Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I was brainstorming ideas for posts that I could share to impart some wisdom. But I then came across a draft of a post I wrote a while ago and thought a better way to promote awareness and kick off Mental Health Awareness Week (8th-14th), rather than giving advice on such a broad subject I don’t really know a lot about, was to share my story. Plain. Simple. Exposed. So here goes.
I remember the day I was diagnosed. I remember walking into the hospital with my mum and dad and hearing them tell me I was suffering from Anorexia Nervosa. It was in April 2010. It didn’t shock my mum or dad. They knew. It shocked me. I had no idea what I was doing to myself. What these habits and these thoughts were making me do to myself and my body. I cried. I felt hopeless. Everything I knew and was confident about for a long time before that, was my exercise routine and eating (what I thought was) ‘healthily’. Everything I was clinging onto for happiness was about to come crashing down around me.
I was 15. I was a smart, logical and mature girl. I listened to the therapist and nutritionist and my parents and my family. All telling me what I was doing and how to recover. They told me minimum recovery time was usually around 2 years. I remember thinking I could beat those odds. That I wasn’t like other ‘anorexics’ I wasn’t really anorexic. I had everything under control. I’d just gone a bit too far, that’s all. All I had to do was eat more food, and get to a healthy weight. Simple.
‘It’s a hard process. Moving out of a comfort zone you’ve pushed yourself to the very limit to achieve. Having to do things that go against everything your mind and your body is telling you to do. Because you’ve driven it into this state of starvation. It was torture. I’d try and tell myself it’s for the best. Trust the adults. Trust your parents. Trust the professionals.
But it’s easier to say isn’t it. It’s easy to say eat this, you need it. All they think about is my weight and my physical health. But what about my mental health. What about my body. They don’t care if I get fat and ugly. They don’t care if I’m unhappy, just as long as I’m a healthy BMI. But I care though. I’m the one that has to live with it. I’m the one that has to look at my body everyday. I’m the one that would have to live alone forever, always being the other girl. The one you forgot the name of. The plain, ordinary, nothing special girl. I’m the one in photos that you’re not jealous of. The one with the bucked teeth and a massive nose and a big, square, manly body. The one you don’t quite take notice of. I couldn’t be that person again. I just couldn’t.’
‘You see, for me, my eating disorder wasn’t a cry for help. Not for anyone else’s help anyway. It was an attempt to gain a sense of worth for myself. To prove to myself that I was someone. I was always overwhelmed at the thought of being such an insignificant person in this world who hasn’t really got anything to offer. I tried so hard in everything I did and yet I still felt insignificant. I wasn’t good at anything. Well that’s a lie, I was. I was in the top sets at school, I always did well. I had the most wonderful friends and family. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t be allowed to have an eating disorder. To have a mental illness, let alone talk about it or seem like I’m complaining. My life was amazing. Is amazing. There are people in this world who would do anything for what I had. For a loving family, parents happily married, all healthy and happy. To have the most amazing friends. To have financial security, food and clean water, a roof over our heads. Education. Healthcare. I could go on and on. Who am I to be suffering, when there are people who have had actual traumatic experiences resulting in their thoughts and worries. I’ve just brought this on myself. Stupid, unthankful girl.
I think I felt insecure. I still do. We all do, I guess. I had (still do, love them all to bits) very high-flyer friends. So I was the quiet one. The ‘other’ one. I deemed myself the follower. The one that wasn’t quite good enough to be in that group. I wasn’t as funny. I wasn’t as smart. I wasn’t as confident. I wasn’t as pretty. Maybe being thin and fit and attractive could be my thing. People seem to like attractive people. Maybe if I work hard enough, I could be like that. Maybe then I won’t feel as worthless, I’ll be more confident and I’ll have something to offer.’
These are just some words that I’d written a while back on different occasions and edited slightly to put together. I want to stress that, while I still occasionally get old thoughts and urges and am not yet fully recovered, I’m definitely not in that place anymore and I’m in a much better mindset and physical state to keep getting healthier. And I’m much happier. My stage in recovery is down to a lot of hard work, tears, love and support from my friends and family (who I basically owe my life to, so thanks guys) – but it’s happened. It’s possible. Just now writing this, I can vividly remember several times over the last 7 years when I didn’t think it would ever be possible (one only a few months ago in fact, but that’s another story). And they’ll still be times when I feel unworthy and insecure, because changing your thought process doesn’t change overnight, but I’m getting better and with each day of thankfulness and happiness, it gets that much easier and the ana inside me gets that much smaller. Controlled by me now, not the other way around.
I know my experience is very different to a lot of others but here I am sharing mine, if you don’t agree or relate or this post conjures up bad thoughts, please just don’t read it and close the tab straight away. I know most/if not all the people who read my posts are lovely, kind and open-minded people and I love you all so much – but if you’re reading this thinking of a not-so-nice comment to post, please don’t – you don’t realise how much damage it can do! I feel very self-conscious publishing this type of stuff, but hearing it help just one or two people encourages me to do it.
There are many reasons I’m sure for the development of this and other mental illnesses, and it’s most definitely not anyone’s fault. I do still feel judgement towards myself sometimes when I actually type out these kind of thoughts, but it’s just one of those things that unfortunately affects 1 in 4 of us. And it sucks. And it’s hard. But it’s temporary. It’s an illness. It’s not us.