September 23, 2013

purple heartI wrote my first blog post for Time to Change about a year ago.

At the time I found it difficult to speak about my eating disorder and recovery, both within my personal life, but especially at work. I kept this a secret and anticipated that, if I shared, I would be judged or viewed differently.

However, since my last blog post, I’ve begun to embrace the challenge of speaking out about eating disorders a little bit more, at least. I’ve been inspired by others who bravely share their own story to begin to share my own.

I started to write a blog

I started to write a blog, initially about my individual recovery process. At first I kept this from everyone, apart from my partner and a couple of friends.

I enjoyed writing and I think some of what I had to say had relevance to others. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to share my writing with my family and friends. I didn’t want this part of my story to be a secret anymore.

I wanted to be real and authentic. And a part of me just started to care less about others’ opinions. Why should I be ashamed of something which in the beginning wasn’t my fault and which has required huge determination and a lot of hard work to overcome. I didn’t have to allow the fear of judgement to silence me.

I shared my blog on Facebook

Eventually I shared my blog on Facebook. And (to my utter surprise) people shared it with their friends, and the main message I received was that people were glad I had shared ‘because it will encourage others to talk about it’. I haven’t always had such a positive reaction during my journey of being more open but that’s ok too.

My blog initially helped me to put things into words, when I would have struggled to do this face to face. I write about a variety of topics now. I think this is important because a big part of recovery involves finding a sense of identity which is separate from the eating disorder. When you are no longer so trapped by the thoughts and behaviours, there is space in your life for other things like people, work, activity, travel or whatever your passion is. I want my story to communicate this.

I don't hide my experience of anorexia any more

Eating disorders, like other mental health problems, can sap any sense of freedom and spontaneity. They also thrive on secrecy. Recovery is about reclaiming and recreating a meaningful and fulfilling life. My experience of anorexia isn’t the first thing I share with people when I meet them but neither is it something I hide anymore.

I talk to friends. I don’t feel uncomfortable with bringing it up in the conversation. I tweet about it. I feel more able to challenge ‘negative body talk’ or ‘fat talk’ when I hear it. I can challenge the stereotyped images of eating disorders. I can be honest about what the recovery process involves for many. I’m hoping to do a sponsored event for my local Eating Disorder charity soon, and as well as raising money, I hope this will raise awareness.

Talking about it has actually made my recovery process easier

I’m still on my journey. And maybe that’s ok too. What I have learnt is that talking about it has actually made my recovery process easier. It means I am less able to hide, less able to make excuses to myself. I am grateful to the people who have challenged me throughout my life, even though I’m sure at the time that I didn’t appear grateful and probably wasn’t. I was worried that, by talking, people would only see me through the lens of my eating disorder and that I would be judged in the light of this. But the reality is that most people are able to see the things that make us individually ‘us’, and are in fact willing to support us to build on those things.

Another reason I chose to speak out about my experiences is that I believe it’s important to normalise the whole idea of ‘mental health’ as something we all have. It isn’t something ‘out there’; it is something we all experience. Not everyone will have a diagnosable mental health problem, and not everyone’s internal (or external) life will be shattered by the force of their difficulties. But most of us will experience some form and degree of mental distress at some point. It’s part of being human. And if we acknowledged that, maybe it would feel safer to open up the conversation and talk just that little bit more.

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