So it’s been 10 years since I first went into hospital. 10 years since my skeletal body that could barely put one foot in front of the other looked up at the flight of stairs leading to Phoenix Wing, the eating disorder unit at St Ann’s hospital. I had no idea how I was going to make it up those stairs and I had no idea what was going to be waiting in store for me at the top.
|Me 10 years ago|
After about 20 minutes, I had finally made it to the top of the 20 stairs, my legs crumbling beneath me. When I entered the doors I though to myself, “I’ll do what I have to, I’ll gain weight, leave in a month or so and everything will go back to normal and I’ll get on life.” How wrong was I! Here I am, a decade later, still tortured by that poisonous devil called anorexia. It’s not quite as strong as it was but it still has the power to control me, to torture my mind and to limit and restrict my life.
Most people don’t know what it’s like living with anorexia. They just think it means that you’re thin and you don’t like eating. People often don’t realise that actually, you can spend years in hospital with an eating disorder and that it can completely and utterly destroy your life. I have spent my fair share of time in hospitals – near enough 3 years. But the eating disorder doesn’t just disappear when you leave. And leaving is when the real battle starts. You have to try and live life whilst fighting this ‘thing’ in your head. To not give into the urges of anorexia is so bloody hard and trying to juggle living life, with a head that doesn’t want to live life – it’s like trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle that just doesn’t fit.
You also have to try and fit back into a world that has moved on without you. when you suffer with anorexia, particularly when you are in hospital, time in your world freezes. For my first hospital admission I was 19, for my last I was 23. Everyone I knew had moved on with life. And even since my last admission – yes, I’ve been living in the ‘real world’ but I haven’t lived the normal life of someone in their 20’s. Anorexia doesn’t allow that. And, having gained weight this past year (unintentionally), people assume you must be getting better. But the head is a long way behind the body.
People just see the thin (or not so thin) person that doesn’t eat much. They don’t see the constant daily exercise, the constant thoughts of food and weight, what they can eat, what they can’t eat, what they want to eat and what they are terrified of eating. They don’t see the tears that down stream most evenings with exhaustion and desperation of feeling locked up by anorexia. They don’t see the loneliness and fear of daily activities, the arguments with loved ones because of anorexia, the sitting down to meals and feeling sheer panic that the portion is too big. They don’t see the difficulty concentrating because of the voice in the head telling them they are fat, repulsive, greedy and that every waking moment should be spent on a mission to lose weight and the overwhelming feeling of guilt for not doing so. They didn’t see the panic attacks that, when in hospital, used to happen about 5 times a day and even now, years later, when going about normal life – catching a train, sitting in lessons, that feeling of a panic attack about to happen can surge over me. They didn’t see the two emergency blood transfusions because of the internal bleeding caused by the damage anorexia had made me do to my body. They didn’t see that stash of antidepressants which, 7 years ago, I had been storing for my suicide. People just don’t see how hard it is living with an eating disorder.
So when people think about anorexia and just assume that ‘you are thin and don’t like eating’, they couldn’t be more wrong. For one, weight is not a determinant of anorexia. Just simply gaining weight does not mean you are better. The urge to lose weight now is stronger than its been for years. I’m 3.5 stone heavier now than I was a decade ago, but my head is still trying to catch up. Yes, I do think about recovery now which I didn’t 10 years ago, but I also still very much think about losing weight, imaging how good it would feel to be skinny gain. And it’s made all the harder because of a lack of eating disorder treatment for anyone who is not a walking skeleton. And this needs to change, as do the stigmas and stereotypes of eating disorders. Training doctors only receive 2 hours of study dedicated to eating disorders. Is it any wonder that most people don’t understand them or know what they are about, or that they just assume it is ‘thin people who don’t like to eat much?’
And for those who are also suffering, don’t give up. Recovery (certainly in my case) is not a one-way street lined with beds of flowers. It is a hard slog up a mountain and sometimes boulders roll down and knock you back. I have been knocked back – my head is struggling, and I hate my body more than I’ve hated it for years. And this isn’t to be depressing – it’s for all the other sufferers who feel the same, whose recovery isn’t a straight forward path back to health and happiness. This is ok…but don’t give in. As tempting as it is and as much as you want to run back to the safety of anorexia, you must keep fighting. I certainly will. The last 10 years have been hard, very hard. I don’t know what the future holds but I’m not going to give up hope. In the words of Heather Small: “You’ve got to search for the hero inside yourself, until you find the key to your life.” It will take a hero to beat anorexia. But we can do it.