Over 1.6 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. I’m not proud to say that from the age of fifteen, I have been one of them. What I am proud to say is at almost twenty one years old, I will no longer let it consume me.
Some people may have read that and rolled their eyes, or thought, “she shouldn’t have chosen to have an eating disorder in the first place”. The truth is, eating disorders are never a choice. They can target anyone, of any gender or any age. Eating disorders do not care about your aspirations, what kind of social background you come from, or what your body type is in the first place. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. The best way that I’ve seen an eating disorder described is with the term “parasite”, and looking back, that’s exactly what mine was.
When I was first diagnosed by a mental health nurse at CAMHS, I had no idea what was “wrong” with me. To me, it was normal to be fearful of food and gaining weight. It was an every day occurrence to lie about what meals I’d eaten, and the structured routine of checking my body before bedtime was as ordinary as brushing my teeth. I don’t know what caused my mental illness, but I know that once I was sucked into this exhausting way of living, there was no easy way of just “getting over it”.
Anorexia became my inseparable twin. We went hand in hand together. We counted calories together, we avoided having fun with friends out of fear of the food that might be involved. When other girls my age began to obsess over boys, my mind was already full with obsessing over my empty stomach. My eating disorder controlled my brain to the point where “she” was far more important than any friendship or relationship in my life. At times it felt like us against the world. But my eating disorder was wrong.
Loving words such as “you look healthy” definitely aren’t synonyms for “fat” or “disgusting”. It’s not okay to panic over eating a slice of your own birthday cake. At eighteen years old, Anorexia made me cry with joy as my childlike body slipped easily into size “double zero” jeans. But outside of our bubble, my fingernails were turning blue. My once thick and curly hair was thinning and falling out. No amount of makeup could cover the dark bags under my eyes. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve cried myself to sleep with the guilt of “losing control” and eating what I craved so badly.
At nineteen, I had had enough. I started to realise just how much my mental illness was ruining my life. I decided that I didn’t want to enter my twenties with “anorexic” as a word which described me. Never again would a stranger drunkenly tell me “I can tell that you don’t eat”. Choosing to recover was tough, but very slowly I went from crying over two slices of apple, to devouring a large pizza (followed by ice cream) with my best friend.
Recovering from my eating disorder has felt like I am thawing out. Anorexia took away my personality and hobbies and froze me over until I was nothing but a shell, but now I’m realising how much life there is left to enjoy. I’m so thankful to have outgrown those size double zero jeans. I’ve eaten enough ice cream to finally find my favourite flavour. My hair is starting to grow healthily, and I have friends to turn to when I feel overwhelmed, who are always up for a drunken night out (FYI; the chips at the end of the night are sometimes the best part).
I like to think that I’m pretty open about my mental health, but the truth is that I have hidden my mental illness from a lot of people for far too long. This in a way is a confession to everyone who is important to me. I encourage anyone who’s also struggling to do the same. Admitting to yourself that your eating disorder is a serious problem is a huge step, and admitting to others that you need support is nothing to be ashamed of.
Choosing to recover has been the bravest thing that I have ever done. Life is beautiful and messy and I’m so thankful that I can finally begin to experience it so fully.