Eating disorders are controversial topics that, nowadays are sometimes discussed with little sincerity. Today’s media focus upon perfection and image has really undermined the severity of eating disorders. Admittedly, I used to be one of those people who read articles about anorexia sufferers and survivors with complete ignorance. “Why don’t they just eat?!” I used to think to myself... “Can’t they see how ill they look”.
I’m nineteen and recovering from Anorexia Nervosa. I’ve grown up with a very close, caring and supportive family that never expected perfection, only for me to try my best in everything and for me to be happy. I’ve always had lovely friends, enjoyed school, a variety of hobbies and just enjoyed life. When I became ill, absolutely everything was affected. Something that took me a long time to realise is that eating disorders are not about starving yourself in an attempt to be thin. In fact, I never had the desire to be thin. Anorexia is an isolating illness; food is just one factor. In truth, it takes over your whole life and impacts everyone around you.
After going through a break up, I was desperate to be seen as perfect by everyone around me. I didn’t want anyone to have any sympathy for my ex boyfriend, and I was terrified of people thinking I’d done something wrong. I started seriously monitoring and controlling my behaviour; being extremely polite, always reading or doing something related to my A Levels, restricting what I ate and the amount of relaxing I did. In truth, I started depriving myself of absolutely everything I enjoyed in an attempt to please everyone else. My strict control over my behaviour soon escalated and allowed anorexia to find a way into my life.
The truth is, is that eating disorders are vicious, unpredictable and about much more than eating. I am currently recovering after suffering with anorexia for two years and am eager to share my story. I was completely unaware that I had anorexia, I always thought I was smart enough to avoid such an illness; that I was strong enough to be unaffected. During the hardest part of my illness, I felt helpless; as though there was nothing I could do to change my behaviour...it was just the person I was growing up to be. I know now that is not the case and was to help other sufferers reading this article to realise that there is help and you can recover.
Admitting I had anorexia was the hardest yet most beneficial part of recovery. For so long, even after being diagnosed, prescribed build up drinks and admitted to weekly therapy I couldn’t accept I was ill. My thoughts were..”I don’t actually have anorexia, I’m just being treated as someone who has.” In the earliest months of my sessions with my therapist, I felt myself lying about my behaviour. I was terrified of having to change by behaviour. Anorexia had so much control over my life, I had no idea how I’d cope without it there. This is exactly what the illness does to you. It tricks and manipulates you. It fears being caught out, and does everything it can to maintain control over you. Admitting and accepting I was ill and needed help was the most difficult because it forced me to seriously challenge the thoughts and behaviours and had been used to for two years. It was the first step, and since then, recovery has been a lot more beneficial.
People are so quick to judge anorexia as an illness only associated with food, and I’m eager to educate people a little more so that, hopefully, those suffering can get the help they need. I was so confused when I was ill; I knew something was wrong with me and that I wasn’t myself but I just didn’t know what. Anorexia impacts each person differently, but I’m hoping that sharing my experience will help others relate. I just completely withdrew from everyone and everything around me. Every single thing I did was pre planned and controlled; I just lost the ability to be spontaneous. I hated it if something or someone threatened to disrupt my plans, which meant that I withdrew from social situations. I literally timetabled what I was doing every day, I wrote lists of things to talk about at the dinner table, I was constantly planning what and when I was going to eat, when I was going to do exercise, I didn’t laugh or cry, I stopped feeling excitement, I dreaded big social situations....it was exhausting but I never admitted it. I never complained about being tired, or hungry, or bored...anything at all. I associated complaining with being weak...something that I did not want people to view me as.
No matter how many times I cried and promised to get better, how many times my parents desperately pleaded with me or how many times I saw the concern on my friends and teachers faces, I just couldn’t change. Admitting I was ill was so hard, but until I did, until I found the strength to really fight, I couldn’t get better. It was so hard on my family as they didn’t know what had caused my illness. I was so happy, social and outgoing, and within a few months I had become the complete opposite. My friends told some of my teachers at school that were concerned about me, teachers made comments on my weight, family friends, work colleagues, even my cousins friends at University that I didn’t even know all expressed some level of concern. If any of this sounds familiar, I cannot express how important it is to act upon it. Without the support of my family and friends, it’s likely I wouldn’t be sitting here sharing my story. I’ve learned during recovery that being open is key to getting better. Anorexia feeds of lies...the more you tell, the easier it is for the illness to control you. Being open about how you’re feeling, no matter how difficult it is, is essential for beating anorexia; and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I’m now at a point where talking about my illness, makes me feel so much better as I feel as though I have regained control of my life.
2011 was a difficult year, but since I accepted that I needed help about six months ago, I have come a long way. I’ve still got a way to go; I still have weight to gain, issues to deal with, and fears to confront, but I’m enjoying life again! I can’t believe how much anorexia impacted me and my family, especially as I never, ever thought that I develop an eating disorder. The more I recover, the more I want to help others who are stuck in the dark place that I was, to find the courage to get their life back!! My recovery has enabled me to enjoy life again! I’ve rediscovered my love of favourite foods that I had deprived myself of, I’m enjoying swimming again as a hobby rather than thinking it’s a responsibility, I’m slowly getting more sociable again and learning to be more outgoing, I take so much more pride in my appearance by doing little things I’d stopped such as doing my nails and eyebrows and treating myself to a new top every now and then.
If anyone has read this and thinks that they might have anorexia but, like I was, are too scared to admit it, just think how happy you were before it took over your life. You can live life without anorexia, and you will be a much happier and healthier person without it. You deserve to find help; you deserve to enjoy your life and make the most of every opportunity, every moment and every person around you. Help is out there, and it does make a difference.