I suffered from anorexia nervosa between the age of fifteen and a half and twenty-two and a half. That’s seven years of my life. More than one quarter of my years.
I don’t know why I became ill. My parents loved me and I loved them and we have always told each other that. I did well at school but I know that my parents would have been happy so long as I tried my best. I had male and female friends. I wasn’t abused. Nobody in my family has ever been on a diet. I always ate well: fruit and veg as well as the odd pack of crisps and a cake. Though I could probably be accused of being over-sensitive, I was chatty and funny with plenty of interests.
I struggle to find a cause. Yet I know my parents will always blame themselves and the thought I’ll never be able to convince them otherwise is something I’ll always find hard to deal with.
that prolonged erosion of my self-esteem... had some effect on me
At secondary school, perhaps, was where things went awry. I moved up with some girls from junior school who, I can see now, were jealous of me. They made digs at my appearance. I was called a teacher’s pet without basis – I wasn’t. I don’t like to lay blame when there’s a lot of literature now pointing to the possibility of a biological disposition towards eating disorders. But that prolonged erosion of my self-esteem – coupled with a personal and school-led pressure to succeed – well, perhaps both had some effect on me.
I don’t remember much about my descent into anorexia. All I remember is one day eating a tiny piece of toast with a tomato for my tea and wondering how I’d got to that point. I think perhaps my brain has blanked a lot of those years out. I passed my GSCEs, my A-levels and my degree. How I coped, I’ll never know. But with hindsight, I wonder if having these qualifications to focus on kept me alive.
A handful of strong friends kept me going. But many – most – drifted away
A handful of strong friends kept me going. But many – most – drifted away. Though I was angry at them when I was first in recovery, I can’t say what I would have done in that situation. Maybe I’d have run away too. So I’ve turned my anger into a resolution that I won’t ever turn my back on a friend that needs help like I did.
I had counselling throughout my illness. Nothing helped. It was only after I’d returned home from university that things became untenable. I went to my doctor about something unrelated and she referred me – without my knowing – to an inpatient unit. I agreed to be admitted voluntarily but I would have been sectioned had I not.
My health restored, I was able to come home
It’s frightening to think I almost died. Specifically, that I almost killed myself. But my admission – maybe the trauma of it - marked a turning point in my mind. It was an awful experience that warrants an article of its own – but at the same time, it was the best thing that had happened to me for years. My health restored, I was able to come home. I’m proud to say I was the unit’s shortest-staying patient for a long time, if not ever.
It’s unrealistic to expect that I can have no regrets. Of course I do. I was ill for a significant proportion of my life – and at a time when a lot of people, however much of a cliché it may be, are finding out who they are and experiencing things for the first time, and having fun. When I first began to recover properly, I found myself bitter at people younger than me. I was jealous. That feeling made me very uncomfortable – it wasn’t their fault I missed out on things, after all – but I couldn’t deny it. I just had to cry it out.
Initially, during my recovery, I was unemployed and very depressed.
Initially, during my recovery, I was unemployed and very depressed. Though you’d have thought that, finally free from my eating disorder, I should have been happy, not having a job – a purpose – actually made me question the point of getting better. Like the bitterness, that feeling was very unpleasant, and I had to work very hard to keep it from getting on top of me. On reflection now, I can see that early adulthood is a tough time for everyone and perhaps I’ve come out the other side better than some.
Finally, the job came – and with it, a new start: a chance to do all that finding out who I was malarkey. And eighteen months on, richer by new friends (as well as a stronger relationship with existing ones), some money and, significantly, a sense of making a difference, I finally feel like I’ve caught up. I don’t believe things happen for a reason, so I can’t say everything’s how it should have been – but I’m happy I’m where I should be. And I’m confident that the person I am now can find better ways of coping with hard times.
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You can find more information about anorexia nervosa on on the NHS website.