I have never found it easy to share my story about my Anorexia. I struggle with people knowing too much about me, and am always afraid of judgement. Afraid it will hold me back in my career and afraid of people watching my every move and judging everything I eat.
Back in 2014 I made a deal with myself that I would try and open up more about my history. I decided that there was no need to be ashamed of it and that maybe my story could help inspire others. I made baby steps to do this, wrote a few blogs and began to talk more openly at work or with my friends. People were always very welcoming to my face, always said it was interesting and that it didn’t matter but I always worried what they thought. Worried that they would see me as weak, worried that they would think I couldn’t do a good job, worried that I didn’t actually look like I had had an eating disorder.
What I wanted people to realise is that just because you can’t see there is something physically wrong with someone, it doesn’t mean that they are fine. Mental health is scarily secret. And when you have a mental health problem you have no idea when it will pounce. It could be hiding for years and years, you beating it and then suddenly… out of nowhere… it creeps up. Slowly. Pulling you down. Pulling you closer. Seducing you and tempting you. Eating you from the inside out. At first it’s easy to ignore, easy to shut up and easy to forget. But as it beats you, further and further down, the mask gets harder to cover it. There are days when you can’t laugh, days when you don’t feel like getting up and then days when you just want to give up fighting and let it win.
I had a best friend when I was younger, Anorexia, I felt like she knew me, she cared about me and she wanted to be a part of me. She taught me everything I needed to know. She valued me, she appreciated me and she made me feel good about myself. But in reality she didn’t. In reality she was manipulative. She ran me in to the ground. She pushed people away from me, beat me up when I was down. Trapped me in a vicious cycle. Led me astray up until my heart nearly stopped and I was admitted to a mental health hospital where I lived for a year.
At the start of 2016, I was still doing okay. I had fought her off since my discharge. Had great days, relaxed more about food and wasn’t obsessed with exercising. But then she crept back in to my life. In March 2016, my grandma died after a long battle with alzheimer’s. That's when Anorexia came back in to my life. She held me close when I struggled with the emotions. She encouraged me to run, to count calories and to let her befriend me. And she succeeded.
Or did she…
No. I am a stubborn person, I knew my signs of relapse and I knew what I needed to do. I was not going to let her beat me again. I didn’t want to be friends with her. She was not a true friend – whatever she told me and I had better friends now. Relationships that meant so much more to me and I did not want her to be a part of me.
This year, 2016, I decided I wanted to be more open about Anorexia. I have lost two friends to suicide and one to Anorexia and I want to help you realise that she isn’t worth it. When I decided to share my story, I was scared, I was full of nervous anticipation, unsure what people would think and how people would react to it. But I realised that no one should be afraid of having a mental health problem. And no one should be ashamed.
I shouldn’t be ashamed of my mini relapse this year. Instead it shows I am a fighter, I am stronger than her and I believe that if we break the taboo of talking about mental health then society will become more supportive, a more loving, caring place, and we will be able to gather strength from those around us.
Hope Virgo has written a book about her life with anorexia, Stand Tall Little Girl, in which she shares her harrowing yet inspiring journey, through her letters and diary entries.