I am a recovering anorexic. Eating disorders are not a commonly discussed topic, which previously had made it difficult for me to talk about what I have gone through, but now I want to share my story. I am here to talk about my journey. My journey of pain, tears, acceptance, and self-discovery.
It is a common misconception that these illnesses only affect teenage girls who want to look like models, when the truth is that it can affect anyone. Eating disorders do not only exist within a certain age, gender, race, or sexuality. They are serious illnesses with destructive consequences.
But why? Why do we insist on starving ourselves and making ourselves feel sick? Why do we choose to not only harm ourselves, but our loved-ones as well? The answer is simple: it is not a choice. Eating disorders are not a choice. They are a coping mechanism, a safety blanket, an identity. For me, it made life simple; it gave me a strict rulebook. These rules took away various things in my life such as chance, decision, and risk. Eating disorders make us feel in control but from that arises demons. They are not just about food and weight, they are an addiction. A form of self harm.
Just like no two people are the same, no two cases of eating disorders are the same. Meaning, no two paths to diagnosis are the same nor two paths to recovery. This is just my story, my journey.
The signs started in English class 3 years ago. I went from being a lively student who was keen to participate, to not saying a single word and never putting in any effort into anything. I was always full of anger – overwhelmingly so. Any rules that were given to me by anyone other than myself meant nothing. In class, Mr. Giddings would unsuccessfully spend endless amounts of time trying to get something out of me. He was the first to notice. He referred me to the school counsellor, consequently getting my parents involved. Thinking that I was just going through my “moody teenage years”, my parents pushed me to seek help. Which resulted in seeing countless doctors.
I was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in January 2018. However, this initial diagnosis was not the hardest part for me. The hardest part was the moment in which I accepted that I had an eating disorder.
To this day, my father thanks Mr. Giddings. If it wasn’t for him, who knows where I would be right now. To him I am eternally grateful.
Through my first year of being diagnosed, I constantly downplayed it, but my family knew and soon enough, my close friends did too. Talking about it seemed inappropriate because to me, I was normal. In my mind there was no issue, there was no illness. I thought I was fine. I continued on with school, still in denial, never confronting the fact that I was ill. My grades suffered. I had been restricting myself more and more from eating until I had no energy left. We were nearing the end of the year (between September and November 2018) when things took a turn for the worse. On a trip to London, I lost 2 kilos in the three days I was there. It made me proud. Seeing my weight decrease on the scale created joy for me, that was how I dealt with everything. I would turn to my restrictive diet, while still keeping quiet about my illness.
The Friday before the October holidays, a hospital specializing in eating disorders contacted my parents. Initially, I was told that I would leave school and go to this hospital everyday for only one week. Not long after, this turned into me going for two weeks. I ended up staying there for 10 months.
Saying goodbye to Ms. Bora was the most difficult part of leaving school. I had only known her for a couple of months, but I remember the overwhelming amount of support she provided me with. I know what you’re thinking, but yes, teachers actually can be a great support system. Having to leave school infuriated me, I didn’t think that I needed help from anyone, I still thought that I wasn’t sick. I cried uncontrollably on the drive home. I wasn’t willing to do this for myself, so I found someone else to do it for. “I’ll do it for Ms. Bora”.
I started at the hospital weighing the average weight of an 11 year old girl. I was 16.
Between November and February, I was in and out of school. I relapsed. Badly. Which meant another round of even harder goodbyes. The difference being that this time, I didn’t know how long I was going to be gone for. Finally accepting that going to school was off the table, I became severely depressed. So severely that I couldn’t go home alone using public transport because the doctors deemed it too dangerous. So severely that, instead of focusing on my eating disorder, my doctors decided that I needed to be hospitalized in order to treat my depression. So severely that I began having some terrifyingly dark thoughts.
To me, my eating disorder was something that would protect me from anything, but in reality, it brought me to places darker than I ever thought I would experience. Even talking about it today is scary. I had developed such a strong hate for myself. Any negative thing that you could think about yourself, at some point I thought about me. I would cry myself to sleep, I loathed myself that much. Every day was a battle, it took all my energy just to get out of bed. Even the simple act of leaving my house had become terrifying.
My negative thoughts had become so loud that it was almost unbearable. My weight plummeted. Doctors were just getting more and more worried by the day. I felt as if I was stuck with my thoughts forever. My self-hatred prevented me from asking for help, I thought I wasn’t worthy of it. “Help is for anyone but yourself.” “Don’t be so selfish, there are people going through much worse than you are.”
There is no set criteria of what is worth seeking help for and what isn’t. Something my teachers had always told me was, “There’s no shame in asking for help,” but the only person who I felt comfortable asking for help from was Ms. Sutton. I used to put minimal effort in her classes staying quiet until one day I broke down and asked for help.
Asking for help was the best decision I could have made.
Being completely removed from school, with no choice in the matter, sucked I felt isolated and alone, I lost friends, but I swear that not all of it was bad. Some of the greatest people I’ve met were those I met at the hospital. Our ability to relate to each other in ways that most people can’t allowed us to feel so safe together. It hurts to say that I have lost some of these amazing people to anorexia.
There is a happy ending to this, I promise. Flash forward to today, I am back in school and have received the warmest welcome back from my teachers and friends. Although I had never had him as a teacher, Mr Britain provided me with a very warm welcome, making me feel as though I had never left.
I swear that I’m not being endorsed by any teachers to talk about them (although it probably seems that way), but in my case the school community really was amazing when it came to supporting what I had gone through. As students we can all agree that we are often told that the “teachers are here to help” and that “there are people here to support you”. I didn’t believe it, and I have never been more wrong. If it wasn’t for all of my teachers, I would not be here writing this article. Words can’t define the gratitude I feel for every single person who has helped me through my journey.
My eating disorder was a chapter of my life but not the whole book. Realizing that recovery meant letting go of my rules was terrifying. I remember thinking “if I recover who will I become? What could I amount to?”. Struggling to recover is not about not wanting it enough. It’s the most terrifying concept imaginable. Recovery means letting go of control and leaving your comfort zone. We are all guilty of staying in our comfort zone. We find comfort in our suffering. For me, the thing that gave me comfort was starving myself for days on end, understanding the consequences but so afraid to change that I didn’t want to do anything about it.
There is no distinct moment that I can pinpoint, but after countless therapy sessions, I began to properly engage with my treatment. I began to believe that there was the slightest chance that my life could be better with recovery. Yes, it would bring difficult changes but it would also bring opportunities. It was only when I believed the risk was worth it that I had a chance. A chance at school, at self-love, but most of all a chance to live the rest of my life.
Anorexia taught me that I can’t always be comfortable, I can’t always have control and that there is no rulebook for life. Recovery has brought me so many things; school, love, life. The most important thing recovery has brought me is myself. Through recovery I regained who I am.
To anyone who is struggling, please accept help. I can honestly say that it was the best decision I have ever made. If it wasn’t for all the help I have received in the last 3 years, I would not be here today.
Believe me when I say that you are worth recovery, you are good enough, and your life is meaningful. Remember that people get better everyday. Recovery takes time, so be patient with yourself. Become captain of your own recovery team. Most of all, have hope; you are strong, and you will get through this.
To anyone who may be dealing with any sort of mental illness, you are not alone. Everything you might be feeling right now is valid – don’t let anyone make you feel like it isn’t. Eventually, you will see the bigger picture. What I always hated was people telling me “everything is going to be okay.” That one sentence filled my body with anger every time I heard it. Nonetheless, personally being on the road to recovery, I can proudly say that everything is going to be okay. Recovery from any mental illness is scary, it’s hard work, and it’s a slow process, but it’s only a matter of time until everything starts to be okay again. In order to recover you have to leave your comfort zone. You have to rip up your rulebook.