I was asked to write a letter to my younger self for the eating disorder charity FirstSteps ED. What would I say to the younger me knowing what I know now. Anorexia clearly started to creep into my life when I was a young teenager, although I didn’t know it at the time. This letter was hard to write. I wish I could go back in time and give the younger me a hug and tell her she is loved and that she is good enough. Hopefully in sharing this letter, I can help others who may find themselves feeling like I did back then. And hopefully, it might help others stop falling in the same destructive path with anorexia that I fell into.
I know starting secondary school was hard. Struggling to make new friends shattered your self-confidence. You became convinced that you were the most unlikeable, boring, ugly person to ever have existed. You had a dream – you wanted to become a professional athlete and you dedicated so much of your time to training and competing. In a world where you felt you didn’t belong, the athletics track was your safe haven. Your home. But there was pressure. You wanted to be a better athlete and you were certain the only way to achieve that would be to get into a good sporting university and, importantly, to lose weight.
To get into a good sporting university you had to do well in your GCSE’s and A-Levels. More pressure. But you got through it. You studied hard and you exceeded your expectations. But still, you never felt good enough. Still convinced that no one liked you, and even more convinced that the way to improve your life, your running, your popularity, was to lose weight. That was the answer to all your problems.
Moving away from home and going to university was a challenge. I know how home sick you were. But you confided in a flat mate during freshers week who, to your surprise, said they felt exactly the same. You realised that actually many freshers missed their homes and that you were not “weird” for feeling like that. For the first time since primary school, you felt like you had made a good group of friends during your first few weeks at university. You found people who accepted you just the way you were, and liked you. But even that couldn’t save you.
You hadn’t realised that throughout your tough years at secondary school, anorexia had started growing in your mind. You hadn’t realised that your periods stopping at 14, and you hiding food and throwing your lunches away was a sign that something wasn’t right. To yourself, you just thought that you were doing your best to follow your dream. I wish you had spoken to someone at this point. Talked to them about how you were feeling rather than bottling up all your sadness. They could have helped you and supported you.
But you went to university and continued on that same path – following your dream to become that professional athlete and trying to lose weight in order to achieve it. However, anorexia took over at this point. Several months into university you knew something wasn’t right. You were struggling to complete your training sessions and you felt trapped in your head. Constantly thinking about food and exercise. You became distant from the friends you had wished for for so long. And you became so physically weak that you knew your athletics dream had gone. You were scared. You were scared of what was happening to your body and how out of control your mind had become. But you felt powerless to it. So you continued.
Your friends reached out to you and asked you to speak to someone to get some help. But it was too late. There was nothing that could stop the demon that had possessed your body. Maybe if you had spoken to someone earlier as a 14 year old when that demon first started appearing, you could have had the strength to fight it off. But, five years later, the demon had grown to strong. You couldn’t fight it. You were ready for it to kill you. But your friends and family were not.
The next three years that followed were some of the hardest of your life. Three inpatient admissions to eating disorder units. You tried fighting the system – you wanted to dedicate your life to anorexia. You couldn’t see that it had poisoned your mind and you hated anyone that got in its way. But your family never gave up on you. You started to realise that a life ruled by anorexia was not the life you thought it was. It was a lonely, never ending torture.
After three years, you started to want more life. And you started to fight the demon. By god was it hard. You started speaking to people and opening up as you realised that talking helped. Rather than pushing your family away, you relied on their love and support. You decided to stop keeping secrets. Secrets helped anorexia keep control of you. When you were honest, it gave anorexia less strength. You spent hours agonising over every meal time. But you constantly reminded yourself that if you wanted to have a life where you could go out with friends, go on holiday, just have a life where you could be happy, then you had to eat. And actually, you found that the more you ate, the less scary it became and you started to enjoy it.
You decided to go back to university to finish your degree but you wanted to stay living at home. It was a hard four years and no one at the university spoke to you during that time, but you finished your degree. Your family and community team were invaluable during that time and you continued to make sure you were talking and being honest. When you started your new job you were scared. It was very demanding and you were again convinced that you wouldn’t be good enough. But you were. And the best thing about the job was that you started socialising. You started to build a life outside of your eating disorder.
The more you bought into your life, the smaller anorexia became. You continued taking on new challenges, new studies, new jobs, new social circles, and you started to flourish. Life was growing bigger by the day and anorexia was shrinking. Anorexia now sits on your shoulder. It shouts at you sometimes, but you always try and answer back. When it shouts really loudly, you remember to talk to people, you distract yourself, you remind yourself of how far you have come and that you will not go back. So you put it back on your shoulder and tell it to be quiet.
To my younger self – believe in yourself. Believe that people can like you, believe in your own abilities and talents, believe that you are good enough. Because you are.
All my love, Bex
You can also find this, and other people’s letters to their younger selves on the FirstSteps ED Facebook Page:https://www.facebook.com/FirstStepsED/posts/2917382481701236
If you want to hear more about my story, you can pre-order my book – Find the details in the Book Section of my website: Rebecca Quinlan Book
You can also book me to deliver a talk – Find the details in the About section of my website: About