12th July 2016
“My name is Laura and I am currently in recovery from an eating disorder”. This is a phrase I still find very hard to accept but one I am learning to live with.
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa Summer 2014, age 18. People ask, I even ask myself, what was the starting point of my illness and what set it off. If only I knew these answers. As I have learnt along my journey, mental illnesses are complex and the solutions unfortunately are not handed over to us.
A number of events happened in that time period. I got diagnosed with glandular fever which knocked me back. I got behind on my school work and had to spend a lot of time resting at home in order to regain my strength. It was my final year of sixth form, exams had always been a worry for me. I became fixated on getting the grades to get into university so I didn’t let anyone down. Food, body and exercise soon became more present in my day to day thinking, until it was all I could focus on. The success of my day had shifted from getting a hello in the corridor at school from the boy everyone was after, to how little food I could consume and how much exercise I could participate in. I was oblivious to this at the time, people started noticing my actions but I was so wrapped up in my illness, I didn’t want to listen to anyone. The only one I could listen to was my eating disorder. All I can describe it as is a constant voice inside my head nagging away. It became my only friend, the only person I could trust, I followed its rules and it would give me the safety it promised.
That Summer things went from bad to worse. I had started receiving outpatient treatment. Unfortunately, at this point I was not ready to give up any of my eating disorder. I went to my appointments to keep my family and friends off my case, when actually day by day I could tell I was falling deeper into the depths of my illness.
By September I had decided that I wasn’t ready for university, so took a gap year. This was when my compulsive working started. I had a full time retail job and also waitressed a few evenings a week. On my days off from the shop I would do another receptionist job. I couldn’t relax and enjoy being a teenager, I had to be busy otherwise I was convinced bad things would happen. While doing all this, I was saving up to go travelling. That is how I rationalised working so hard to both myself and those concerned, I was saving for what was meant to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Me and a school friend had planned a trip across the world to New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia. The amount of people that warned me it was a bad idea to go, I wasn’t bothered. I had made my mind up, or perhaps my eating disorder had convinced me, either way I was going!
February 2015 came and off we went. From day 1, I was a mess. Any food at this point seemed so overwhelming, my eating disorder had control of me. The Laura that was around a couple of years ago was nowhere to be seen. At every opportunity I was jumping out of planes, black water rafting, hiking, climbing glaciers…my body was falling apart. Within the first month I no longer had the strength to keep fighting. Luckily there was a bit of light inside me that reached out to my parents. I told them I was in a state and didn’t know what to do. That was it, my mum was straight out to get me!
She had found an inpatient facility abroad which I knew was my only hope in surviving this illness. I quickly signed the papers before my ED convinced me I was fine. Unfortunately, this did happen, it fought back. Once mum finally managed to track me down across the other side of the world, she helped me get straight to South Africa. Without her being there for me I definitely would never have made it, my eating disorder had completely taken over me.
The programme at the inpatient facility was 8 weeks. I had made a pact with my eating disorder that I would stick it out and if I didn’t like recovery life, I could easily revert back to my illness. This was shattered. On my first day my therapist told me I would be staying for a minimum of 6 months! I couldn’t handle the news, I strongly fought back. I told them I didn’t have an eating disorder, I was fine, I just needed to be home in England and it would all go away. Luckily none of this was taken on board!
Treatment certainly was not a walk in the park for me. I used to read stories of people starting therapy and handing everything over straight away, they wanted recovery and it was that simple. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience. I would say even after being there for 6 months I still hadn’t let go, I was there to keep them and my family happy. I was still desperate to get out!
Fortunately, the team at the facility advised me to stay an extra few months, this is when I started seeing that life was worth fighting for. They gave me a bit of independence, I started making decisions for myself. I noticed a slight shift in my thinking pattern, yes my ED voice was still very much present but I had the choice whether to act on it or not.
After nearly 9 months of inpatient care, I returned home to England absolutely petrified. I was scared of not being able to do it, not being able to keep up what I had been taught, letting myself and others down.
It certainly was not easy. I still remember how strong the voices were as soon as I got back. The restrictive voice was just as it was before, I felt like I had got nowhere. It took time for me to realise these voices may never go away, it’s just how I cope with them. Every day I remind myself, one slip up doesn’t mean I have failed recovery. It’s a journey with ups and downs but I make sure I keep the same goal in mind: to be able to live a life where I can go on holiday; have a family; a job; a husband, yes I may never fully get rid of my eating disorder but I can manage it.
Throughout my journey so far I have learnt how important it is to speak up and ask for help, however small or silly it may seem. I believe I am closer to my family than I ever have been. I still have ongoing therapy sessions with the inpatient facility in South Africa, see someone for my exercise addiction and have regular check-ups with my local doctor. I believe this support should be ongoing and is very important for my recovery. It helps me stay on track, instead of bottling up my thoughts and behaviours which only feeds into my illness, I can now share them which enables me to feel less isolated and alone.
I know I still have a long way to go, but I am on the right tracks. I am not going to say life is now simple and I no longer have any ED thoughts but on the whole I am cheerful and looking forward to a brighter future. I have been taught to speak openly about my experience and know I need not be ashamed or embarrassed that I suffer from an eating disorder. I didn’t chose to get ill, to harm myself and others around me. I have a mental illness that unfortunately ruin so many lives, however I am determined not to give in without a fight!