(CN: depression; anxiety; eating disorders; binge-eating; weight gain; restriction; hospitals)
One month ago I was walking home from seeing friends when I realised I was at breaking point. It was a cold evening: we had been to a pub quiz, and everyone had been drinking, having fun.
Apart from me – I had refused to even touch a drink. Once upon a time I had loved cocktails, but now they seemed ‘bad.’ I said goodbye to my friends and headed back, alone, tired, miserable and malnourished after months of restrictive eating.
University work was also getting harder to complete and I was falling back on my studies. Enough was enough. The following morning I booked an emergency GP appointment.
The doctor saw straight through my denial. He weighed me, told me I was severely underweight, and, honestly, I was shocked. I had never in my life expected to be diagnosed with anorexia. I cried and cried that day. Immediately, the doctor booked me in for blood tests and medical examinations.
The previous month has flown by, and a lot has occurred since I entered recovery. A psychiatric assessment; tears; laughter; panic attacks; coming close to giving up. My relationship with food is still incredibly broken, but I’m getting better.
Reflecting on the experience so far is bittersweet.
On the one hand, I’m proud of my progress, well-aware that everything I’m doing now will help my physical and mental health in the long-term. I’ve recovered plenty of weight already which is, rationally speaking, ideal.
On the other hand, I’m still scared of recovery – it feels like I’m losing something. I still want to drag my heels, kick and scream in protest at the support I’m being offered. I inhabit a place of paradox, feeling both heady appreciation and terrible ingratitude towards everyone that tries to help me. I know I shouldn’t take my health and my body for granted, but something inside of me is wanting to cling to anorexia with all its might.
However, I am learning to let go of this disorder. I was not put on this earth to count calories and worry about gaining weight. I am worth so much more than that and I deserve to achieve much more in life.
Over the previous month, I’ve written several, short journal-style entries on paper, my laptop or the notes application of my phone, attempting to capture and release the highs and lows of recovery. Reading some of them back, I realise I’m still as emotionally volatile as ever…
Sunday 16 March:
I began recovery over a week ago now (7 March). It has been the most tumultuous, anxiety-inducing, scary and lonely time I have ever lived through. But, at the same time, I have also experienced moments of great optimism. Being honest and open at last about my struggles with restriction has given me relief from a burden I have been carrying for too long. At last, I am able to anticipate an anorexia-free future.
That is not to say that doubts cloud my mind in equal measure, overwhelming me. In my darker moments the desire to begin restricting again comes creeping back. Seeing my body change and swell as I begin eating again makes me want to retreat; I want to lose the weight I have gained. I have to banish these thoughts. I remind myself that I sought help last week because I was at breaking point.
Wednesday 27 March
It has now been eleven days since I wrote the passage above. At the time, I figured that writing down my thoughts would help me express my feelings. There are a lot of feelings I am experiencing at the moment, and the mess of thoughts in my head are distracting. But writing about these feelings is definitely helping me make sense of them all.
Twenty days into recovery, and it seems that things are improving. The first week, I had no focus on anything else but food. This was my time in severe ‘extreme hunger’. My body was starving, so all I could do was eat and eat some more. I was terrified. I thought I was now in the grips of Binge Eating Disorder. I would fill my face with everything I could find and then cry about it, only to eat again moments later. All I could think was ‘will I ever be normal?’
Of course, I am still in extreme hunger, and find myself eating amounts that frighten me sometimes. Only yesterday I locked myself in a public toilet to have a good cry after eating two big lunches because I was so frustrated with myself. As frustrated as I was, I reminded myself that eating is not a failure: it is a great success.
Recently, when I worry about how much I have eaten, I have begun to ask myself ‘Why are you afraid of recovering?’ I need to eat. I need to normalise my body weight. Only then will I regain mental clarity. Only then will I regain strength. Only then will my body let go of its extreme hunger, and I will be able to put this whole mess behind me.
Thursday 28 March
It’s nearly four p.m. and I feel terrible. I binged at half twelve. A whole bar of Oreo Cadbury dairy milk, three packets of crisps, and two huge share platters of pineapple. This was after two breakfasts this morning. The pineapple hurt the most, twisting my stomach into cramps. It’s been three and a half hours and I am still crippled by pain. My heart is racing, and I’ve given up trying to work on my coursework. I am not happy with myself.
But I need to look at this as a lesson. I must have eaten all that food because I was more hungry than I realised. Obviously, I have not been eating enough. This is all trial and error. Tomorrow, I will eat more.
Tuesday 2 April
It’s four p.m., and I’m feeling pretty wonderful after having three(!) breakfasts and a substantial lunch earlier. Even though I lack an appetite lately, I’ve found that eating less only makes me have moments of extreme hunger later in the day. Eating huge meals is scary – I worry I will get trapped in a long-term dependency on big portions. But that’s just the anorexic voice speaking. Again I must remind myself that as my weight increases, my relationship with food will normalise. Lesson learned – eat like a king at breakfast.
17.26: and now it’s half five, and I feel terrible. I spoke too soon earlier. A wrap and a hot chocolate have sent me over the edge. I was so happy this morning, taking photos of the food I’d made with pride, but I’ve just had to delete them because of all the guilt and pain I feel all of a sudden. It’s annoying because I need to get on with studying but this stupid disorder keeps me from concentrating on anything else.
If these entries show anything, it’s that recovery is unpredictable, and never linear. You just have to persevere. There is no other option. Safe to say, this month has shown me pain, isolation, anger, frustration – but also great learning.
Recovery hasn’t been fun, that’s for sure. I won’t sugarcoat recovery. There have been many appointments with the doctor; weigh-ins; heart scans and blood tests…and soon I will start attending the outpatient of a psych ward at the hospital once a week. I’m sick of medical environments already. However, it is times like this when I appreciate free healthcare so, so much, and realise it makes me one of the most privileged people on the planet.
When I saw my doctor last week, he said he was pleased with my progress. The anorexic voice saw this as a failure – a sign I have lost control of my restrictive eating. But my ‘progress’ is a success. I’m taking steps toward an anorexia-free future.
I’ve also developed more ways of coping with anxious thoughts. Writing this blog has been one, although writing in general has been a great way to release pent-up emotions. I’ve found great comfort in reading other blogs, too – especially those written by people going through recovery themselves. They show me that recovery is possible, and one day I too will be able to feel strong and happy in my body.
Now. Back to the tired, miserable person that phoned the doctor a month ago. If I had to go back in time and visit myself at the very beginning of recovery, I would say the most important pieces of wisdom I would pass on are:
- It is amazing that you have sought help. It was difficult, but this in itself is something to be proud of.
- your body might hurt and cramp now – but pain does not last forever!
- It is NORMAL to experience extreme hunger.
- Extreme hunger comes and goes. Some days you will want to eat everything in the fridge – and you will do just that. Other days you will eat less. This is fine. You are getting used to dealing with hunger. Just make sure you eat.
- Binge-eating is EXPECTED. Do not even try to resist the extreme hunger. It is your body trying to nourish itself.
- Sure, your stomach is bloated. Everyone in anorexia recovery gets the bloated stomach, though. It will normalise. Keep eating.
- I repeat: keep eating.
- Sadness passes. Be patient; you will also feel happiness, and it will remind you that life is worth living.
- Stop being so hard on yourself. Wallowing in guilt and self-pity is not going to help you move on with your life.
- Instead, focus on all the things you like about yourself. Compliment yourself for your talents.
- Every day, look in the mirror and tell yourself that you love yourself.
But the greatest lesson I’ve learnt?
Everything will get better! It’s cliché, sure, but so true. Of course I have down days, but my mental clarity is improving. My body is getting stronger. I’m starting to appreciate taste again. Friends are telling me that they see the light reappear in my eyes. One month, and I’m beginning to be me again.
If you are in your early stages of recovery, too, then I hope you know that you are not alone. I understand how lonely you may feel, but I’m absolutely rooting for you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments below if you want any motivation. Keep your head up – you are amazing, and you should be proud of your progress.
One month down! Here’s to the next. Thanks for reading.