went up the stages. As the confident and assertive girl I suddenly had become again I decided enough was enough and if they were not willing to let me go onto the final stage then I was going to discharge myself. I did just that and went back home and back to the weekly outpatient appointments. Looking back, I don't think leaving when I did would have made any difference to me staying, as unfortunately not long after I discharged myself I went into relapse.

One thing had changed though. During my weekly sessions I finally opened up and the true reasons behind why my eating disorder had begun was addressed. To this day, I still cannot tell the people closest to me the full reasons behind why it started. I have always felt I put those closest to me through so much pain and heartache – why upset them even more? It was during these sessions I managed to pick myself back up. The thoughts and feelings I had were out in the open and the weekly sessions suddenly became my lifeline.

I will never forget the tears and tantrums my parents and siblings had with me before I went into hospital at every meal time, and all these tears and tantrums came back out when I relapsed, only this time it was my partner battling with me at every meal time. As I started to become healthier both in mind and weight I started to enjoy mealtimes and still look forward to being able to sit down to enjoy a meal with close ones.

It has now been five years since I was discharged fully from the NHS eating disorder service. There is so much emphasis on getting treatment and recovery it feels at the time like it can be done so quickly, but sitting here now it really is a long journey, but a journey so worth it. I have learnt so many things about myself I didn't even know, and still wouldn't had I not been on this journey. I am so much stronger than I thought I ever was, so much more confident than I ever was. I have also learnt so much about the people closest to me. The amount of care, support and love I have been given is unbelievable and it is something I will always be grateful for.

I am not ashamed to admit that I still have days where I feel like I am still in recovery. Christmas time is always a hard time for me due to the emphasis on the foods that I avoided for such a long time, the get-togethers with family and friends if they involved eating together I avoided for such a long time. All the anxiety around this does result in me having to take a step back from my exercising and concentrate on what is important and work through my thoughts and feelings more closely. I still have some worries and anxiety around certain issues, but every year these are becoming less and less.

I wrote this post in the hope it reaches someone who sometimes may feel like I do. When having a bad day makes you feel like you have gone straight back to how you were before and you aren't 'recovered'. Everyone's perception of recovery is different and as long as you are healthy, happy and have both good days and bad days, personally I think that is all part of recovering. The days where I do feel like my mind is about to take over I now have this fight with the thoughts in my head, I challenge myself more so I can look back once these days pass and think to myself 'I did it', and when these days come back I remind myself I have dealt with this before, I have got through this before and I will again.

Now I am at this stage in my recovery, I feel I can look back and I realise how far I have come over the years. I feel the last year or two that I haven't given myself enough credit for the determination and fight I have had in battling something that consumed my life for so long. Every year the battles I have sometimes with the thoughts in my head are becoming less frequent, and each time I am becoming less of a burden on others and more independent in dealing with them by myself. The thoughts in my head are something only I can face and overcome, no matter how much others try their best to help.

Anorexia may have resulted in some ongoing health issues that could potentially be with me for life, but I will not let that define me or hold me back from looking forward.

Stay strong, keep fighting and always believe in yourself. Recovery is possible, and recovery is so worth it.

Contributed by Sami