WARNING: Do not read this post if you are triggered or affected by images of anorexia
Recently I have had quite a few really lovely comments and emails from girls saying that they look up to me and see me as an inspiration from my story. I don’t see myself as an inspiration though. I’ve been thinking about this recently. My eating disordered life is going to be featured in a couple of papers/magazines nationwide soon and the reason that I put my story out there is not because I want to be an inspiration, but I want to be an example that recovery is possible for anyone if they want it. Everyone has their own reasons for developing an eating disorder and everyone has to find their own way to want to recover and actually do what they intend to rather than just saying that they want to and not taking action (there is a difference between flirting with recovery and actually being in active recovery). All I know is that I was just a girl, who had an illness throughout my whole teenage years and turned the strength and determination I put into being ill, into my recovery. It wasn’t easy as that, of course…and I don’t exactly know how I did it but I do know that it was 110% worth it and I have never been happier. And I’m not just saying that.
I have never really spoken about my time before my recovery on the blog. They are deep and dark times. But after talking with the press about those times, I feel quite open about it. They aren’t so raw and I don’t even see that person in those times as me. It was like something had taken over me completely. My story is long so I won’t go too much into a lot of it but let’s say I did the whole sha-bang in my 7 years of illness. You name it, I did it. Over-exercising, diet pills, laxatives, cutting, trying to kill myself numerous times and I even died for 5 minutes at one point. I was totally out of control. Or should I say my anorexia was.
Kind of crazy for a girl who seemed pretty normal and healthy looking back…
Aged 14 (centre left). I was never big, I’d always been petite, always being the smallest girl in the class right from when I was 4 and only stayed between a UK size 6/8. I had good friends, I had a stable home and family and I had everything I ever wanted. And yet I wasn’t happy. I guess I was conscious of my changing shape to start off with, just hitting puberty. Then I was jealous of my best friend for being naturally thin and gorgeous. She was admired by my whole year group at school and I felt like the best friend in the background. I also had comments made to me from my Dad around this time that triggered off a diet. And the diet got out of hand clearly..
My young 15 year old self was starting to feel good about my size after a couple of a year of on and off dieting combined with exercising more on the elliptical in the house. It was starting to work finally. I thought I could keep on going by taking diet pills, which I then thought weren’t working so I took laxatives, of course causing my bowels to loosen massively (ew..) and for my parents to believe that what they expected was true since that kinda stuff is hard to hide eventually..
After my GCSE exams, aged 16, I went on a holiday with my friends to Ibiza to celebrate. I promised my parents I’d eat well on holiday as I had just lost the weight from stress. I barely ate anything but fruit for a week and I probably ruined my friends’ holiday by worrying them so much when they saw me in a bikini. At this stage I was less than 6 stone.
I did genuinely feel good about how I looked. Even with all of the bones sticking out. I was finally thin. So I carried on hiding my lunches made by my Mum, hiding any food given to me at home in my pockets, down my trousers..anywhere I could. All put into plastic bags and thrown in the bin when I got back to school the next day. I started power walking before, during and after school. At any opportunity I could, I would go out and power walk and it got to a stage where I was doing over 12 miles a day just walking the city, determined to burn off everything. It was totally compulsive.
At this point my parents intervened after the GP was hopeless and did nothing (something that still makes me angry about GPs in the UK and their knowledge of anorexia) and they sent me inpatient privately. I discharged myself after 6 months of barely gaining anything, only to get to a BMI of 14.5 and promising my parents that I could get better by myself now as the clinic didn’t help. I cut myself in there, ran away numerous times and shouted, screamed and kicked the nurses. I was a nightmare for them to handle.
Of course to relapse quite quickly, old habits coming back – diet pills, exercise, throwing away food. We had our end of Year 11 ball at which I wore an elastic headband around my waist as a belt and I of course didn’t eat the dinner…
With months of further no eating, more exercise, I soon found myself in a desperate state. I had a BMI of 12. I felt weak and like I would die at any stage so I told my mum that I couldn’t go to school one morning to save myself from dying in the streets when I was out walking. I was sent to A&E and I waited in the hospital for a bed at the clinic I had been at before, whilst things deteriorated further as they did not know how to care for me. I could walk off ward whenever I liked, no one sat with me for my meals and I water-loaded to fake my weight and avoid being tube fed. By the time I was given a bed back at the clinic, they were shocked at how I could have dropped to a BMI of 10.7 within the space of 2 months.
That very same night I had been admitted, my heart stopped in the night whilst I was on one to one observations 24/7. I am fortunate that I was on these observations, despite how much I hated them at the time, giving me no dignity to even go to the toilet or have a shower alone.
These photos were taken to try and make me see sense into how I was so ill and why my heart had stopped. Despite seeing all of my bones…I still didn’t really want to recover. That is how dangerous anorexia is. It won’t stop until you die and even then, dying for 5 minutes did not shock me enough to shake it out and to want to get better. It is really a sad sad illness and this is the reality of it. So much so that after discharging myself again after 6 months, getting to a BMI of 15 this time, I relapsed once again. Not quite so hard, but I was sent to another place after trying to kill myself by running in front of a bus and the team thinking that this clinic did nothing for me.
The next clinic was very strict, far from home and only worsened my teenage anorexic tantrums and violence but when I finally left there after severe depression for the whole time. It was the way in which they treated me like a child (despite being 18) who had no hope of recovery and deserved to be locked up in clinics for life, that sparked off some hope of recovery in a ‘I will show you’ way. My recovery took a while and only really escalated once I’d gone to uni finally at the age of 19, and then after first year got my own apartment but whilst it was the hardest thing I’ve ever and probably will ever do, I can’t even begin to describe how much it has changed my life for the better.
Of course things are not perfect, I don’t know if they ever will be. I still struggle with body image everyday but when people ask me if I get jealous of anorexics, the answer will always be no. I look at them and feel sadness and pity for them but I know now that whatever I could try to do or say to them, they have to find something within themselves to change. I look back at the photos of me and all I see is a sad little girl. Being thin was never enough, I was never thin enough. It was just not the answer. Whilst I would love to lose weight again, I know that what I am now is what my body is happy with.
Becoming thin is not an option anymore. And I have never been fitter or stronger in all my life and I love being that way. But that also comes with a good balanced diet. I guess I am just learning to accept how I am now and be okay with that and I know that the people around me and my current environment are the biggest factors in helping with that. I also keep my distance from other anorexics or even their blogs. Not because they are bad people. They are not. I just don’t associate myself with them anymore. I am me. And I don’t need an illness to give me an identity. I know that now.
Anorexia ruined my teenage life. I missed out on what teenagers should be doing. My friends grew up, they moved on and became distant through my anorexic behaviours and lost sense of who I was anymore. They went to university and I was left behind with my illness. I tore my family apart and made them have sleepless nights. I stopped speaking to my brother as he couldn’t understand my illness. And all of this I have had to rebuild. But it has made my relationships stronger which people will say is one advantage of this illness. However, I won’t let this illness ruin my adult life too.
There is so much to live for beyond an illness and whatever it gives you. I just wish people suffering with such an awful illness could see that.