Living with anorexia is like living with your best friend and worst enemy constantly at war with each other in your own mind. One moment she loves you and you do everything right, you run fast enough, you don’t eat as many calories… but the next moment you haven’t done enough. She shouts at you, says you are a fat worthless failure and life isn’t worth living anymore. She crushes you until you do something to turn that around.
I developed anorexia when I was 12 years old, living with it secretly for over four years. I didn’t realise how dangerous this friendship was. How much she was crushing me further and further every single day. Knocking me down. I clung on to her thinking that she gave me some sense of value and purpose. Thinking that she knew what was right.
Little did I know that aged 17 I would be stood in the entrance to a Mental Health Hospital, tears streaming down my face, my skin slightly yellow and my hair falling out. At that point in time I didn’t know that I was about to face the hardest year of my life: beating my anorexia. I didn’t know how recovery would ever be possible. I was trapped, isolated and alone;and I didn’t think anyone would ever understand how I felt.
The thing about anorexia is you have to say YES to beating it, at first every few minutes, and then over time, slightly less often. Recovery is different for each person; for me it is about challenging it every day, and pushing the boundaries even further.
It is hard work learning to beat it, learning to manage it and learning to fight it. But it is totally worth it!
So I am saying YES (and encouraging you to say Yes) - to pushing your boundaries further than you can imagine.
Nine years have passed since I was discharged from hospital and at that time, I remember vividly realising that I was at a crossroads. I had a decision to make: I could either let the anorexia take control of me again, and become terribly unwell or I could say Yes to living.
For the next three years, I stuck rigidly to the calorie counting and meal plans, but over time this gradually stopped. University helped push me out of my comfort zone, and travelling was amazing for this because I didn’t know when the next meal was or the calorific content of street food. It helped push me further along the road to living without anorexia in my life. I thought that six years after leaving hospital I was somehow completely okay. I thought my life was sorted and that I would never ever have that anorexic voice in my head again…
But it turned out that I was living in this completely false sense of security with limitations on my recovery. I was actually functioning with the anorexia at bay so it could rear its head if I let my guard down.
Shortly after my Grandma passed away, that relentless anorexic voice came back louder than ever, seducing me at the dead of night. I felt trapped and scared. I was certain I didn’t want to become unwell again - but I didn’t know how I was ever going to be okay, either. One evening I walked home from work, all the way down the Southbank, the hot summer sun beating down on me, sweat trickling down my back as I looked around me... looking on at people eating ice creams, drinking beer… I was angry and frustrated at myself for letting myself get unwell again. I felt weak, and as though I had let everyone down. I got to Waterloo station, walked through the barriers and sat on the platform for hours. All I could think about was how I wanted to end my life.
That was two years ago now, and I’m happy to say that so much has changed since then. But the biggest change of all is that I now say Yes to challenging my recovery every single day! And this helps me to stay well and feel happy.
I recently cycled the length of the UK, clocking up over 1147 miles, and I fundraised for a mental health charity. Exercise is a huge part of my recovery but I have to be so careful not to overdo it. I returned from Lands’ End after 13 days of cycling. It was intense and quite scary being back. I had got used to cycling over 80 miles a day and managing food around that. But returning and stopping was hard.
Instead of letting the anorexic voice begin to take it’s hold again, I said YES to the challenge. The challenge of fuelling my body, the challenge of eating food I find scary and the challenge of living life spontaneously, not letting the anorexia shrink me or make me look inward.
Saying Yes to challenging myself every day is hard. The relentless voice occasionally shouts loudly and clearly that I shouldn’t be doing the challenges. Tells me I have failed if I eat food that the anorexia doesn’t want me to! But I know I have to stick with doing whatever I can to maintain good mental and physical health. That I have to keep pushing that voice further out of my head and make sure that my anorexia doesn’t shrink my life. That it doesn’t stop me doing what I want to do and what I really want to eat.
Sometimes it feels hard doing this but one thing I am sure about is that it is totally worth it!
Author of Stand Tall Little Girl and Mental Health Campaigner / Public Speaker
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