As 2018 ends and a new year begins, many of us spend time reflecting on past experiences. This personal account of someone recalling their battle with anorexia several years ago, delivers a strong and profound message about accepting who we are right now. We do not need to give in to society’s labels and destroy what makes us, us.
I guess there’s a certain bittersweet irony that I’m writing this article on the five-year anniversary of my admission to an inpatient unit, which specialised in treating young people with eating disorders.
I’m sitting here, drinking my black filter coffee from Pret, and thinking about how different this day has started in comparison to the way Friday 13th December 2013 commenced. This morning, I ran along West Sands in St Andrews and watched the sky blister scarlet in one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen this year. Though I may have been simultaneously battling a gale force headwind and trying not to trip over my own two feet, this morning was remarkably (and, undoubtedly) a hell of a lot better than this time five years ago. Back then, I put on as many layers of clothing as I possibly could before heading in for my bi-weekly observation at the outpatient centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), back in an icy portacabin on a building site at a hospital somewhere in the UK.
Five years ago today, I was threatened with being sectioned if I didn’t voluntarily agree to take the empty bed that was available and waiting for me in the unit. Five years ago today, I was wheelchaired into the place I would call “home” for the next three months, balling my eyes out and utterly broken from the most mentally and physically draining eight weeks of my life. Five years ago today, I hit red zone and began a refeeding program - which I would later come to see as being my salvation. Five years ago today, I hit rock bottom.
And five years on, I can honestly say: that is a place I never, ever wish to - or will ever see again.
This morning my face is rounder and fuller, but there’s clearly life in it. This morning my leggings fit snugly around my thighs and as I sit typing away, I’m aware of my breakfast sitting in my belly and it’s not something my mum had to spend thirty minutes trying to spoon feed me. I’m no longer the ghost of a girl. I have a degree, a job (well two, because I’m a workaholic), and friends who know me as a person that isn’t defined by what she eats and how much she works out. Instead, I’m someone who loves her food – hosting dinners and baking as often as I can. It’s a very different life to the one I lived in 2013 and it’s one which has seen so much more happiness, because food is no longer my sole focus. I fill my days by spending time with the people I love and doing the things I love.
Life really is too short to be hung up on aesthetic appearances and, though I learnt this the hard way (and still struggle to remember sometimes), it’s a motto for existence which I think we all ought to be reminded of on occasion. Especially in a world where so much time, emotion and mental angst is spent hating the way we, as a society, look. The desire to change every aspect of ourselves in an endless and unachievable quest to be something we anatomically cannot ever achieve, is no way to live a life which we are given one shot at. To be skinny is not to be skeletal. To be happy is not to be starving.
As you can probably already tell from this diatribe of sorts, I’m not going to glamorise eating disorders. Eating disorders aren’t glamorous. No one ever thinks it will happen to them. You hear stories, you see pictures. You read articles about celebrities and models who have BMI’s that really shouldn’t be published to the general public, because of the triggers they hold for a society which hosts a startlingly heart-breaking amount of eating disorder sufferers. So many young girls and boys are dying because of what initially starts as a shoddy diet or addiction to exercise. They are those friends that suddenly lose a noticeable amount of weight: their face becomes gaunt, their eyes lose their brightness, their arms and legs become emaciated and you notice that they seem a bit more hairy than usual. You hear people say, ‘Oh my god you’re so thin,’ ‘You look so good I wish I could be like you’, ‘How did you do it?’, ‘Are you anorexic?’, ‘Oh my god I want to be anorexic’.
No, no, no, no, no!
Absolutely not. You do not want to be Anorexic.
Anorexic isn’t a choice. No matter what people may say, you don’t choose to be Anorexic. There is a difference between wanting to be skinny and wanting to be so clinically underweight, that your muscles start consuming themselves to the point where you can no longer control your bladder. Your bones break when someone gives you a hug. Or you wake up with clumps of hair on your pillow which have fallen out, because you are so malnourished your body can no longer support all of its normal functions.
I am a firm believer in the fact that people are heavily influenced by those around them. Nothing ever happened to me in my childhood that mentally scarred me. I had a wonderful upbringing and the most supportive and incredible family dynamic a girl could wish for. My friends and boyfriend at the time were all phenomenally positive influences in my life, but for some reason there was a wiring in my brain that taught me to be constantly comparative to others. I would see girls that were skinnier than me and think, ‘I want to be like that’.
Those are the popular girls. Those are the girls who are fancied, those are the girls who are going to go far… I focused on becoming skinny because that’s what we are taught to believe. Skinny is good. Muscular is bad. As soon as that definition was established in my mind, stubbornness combined with addiction took over - I became confident that I wasn’t going to fail in this new (and particularly physically demanding) challenge.
This challenge was the hardest battle of my life.
In losing weight, I lost not just a part of who I was, but the part that made me - me. The essential nature of who you are is not worth sacrificing for anyone or anything. You are worth more than a number.
Human beings are so much more complex than we can possibly comprehend, but the beauty of living is that we always have a choice. We can choose to give in to the urges which the darker parts of our mind encourage. We can choose to let our demons run wild and ruin our lives.
Or we can choose to say no.
To say absolutely and resolutely, ‘No’. Not a chance. Not today. Not tomorrow. Maybe on a dark Tuesday next month, when the body dysmorphia hits a little too hard. But not for long, because to rally is to rejoice in the gift of living and so that’s what we do.
We rally against the guilt, the sadness, the temptation to shrink into an unrecognisable nothingness. And instead? We choose to thrive. To eat because it is a basic human requirement in order to survive. To enjoy the act of eating which brings so many people together in unity 3 or 4 times a day, every day of the week. Eating is normal. Food is something to be enjoyed. Don’t ever let anyone make you think otherwise.
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