Like 1.6 million people in the UK, I have a diagnosed eating disorder. For the past 8 years I have led a very strange life revolving around food, weight and the mystical idea of ‘recovery.’
The 11th of February marks the annual Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Expect to hear lots of recovery stories from people who’ve reclaimed their lives after the hell of an eating disorder. Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to join in with them, but for now I have to accept that, though I wouldn’t class myself as having a full-blown eating disorder, I can’t quite put the past 8 years of struggling with one behind me.
My eating disorder developed when I was 13. Anorexia didn’t happen by accident; I was incredibly depressed and knew when I started ‘dieting’ that I wanted to lose a lot of weight and didn’t intend on stopping. It wasn’t a ‘diet that went wrong,’ it was a conscious effort to starve myself to death, to punish myself for some unknown reason. I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 14, was hospitalised for 13 weeks and struggled with it for a good 4 years. I think that I could’ve made something resembling a ‘full recovery’ if I hadn’t decided that, at aged 18, I was sane enough to take responsibility for my actions. I came off my antidepressants, stopped seeing my therapist and dove headfirst into bulimia. Now I’m 21 and, though I don’t engage in disordered behaviours half as much as I used to, the thought of them is ever-present in my mind.
There’s an odd perception that you either recover from an eating disorder, or you don’t. Yes or no. You win or you die (cheeky Game of Thrones reference). There is no inbetween.
Except, there is; I know this because I’m living it. I spent all of my teenage years obsessing over food, and that’s not something that’s easy to leave behind. Just because I don’t throw up doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a stupid amount of time thinking about it. I can go out for meals, eat fatty foods, and live something resembling a ‘normal life,’ but my eating disorder is still something which I deal with on a daily (hourly/minute-ly) basis.
That’s not to say that I’m not 1000 times better than I was when I was ill, nor does it mean that a full recovery isn’t possible. I’ve known plenty of people make a ‘full recovery’ from an eating disorder, who have been able to put their issues behind them and move on with their lives. Even I’ve reached a point where I can see just how far I’ve come. For a very long time I was 100% convinced that I wouldn’t reach a point where my eating disorder didn’t completely rule my life and, I can tell you, it feels bloody amazing.
Recovery from an eating disorder isn’t easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and it’s annoying that I can’t put it on my CV to show my ‘strength of character’ and ‘determination to do my best.’ However, I don’t regret engaging in recovery one bit. I can’t even begin to explain just how hellish having an eating disorder is, how fear and anxiety and self-loathing can consume you so much that you feel like you’re a shell of a person, completely dead inside. I can, however, tell you that, for all of the horrible memories and emotional turmoil of recovery, it’s worth it. Even if you don’t make a ‘full’ recovery straight away, life can still be absolutely incredible.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, http://www.treatment
Eating Disorder Awareness Week, 11th-17th February 2013. For more information see http://www.b-eat.co.uk/