Until my eating disorder took hold, I was a happy, bubbly teenager with not a care in the world. I was surrounded by great friends and family, had a fantastic social life and was relishing the prospect of starting university. Noone, least of all myself, could ever have predicted that my life would be turned upside down quite like it was. But in a matter of weeks, the bubbly, carefree Amy became withdrawn, sneaky and dangerously ill, for no apparent reason, and with no apparently warning.
Diagnosis was difficult. I resented the incredible support I received from both my loved ones and professionals, and did all I could to prevent them from helping me. My obsession with food was that great that the need to control it vastly overpowered the need to enjoy life, and as weeks turned to years, I began to believe that it would never be possible for me to be well again. I truly felt that I had caused my illness, and that I had lost everyone I cared for thanks to it. I now know, that this was simply not true.
"I began to believe that it would never be possible for me to be well again."
I would love to say that I simply ate, and the horror of anorexia disappeared, but for me that was just part of my journey. For me to succeed, I needed an aim, a goal to reach for to make the seemingly enormous task of getting better achievable. That goal came in the form of work placement in Germany. In order to go, not only did I need to be better physically, I needed to be better mentally as living and working abroad would involve challenges that seemed impossible to me during my struggle. I would have to learn to eat other peoples cooking, to face eating in front of others, and to eat the right foods to keep me strong enough to work as a waitress. Without these skills, I knew that I simply would not be able to enjoy this life changing opportunity.
First, I addressed my thinking. Everyday, I wrote in my journal the things I wanted to achieve in Germany, and the reasons anorexia would stop me. I wanted to travel, I wanted to meet new people and I wanted to enjoy a new culture. And I wanted people to know me as Amy, not my illness.
Then I addressed my physical problems. In the run up to, and during my placement, I fought and fought, gradually allowing myself to consume more of the foods I had previously cut out. I still maintain that this was the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. Until you suffer from an eating disorder, it is almost impossible to explain the enormity of tasks other people find simple, and the willpower and strength required to overcome an illness that has become so ingrained in your everyday life is immense. However it IS possible.
"I fought and fought, gradually allowing myself to consume more of the foods I had previously cut out. I still maintain that this was the most difficult challenge I have ever faced."
As I began to get stronger, I also began to see the destruction my illness had caused. I became strong enough to talk about my struggle, and others began to speak to me about how it had affected them. Every story and word of encouragement motivated me a little more, and the steps I began to take got bigger and bigger.
Over the next year, I underwent many changes in my life. I moved away from home to start university, had my first christmas dinner in three years with the family and travelled Europe for a month with friends. None of these things would have been possible had I not fought my way to recovery, which made me incredibly grateful for each experience I had. I now live independently, enjoy my food, and find it hard to imagine myself as the lost little girl I became with anorexia. I am even running the Great North Run in aid of Beat so that others can enjoy a full recovery like I did.
When in the grips of an eating disorder, it seems impossible that things will ever change. There are periods in which you give up, give in, and simply cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel. But please keep fighting. There is so much support out there for recoverers, and although it may feel like an impossible task, I am living proof that it is not. There is so much more to life than eating disorders, and it is so so important that we fight them together.