So it’s been 10 years since I first went into hospital. 10 years since my skeletal body that could barely put one foot in front of the other looked up at the flight of stairs leading to Phoenix Wing, the eating disorder unit at St Ann’s hospital. I had no idea how I was going to make it up those stairs and I had no idea what was going to be waiting in store for me at the top.
Me 10 years ago
After about 20 minutes, I had finally made it to the top of the 20 stairs, my legs crumbling beneath me. When I entered the doors I though to myself, “I’ll do what I have to, I’ll gain weight, leave in a month or so and everything will go back to normal and I’ll get on life.” How wrong was I! Here I am, a decade later, still tortured by that poisonous devil called anorexia. It’s not quite as strong as it was but it still has the power to control me, to torture my mind and to limit and restrict my life.
Most people don’t know what it’s like living with anorexia. They just think it means that you’re thin and you don’t like eating. People often don’t realise that actually, you can spend years in hospital with an eating disorder and that it can completely and utterly destroy your life. I have spent my fair share of time in hospitals – near enough 3 years. But the eating disorder doesn’t just disappear when you leave. And leaving is when the real battle starts. You have to try and live life whilst fighting this ‘thing’ in your head. To not give into the urges of anorexia is so bloody hard and trying to juggle living life, with a head that doesn’t want to live life – it’s like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle that just doesn’t fit.
You also have to try and fit back into a world that has moved on without you. when you suffer with anorexia, particularly when you are in hospital, time in your world freezes. For my first hospital admission I was 19, for my last I was 23. Everyone I knew had moved on with life. And even since my last admission – yes, I’ve been living in the ‘real world’ but I haven’t lived the normal life of someone in their 20’s. Anorexia doesn’t allow that. And, having gained weight this past year (unintentionally), people assume you must be getting better. But the head is a long way behind the body.
People just see the thin (or not so thin) person that doesn’t eat much. They don’t see the constant daily exercise, the constant thoughts of food and weight, what they can eat, what they can’t eat, what they want to eat and what they are terrified of eating. They don’t see the tears that down stream most evenings with exhaustion and desperation of feeling locked up by anorexia. They don’t see the loneliness and fear of daily activities, the arguments with loved ones because of anorexia, the sitting down to meals and feeling sheer panic that the portion is too big. They don’t see the difficulty concentrating because of the voice in the head telling them they are fat, repulsive, greedy and that every waking moment should be spent on a mission to lose weight and the overwhelming feeling of guilt for not doing so. They didn’t see the panic attacks that, when in hospital, used to happen about 5 times a day and even now, years later, when going about normal life – catching a train, sitting in lessons, that feeling of a panic attack about to happen can surge over me. They didn’t see the two emergency blood transfusions because of the internal bleeding caused by the damage anorexia had made me do to my body. They didn’t see that stash of antidepressants which, 7 years ago, I had been storing for my suicide. People just don’t see how hard it is living with an eating disorder.
So when people think about anorexia and just assume that ‘you are thin and don’t like eating’, they couldn’t be more wrong. For one, weight is not a determinant of anorexia. Just simply gaining weight does not mean you are better. The urge to lose weight now is stronger than its been for years. I’m 3.5 stone heavier now than I was a decade ago, but my head is still trying to catch up. Yes, I do think about recovery now which I didn’t 10 years ago, but I also still very much think about losing weight, imaging how good it would feel to be skinny gain. And it’s made all the harder because of a lack of eating disorder treatment for anyone who is not a walking skeleton. And this needs to change, as do the stigmas and stereotypes of eating disorders. Training doctors only receive 2 hours of study dedicated to eating disorders. Is it any wonder that most people don’t understand them or know what they are about, or that they just assume it is ‘thin people who don’t like to eat much?’
And for those who are also suffering, don’t give up. Recovery (certainly in my case) is not a one-way street lined with beds of flowers. It is a hard slog up a mountain and sometimes boulders roll down and knock you back. I have been knocked back – my head is struggling, and I hate my body more than I’ve hated it for years. And this isn’t to be depressing – it’s for all the other sufferers who feel the same, whose recovery isn’t a straight forward path back to health and happiness. This is ok…but don’t give in. As tempting as it is and as much as you want to run back to the safety of anorexia, you must keep fighting. I certainly will. The last 10 years have been hard, very hard. I don’t know what the future holds but I’m not going to give up hope. In the words of Heather Small: “You’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself, until you find the key to your life.” It will take a hero to beat anorexia. But we can do it.
I always knew doing a Masters would be hard work, really hard work. And I was right. At the moment, my stress levels are through the roof, with deadlines on top of deadlines, coursework and assessments coming out of my ear-holes, not to mention having to start my dissertation – the biggest stress of it all!
I put my head down and I try to get the work done. It’s tough. Trying to find the time to fit everything in. Not only is it a question of trying to find the time to do the work, but also trying to find the time to manage my mental illness alongside – suffering with anorexia takes up a lot of your time, not just in living with the condition itself and everything it entails but also in trying to manage it. Hours of my day are lost to managing my mental illness – keeping anorexia satisfied but also not letting it take over.
I have managed to see friends on the odd occasion whilst in this juggling act. I don’t want anorexia…or my studies to stop me seeing friends, even if it is now only for a limited time due to coursework demands. In the past, friends have always come second place to anorexia…and also my studies but again, this is something I am trying to balance better. As it stands today (and for the past year or so), I would never sacrifice my friends again for anorexia. It has taken a long time to re-gain the couple of friends that I have and I am not prepared to lose them again. However, at the moment, coursework and assessments are taking priority. When I was completing my degree from 2011-2015, I was not prepared to sacrifice any study time to see anybody (not that I really had anybody to see). And whilst studies are still taking priority, if an opportunity arises to spend a bit of time with friends, I’m trying to make myself take them, not turn them down, because ultimately, friends are more important and what I have wished to have for so long.
Me with my friend in the nightclub
So I’ll let you know what I’ve done. Firstly, I went out to a nightclub for my friend’s birthday…the first time I’ve been to a nightclub in years! Was I scared and daunted? Very much so. Not just with the prospect of going out to a nightclub, but also with being with her other friends - people I don’t really know. But did I enjoy it? Very much so. To be out, having fun, doing normal things – I’ve missed out on all that. It really hit me that evening how I have virtually lost of all my 20’s. The time when you are meant to be going out and having fun – being young and free – I wasn’t. I was locked up by anorexia (and also locked up by hospitals for several years). And that is a decade of my life I will never get back. And yes, it made me feel sad, very sad…but it made me more determined to not let the next 10 years go by in the same way. Because that can so easily happen. The years tick by and before you know it, you are 10 years older and still living by the rules of anorexia.
As terrifying as fighting anorexia and leaving it behind is, the thought of being 40 and still imprisoned by this devil – that’s even scarier. So I resolved to stick to my plan formed nearly a year ago now, that when I finish my Masters I am going to have to tackle recovery head on. No more ifs and buts or waiting for the right moment – I’ve just got to do it.
As well as the nightclub, I have also been out for dinner with 3 of my friends from my course at uni. That too was really nice, the first time we have done anything socially outside of uni. I have also been to a friend from my running group’s birthday party – again, I had a good time, despite not knowing many people. If you had asked me a year ago to go to a party where I wouldn’t know many people, or go out for dinner with people I haven’t known for too long, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I’d of been too scared, too nervous, too fearful of going out of my comfort zone and I would have found excuses not to go. But I’d of missed out – again. And it feels good to go to these things now and not miss out. Ok, there is still a lot I do miss out on but you’ve got to start somewhere right? And it isn’t to say that these things don’t still daunt me – they do. But life has started to get a little bit better since I started taking more opportunities, putting myself out there, sometimes saying no to anorexia.
Me with my two friends from school
And last but by no means least – I met up with my friend (who had the birthday party in the nightclub) and my other friend from school who I have lost touch with over the past couple of years – another friendship anorexia got its teeth into. It was so nice to see her again, I just wish I hadn’t let anorexia strip me of such a good friend. But we are back in touch now and I’m determined to keep it that way. I am now in a position where I truly feel and will happily say, that when it comes to friends and friendships – anorexia can bugger off! 10 years ago, anorexia was my best friend. I wanted nothing else in life, nothing else mattered as long as I had my best friend anorexia. Everyone else could bugger off and leave me and anorexia alone. That is how I felt for years. And the outcome of that? Over a decade of misery, isolation, reclusiveness and torture. Hovering on the brink of death. It took me a long time to realise that it wasn’t everyone else that was the enemy, but anorexia itself. Given the chance, anorexia will destroy everything. I am not going to give it that chance again.
I thought anorexia was a thing…like, a good thing. I didn’t know it was a mental illness, I just thought it was a term used to describe someone who was thin, who was good at resisting food. Willpower, strength and thinness…the things I was desperate for. And I was desperate to be able to call myself anorexic.
That was over 10 years ago now, when I had no idea what in fact anorexia, or ‘being anorexic’ truly meant. I learned about it during my A-Level Psychology lessons. Not in any great detail, just about the signs/symptoms and the potential biological/environmental triggers. A 2017 study found 34% of British adults could not name a sign or symptom of an eating disorder, and 77% of those that could, could not name a psychological symptom. Yet eating disorders are mental illnesses.
And when I was studying eating disorders during my A-Level Psychology, the one thing it really taught me was that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough yet to be considered to have anorexia. The symptoms we learnt about in Psychology were generally the physical signs – weight loss, being underweight, refusing to eat normally. Well, I wasn’t any of that, so I wasn’t good enough. And I was determined that had to change. And university would be my opportunity.
So you can see from that I was clearly being gripped mentally by anorexia…but the physical signs weren’t there. And the thoughts got stronger and stronger until I finally went away to university and could put the thoughts into action. And our country fails us. Fails to treat us immediately when signs and symptoms are displayed. The average wait between displaying signs and receiving treatment…what do you reckon? What do you think would be an acceptable time-frame from displaying the symptoms to receiving treatment from the deadliest mental illness?
Well I can tell you it’s 3 years. And that is just appalling. Not only are signs and symptoms not recognised, but when they are recognised we are told they are not severe enough, that we are not quite thin enough to be granted any help. So eventually, when we have lost enough weight that we are blue lighted to hospital, anorexia has such a strong hold, and has done so much damage to our bodies that it makes recovery seemingly impossible.
As I said at the start – I thought anorexia was just ‘a thing’. And yes, anorexia had poisoned my mind and actually made me feel happy when people told me that I had it (although it also made me believe that I wasn’t good enough at it and had to do it better). But I was also convinced that this ‘thing’ this ‘anorexia’ was just something I would do for a couple of years and then stop. But anorexia (and all mental illness) does not work like that. It is not something we choose or can stop at the snap of a finger. Anorexia takes away all choices and it will never let you stop. Not without help anyway. And that help needs to come sooner than 3 years if we have any chance of survival.
It has been over 10 years now since I displayed the physical symptoms of anorexia…many more years with the psychological. And yes, I have received some good help in that time (and also some very bad) but now, not being in hospital and not being severely underweight means the continued support and treatment isn’t there. And this needs to change as well. The average sufferer waits 3 years to get any help and as soon as they put on a bit of weight and leave hospital (demonstrating a reduction in the physical signs), they are left to fight the psychological symptoms alone again. But living life as a ‘functioning anorexic’…that is no life. And it is not just ‘a thing’. Before you know it, years, decades have been lost to anorexia…the evil plague of the mind. Immediate…and continued help is needed.
The lyrics from a Girls Aloud song seem very relevant here:
My life got cold It happened many years ago... And long ago I lost my soul To some forgotten dream and How was I supposed to know It wasn't what it seemed
I go to university, I go to lessons, I chat to course mates…But I battle with fear of failing and fear that no one really likes me.
I study, I write essays, I do coursework…But I’m not allowed to sit down and I’m constantly distracted by thoughts of food and weight. Terrified of gaining weight and deliberating what I can eat today.
I go out for dinner with friends…But I’ve scoured the menu looking for what fits in to my calorie allowance. It’s no a question of choosing a meal I want, but what meal is the right number.
I eat dinner at home seemingly with ease…But I’ve barely eaten anything all day. And should I be served a meal that looks larger than I am expecting, I’m riddled with fear and anxiety, needing reassurance.
I go running every week and power walk every day…But I’m physically exhausted. Trying to run with barely any muscle is harder than you can imagine.
I can meet up with friends and have a chat and a laugh…But I’m overwhelmed with depression and loneliness the 95% of the time I am on my own.
I worked as a chef for 2 and a half years, cooking food for other people…But I have never tried any of my own cooking and never ate a morsel of food whilst at work.
I watch the latest shows on TV…But again, my mind is distracted by food and weight, a sudden panic that I’ve eaten too much, that I’m going to have gained lots of weight.
I commute with others on a daily basis on the train…But again, I’m not allowed to sit down.
I get dressed in the morning and have a shower at night…But I look in the mirror and feel utter repulsion and disgust, wishing I could take a carving knife to my body.
I smile at the lady in the shop as she asks how I stay so slim, how she wishes she could be thin like me…If only she knew. If only she knew what it was like living with an eating disorder. Living with depression and anxiety.
Appearances can be deceiving. I do normal things, I go about daily activities. But there is an inner battle, an inner torture, an inner suffering that is like no other, that I can’t even describe in words. I dream of going out and doing things with friends, having a life…But I lock myself away, scared and alone. Convinced I’m not capable of being sociable, convinced no one actually wants to spend time with me, convinced my life is destined to be this way.
That is what having a mental illness is – living in constant fear. Having hopes and dreams but then behaving the exact opposite through shear fearfulness. And it is not all about appearances. Eating disorders are not just about weight, you don’t have to be skinny to suffer. Depression isn’t just about being sad and how many times you cry. It is not like physical illness, you don’t get a bandage or crutches. You often cannot see mental illness. But it can very much be there, despite of appearances. Just some food for thought.
What a testing month it has been. Not only have been tested in several exams for my course, but my strength to keep fighting anorexia…and to keep fighting for a life has also been tested.
I’ll start with exams. I have spent the past two weeks doing exams and coursework…which means I have spent the past month with my head in books revising. I can’t say it’s been particularly enjoyable, revising for 8 hours a day everyday…even on Christmas day! But I’ve done it and thankfully the exams/coursework are over. I wasn’t hopeful for the results of my exams – I genuinely thought I had failed. There have been many tears, many “I can’t do it” and “I want to give up” and “I’ve failed” but I have passed and so for now, I carry on, albeit convinced that I will fail the next assessment.
So, for just over a month now my life has been taken over by preparing for these exams. Although, anorexia still likes to try and keep itself my number one priority. I was weighed by my nurse early in the new year. My eating hadn’t changed over Christmas (except for maybe eating a few Brussel sprouts), my exercise had stayed exactly the same…yet I stand on the scales and I’ve gained a kilo! An F***ing Kilo! I was distraught. Since August my weight has slowly been creeping up, for no apparent reason. I’ve cut things out of my diet but still, it continues to go up. So on the 2nd January 2018, tipping the scales a kilo heavier…the heaviest I’ve been in 10 years, I just felt in complete despair.
From then, it was a real struggle to concentrate on my work. All I could think about was my weight, how disgusting and repulsive I was to have let this happen…how dare I have allowed myself to eat Brussel sprouts when my weight was doing this. So, whilst everyone else is sat there helping themselves to an extra roast potato, or another chocolate from the box…I am wracked with guilt for having eaten 5 Brussel sprouts. Revision took a back seat as I tried to think about what I could cut out to lose the weight, what from my already reduced diet could I take out to reduce it even further?
I discussed it with my mum and we agreed on an amount to take out. She was very reluctant but in the state I was in we had to do something. And I would much rather do it openly than secretly, something that is very different to how I was before. And I am not trying to lose a lot of weight, just to get back to where I can cope with…to what was agreed would be my upper limit, to which I am now several kilos over.
But I hate anorexia for making me feel like this…and making me behave like this. Having to count every calorie that I eat, living in fear of gaining weight. And I know reducing my diet is not the best option, it is not the option that is going to help me beat anorexia or get a life…but it was the only option at the time that would enable me to carry on, to try and keep revising for my exams and not go full throttle back to complete restriction and quest to be skeletal. With all the other stresses in life, it is taking every effort to just manage anorexia. So for now, I am sticking with that. Management. I still hope for a life where I am free from its chains but that fight is not something I am up for at the moment. I will be in the future…but not right now.
And then there was also the situation with the dentist. Mid December I went to the dentist with toothache, similar to what I have experienced before so I was just hoping for some antibiotics. Boy was I in for a shock. He wanted to remove my wisdom tooth there and then. So as a good patient I agreed. I had no idea what it would be like, having never had tooth removal before. I can’t say it was a particularly pleasant experience, but over the years I’ve spent in hospital, I’ve dealt with much worse.
I spent the rest of the day revising, although it was difficult with the immense pain. 15 minutes into eating my dinner of soup, I passed out. The next thing I know I am on the floor with my legs in the air, my mum telling my dad to call an ambulance. The ambulance crew arrive, do some checks and try and sit me up. And I pass out again. The ambulance crew want to take me to hospital. I reluctantly agree…it’s not as if I have fond memories of going to hospital.
We bypassed A and E and were taken to a small waiting room with several other patients and their families. And that’s when anorexia really started to kick in. Firstly, I was made to feel a fraud for being in hospital when I wasn’t thin. At least when I’d been in before I’d barely been able to walk, now anorexia just made me feel like a fat failure. Then anorexia started to lure me in with its temptations. How nice it would be to be ill again, to have an escape from the stresses of life…to be too ill to barely breathe let alone think about trying to get qualifications and a career. Anorexia was luring me in like a dog to a bone.
As I sat there, anorexia convincing me how good it could make me feel, I looked at my parents sat beside me. And I was overwhelmed with guilt. All the previous times I have been in hospital I have been too out of it, too brainwashed and taken over by anorexia that I have lost a sense of reality. But whilst anorexia was now trying to convince me to escape the reality once more, I have been living in the real world for over 6 years, living in reality, and I could see how worried my parents were.
And then all I could think was how I could never do that to them again. As much as I sometimes think I want to go back to anorexia, I could never put my parents through it again. They were worried about me now having just passed out… I can only imagine how they must have felt when I could barely walk, or talk, or keep my heart beating. They have spent years by my side, in and out of hospital, always there for me no matter what. Anorexia has ruined the past 10 years of my life…it has also ruined theirs. And whilst not quite ready to try and beat anorexia, I am doing my best to manage it, to stop letting it completely ruin mine and their lives. I will beat it one day. But I have to manage it for now…hopefully this time next year I will have managed…and beaten it.
Snow…isn’t it pretty – when it settles on the rooftops and trees, people look out the window and feel excitement. So much fun can be had in the snow – building snowmen, playing on sledges, making snow angels…these are all activities I saw people doing last week when we had the snowfall. Everyone was out there having fun.
However, to me, snow is just an inconvenience. A real pain that just stresses me out. I hate it – How am I meant to do my daily power walking when the grounds are covered with snow? And then when the snow starts to melt, the grounds are covered in ice. The stress it causes is unbelievable! So while everyone else was out having fun in the snow or staying cosy inside as they looked out of the window at the pretty views, I dug out my wellies, loaded up my layers and went out for my 45 minute power walk.
As I pounded the streets and fields in 5-inch-deep snow, with little snow flurries blowing onto my frozen face, I thought “What the hell am I doing?” Who in their right mind tries to power walk for 45 minutes in these conditions? It’s utter madness. And for anyone who tries to tell me that anorexia is a choice – this is proof of the polar opposite.
No one would ever choose to do what I went out to do. I didn’t want to do it – I would never actually choose to do that – it was hell and I hated every minute. But I HAD to do it. There were no ifs or buts, I had to do my walk, no matter what, no matter how much I hated it or how much I wanted to cry while I was doing it, anorexia had taken over my head and was making me do it. it had complete control of my behaviour; I certainly wasn’t in any control of what I was doing.
Likewise, the day after, I went out for my powerwalk in the torrential rain. I was absolutely soaked, cars splashing me with muddy water, hands bitterly frozen. Absolute hell. But I had no choice. I can’t cope with the guilt, anxiety and fear with not walking so I have to do it. Anorexia wins. But it’s at times like this that I hate anorexia more and it makes me more determined to not let this become my life forever, to not spend the rest of my life marching round streets powerwalking in all conditions. I don’t want that. I hate it. and I hate anorexia for making me do it.
If another person was making someone do what I had to do in the snow and rain, there would be outrage for it being so cruel. But when it’s someones own mind making them do it, no one even notices. But it is not acceptable. And it is not acceptable for treatment for this illness to be so sparse, for treatment to only be offered when anorexia has literally driven you to the brink of death. Anorexia severely impacts in every aspect of a sufferer’s life. And even people who appear to function, who appear to get on relatively normally, can still have anorexia impinging greatly on daily life.
I’m going to keep fighting. I’m not going to be like this for the rest of my life. And to help me, I’m going to keep paying to see my therapist…because I’m not allowed this treatment on the NHS…because I’m not ill enough. But anyone who had seen me out walking in the snow would know that isn’t the behaviour of a ‘well person’. But not everyone can afford to pay for therapy like I am and it is not fair that we are expected to live with serious mental illnesses, receiving no funding or treatment until we are ‘thin enough’ and our BMI ‘low enough’. No one would accept the abuse we suffer from anorexia from another person. Early interventions and better treatment for mental illness is needed. We need help to get us out of our blizzards. Not wait until we are completely snowed under before help is offered.
“Say it loud, say it clear…It’s too late when we die.”The words from a song by Mike and The Mechanics which came on the radio the day after my Grandad died nearly two weeks ago. And the words are very true. We can’t tell the people we love and care about we feel once we or they die. And I haven’t told the people in my life enough.
I have some wonderful memories of my Grandad from when I was a child – taking us to the park to feed the squirrels, listening to my sister and I endlessly singing as we repeatedly jumped off a wall into his arms, the parties on New Years Eve, the fun at Southend, playing board games for hours…and him sitting on Professor Plum from Cluedo and breaking the playing piece, always trying to give me a wet sloppy kiss on the cheek but me refusing…oh how I wish I hadn’t refused now.
Me with my grandparents and sister when we were younger
I look back with very fond memories. And I feel sad that life couldn’t stay that way, that we can’t freeze time. I also feel sad that for the last 10 years of his life I have spent the majority of that time either in hospital or being so preoccupied with anorexia that I never really took the time to see him much, that I never really took the time to tell him I loved him and that I thank him for helping make my childhood so happy and enjoyable. I’d like to think that he knows this, but it doesn’t stop me hating anorexia for ruining virtually all of my relationships with family and friends.
I can’t change the past but I can change the future. I am going to make every effort to not let anorexia seep in and further destroy relationships that I have started to rebuild. When I think about how I treated my mum and dad when in the deepest grips of anorexia, and virtually froze out all other family and friends – it’s devastating. And I hate myself now when I find I sometimes slip back into that old, horrible me…as much as I try not to…sometimes anorexia wins.
But I’m going to fight it stronger now. My family and friends, the ones that are still here and have stuck by me even though anorexia pushed them so far away – I am sorry and I am eternally thankful to you. It is their care and their love that keep me fighting anorexia. So please, tell the people that you love and care for how you feel – Say it loud. Say it clear…because they can go at any time…and it is certainly too late when we die.
My family and friends who mean the world to me. Thank you:
“If only I could lose weight,” I said this week, “then I’d be able to cope with everything else a lot better.” This is what I said and it is genuinely how I’ve been feeling. The stresses of uni, the disappointment of a bad running session…you name it, everything is getting to me. And the stresses of life aren’t helped by the fact that I keep gaining weight, albeit by small amounts, but it is showing a general upward trend and I’m struggling to cope with that.
It’s bad enough gaining weight when it’s planned, when you know you have had a calorie increase, but when there’s no reason why, I’m not eating anymore, so why am I continuously gaining weight? That makes it really difficult. And with everything else going on in life it just feels a bit overwhelming. And my default mechanism – focus on weight and then everything else will feel better. If I can just sort my weight out, I can deal with everything else. However, my stresses then increase because I feel I can’t sort my weight out as it feels I only have to look at food at the moment and it makes me gain weight. That’s how I feel anyway.
It is at times like this that support from my family is so important. My mum is there as the voice of reason, when my head can’t be, telling me that my coping mechanism of losing weight is in fact absolute bollocks, doesn’t solve anything and doesn’t actually in the long run make me feel any better.
I look at young kids going to school, riding on their scooters or running along with their Disney lunch boxes and I think ‘God I wish I could go back to that. To go back to my childhood when everything was fun and stress free.’ When I’d play outside all day, every day with friends on weekends, when coming home from school meant watching Rugrats or Mary-kate and Ashely, when I could eat anything without thinking about it or feeling guilty. All that has gone. Adult life isn’t like that and this leaves me very depressed.
But it is possible to be happy and have fun as an adult. However, not when you have anorexia. I considered the possibility of going travelling, thinking this would be less stressful than dealing with daily life; an escape from reality. But as my sister pointed out - it wouldn’t matter where in the world I was, anorexia would still be there and I would still have my same troubles. Ultimately, it is anorexia making me stressed and unhappy and until I beat it, that won’t change.
One day I will beat it. not while I’m doing my Masters however, I am still holding onto my plan to try when I finish. This thought is terrifying and often I want to back-track and say actually, I’m alright as I am and that I really don’t need to gain weight. But the reality is that I’m not okay as I am. I’m not happy and in the 10 years I’ve dedicated to anorexia, life most certainly has not got better. And where anorexia feels like the answer to all my problems, my sister is right – anorexia is the cause. I refer to a saying I have used previously “to succeed in anorexia is to fail in life.”
So I’m nearly 3 months into Uni…I’m definitely back into the swing of it, with work coming out of my ear holes! It is still very stressful and there are many times when I feel I can’t do it, but I desperately want to make it to the end of the course so I’m going to keep slogging away. I really like the people on the course and it’s nice to have that social interaction again-to feel part of a group and have things in common…I like it and I like them.
It’s a million miles away from my last experience at Uni in Loughborough when I was isolated, with no one talking to me…or even smiling to me. Now I’m involved in conversations, laughing and joking. I have become a lot less reclusive than I was at Loughborough, I have changed a lot since then and I have worked really hard to do so-to make myself more sociable, to be able to just talk to other people.
Me and my friend out for dinner
Other progressions have happened recently as well. I met up with my friend in London last week and we went to the pub and a few weeks ago I went out shopping and for dinner with my other friend which was good…something little but of big importance to me-to go out with a friend and have fun. I have mentioned before how cheese has been my fear food for years and that last year and that last year I did try eating again on the odd occasion when I went out for pizza. So, when I went out with my friend a few weeks ago, I faced the challenge again and I had Halloumi! And it was delicious! This is not to say cheese doesn’t still scare, it does, and it scares me that I liked it. But I have to accept that it’s ok to like it and just because I like it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to end up eating masses of cheese every day and gain lots of weight.
That is my mind thinking all or nothing again. Either I don’t eat it at all or I will end up eating it all the time. But as my Psychologist is trying to teach me, there is middle ground…everything isn’t always one extreme or the other. But that is exactly how I think-everything is either perfect or awful. And because most things in my life aren’t perfect, I think they are bloody awful. This is a thought process we are working on changing.
Me going out with my friends these past few weeks is evidence of that. When I was at Uni in Loughborough, I would spend all my spare time studying, never seeing anybody or doing anything. A classic case of me doing ‘all or nothing’. I either had to study every spare minute of the day because otherwise I was convinced I would fail. I do still have that thought but I also don’t want to go back to that old routine and lose touch with the few friends I have managed to get back.
So I’m trying to find a balance…that ‘grey’ middle ground, studying enough but not overly excessively and certainly not to the detriment of friendships. Now that I have these couple of friends and can go out occasionally and enjoy myself, I’m not willing to sacrifice this. So here is the start of the search for middle ground and trying to accept that middle, average, normal…is okay.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Day on Tuesday 10th October 2017. A day to raise awareness of mental health. 1 in 4 people every year suffer from mental health problems and more awareness and understanding is needed. But does it actually make any difference-an awareness day? That’s debatable.
For people that suffer with mental health issues like myself, it is not just about being aware for one day. Mental illness can affect people for months, years….and lifetimes. Mental illness is often so misunderstood and stigmatised that it can make the period of suffering, however long or short, very difficult.
There have been numerous occasions over the past few years when I have had abuse shouted at me in the street. “Are you a man?” and “Eat a burger” bellowed at me as I innocently go about my business. It beggars belief that people can think it is acceptable to say thing like that to anybody and it shows a complete lack of understanding of how comments like that can seriously negatively affect people suffering with mental illness, who already have shattered self-esteem and find it difficult to go out in public through fear of people staring or thinking they are different.
But these types of ignorant idiots are not alone. Recently, Amazon put a jumper up for sale with the slogan “ANOREXIA: Like Bulimia but with self-control” – absolutely disgusting, and research found that only 50% of people thought it was necessary for someone with an eating disorder to see a specialist. Seriously?! I wonder how many of those people would be happy to see a foot doctor when they were having serious heart problems? Trouble that could potentially kill them. Would they be happy to see someone who knew in great detail about in-grown toenails but very little about potential heart conditions? Probably not.
But eating disorders (and other mental health issues) continue to be deeply misunderstood, with many thinking a sufferer of anorexia chooses to be that way, that they simply choose not to eat because they want to be thin. And therefore they don’t warrant NHS treatment-they are not worthy of it because their condition is self-inflicted. And this could not be further from the truth. It is an illness of the mind and just like physical illnesses, there is no control over it and it can affect anyone at any time. And just like physical illnesses, it needs specialist treatment.
So is one day enough to make everyone aware and understanding of mental illness? I very much doubt it. It’s a start…but there’s a very long way to go before those with mental illness are not judged or discriminated against and instead shown compassion and an attempt to understand. But this is not to tar everyone with the same brush, many people do try to understand and show sympathy, support and help. And to those people – thank you. and I do appreciate it is very difficult to understand when you haven’t experienced it yourself. But there are still far too many people who are happy to remain blissfully ignorant and don’t want to know about it. I’m trying to help raise awareness and understanding – please help me.