I used to think I was invincible.
Until on the 5th February 2016 I was rushed to Durham A&E. I hadn’t eaten in 2 weeks and after multiple seizures, my heart was beginning to shut down. It was then that I was first diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, but I had been struggling with this disorder, whether I was aware of it or not, long before I heard the words.
I don’t think I can quite explain what it’s like to sit in a room surrounded by doctors and psychologists asking you why you can’t eat. As if it’s that simple. Like asking for my name or date of birth. And I stare at them blankly. Because if I knew, then I probably wouldn’t be here. Because if I myself could possibly understand how a carefree little girl grew up to fear food more than death, then maybe none of this would have ever happened.
Anorexia doesn’t suddenly appear over night. She creeps up on you. A pair of sympathetic arms that surround you in a terrifying yet comforting embrace. A voice that soon becomes hard to distinguish from your own, whispering twisted manipulative words in your ear. And that’s probably the hardest thing to explain, how a living nightmare can feel so safe. How your own worst enemy can become your best friend.
And perhaps that’s why there are so many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders. Anorexia is not a diet gone ‘a bit too far’. Nor is it something to be glamourized or romanticized. It is a life threatening disease. Consuming you, weaving its way into every single aspect of your life. You become a different person. Unrecognizable almost. And when I look back now on how I was at my worst, it’s honestly heartbreaking.
Somewhere in between counting calories or avoiding them altogether, obsessively weighing myself and compulsively exercising to burn off food I hadn’t even consumed - I lost who I was. I lied to friends and family to please an eating disorder that was never pleased. Because no weight is ever low enough. In the end the goal weight is to just disappear entirely. And I thought I was in control; watching my weight drop day by day and feeling like I was succeeding in something. But I couldn’t have been further from it.
In my case, the weightloss was extremely quick and drastic. I came out of university and was lucky enough to be fast-tracked through the NHS waiting list, receiving treatment almost immediately and an inpatient bed within a matter of weeks. However unfortunately, due to the crisis of mental health care in the UK, some spend up to a year waiting and many never receive the proper help they need.
I’m a year on now from when I was first diagnosed, and although I can’t say I am completely recovered – I can say that I am in a much better place than I was back then. There was no defining turning point that kick started my recovery process. It was more a question of ‘what do I have to lose’? And the answer was life.
For me, starting recovery was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was embracing the unknown and breaking the walls of every comfort zone I’d built for myself over the last few years. I was fortunate to be surrounded by an extremely supportive team at Warwick Hospital (shoutout Dr McDreamy) and an incredible mother, a woman who gave me my life and also saved it.
Recovery is difficult. Emotionally, mentally and physically. But you have to choose it. You have to choose recovery every goddamn day. Pushing through the dichotomy of voices in your head. Surviving the sleepless nights spent hopelessly praying that maybe you won’t wake up in the morning. Fighting through the tears as your family pleads for you to take one more bite. Because you know that your worst days in recovery, are a thousand times better than your best days in the eating disorder.
But things get easier. I promise. To anyone currently suffering from a mental illness. It does get better. And I mean it. Find something, a reason or motivation to recover, and hold onto it. Personally, I found hope in running. For in those sacred miles I could escape. Each therapeutic step of trainer against pavement offering a respite from the depression and anxiety I otherwise felt. Running gave me strength. A sort of mental resilience that anorexia had taken from me. As I progressed in my weight restoration I knocked minutes off my 5KM time, won the Warwickshire Road Race League 10KM and ran a half marathon. I realized that I never could have done any of those things if I was starving myself. I realized that I’d spent my whole life punishing my body for what it couldn’t do, instead of loving it for what it could.
In the midst of fear, I found there was in me, an indestructible courage. In the midst of despair, I found there was within me, an indestructible hope. In the midst of darkness, I found there was within me, an indestructible light. No matter how hard the world pushes against me, I know that, within me, there is something stronger pushing right back.
I used to think I was invincible.
Now I know I am.