I wanted to talk about how it feels to experience different mental health problems, so I decided to do a little series where I’ll be talking about depression, mania, anorexia and OSFED. This is the third post in the series, where I’m talking about anorexia.
On and off for around 14 years, I had anorexia, in both it’s true and atypical forms. It is not an illness of vanity. It has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
Anorexia is like being in an abusive relationship. It tells you that you don’t need anybody else and that it will keep you safe. It isolates you from people who love you, and from yourself. It tells you time and time again that it is the only thing you need it your life, and that as long as it is there, everything will be okay – and that is why it is so frightening. Deep down you know it is lying, but you can’t stop it. It’s like falling down a hole but the bottom never comes, it just keeps moving further and further away. Every waking moment you have is consumed by thoughts of food and soon there is no time to think of anything else at all. When you sleep you dream of food and you wake up in a panic. You start losing touch with who you are and you feel as though you are nothing but your disorder, which is why recovery is so difficult. You don’t know who you are without it anymore, because it has become your whole life. At some point it turns on you. It stops telling you that if you are thin good things will happen, and that it can help you achieve that. It stops telling you that it will keep you safe. It stops being friendly. It tells you that you are a terrible person, that you will be nothing without it, that you are worthless. But once you start to break free from its hold, it starts to become clear that it is lying and you can start to relearn who you are without it in your life.
I’ve never been tube fed. I’ve never been sectioned. My rational brain understands that this is a good thing. The anorexic part of my brain, no matter how small it now is, tells me that’s because I wasn’t a ‘good enough’ anorexic. And that’s why this illness kills people. No matter how sick you get, you are never sick enough. You’re never light enough. You’re never thin enough. I had to fight against what felt like a screaming army to ask for help. I have never, in my life, experienced an emotional pain like having to pick up a cup of milk every day and force myself to drink it after months and months of eating virtually nothing. It physically hurts. The only way I can describe the hatred you feel towards yourself when increasing calories in recovery is like being on fire. I realise that sounds dramatic. But try and imagine the person you hate the most in the world. Now times that by 1000. Now imagine how it would feel to never, ever be able to escape that person. That’s how it feels to eat in anorexia recovery. As my body grew, I physically wanted to rip my own skin off. It’s so hard to live in a body that you feel is killing you, when in reality you are killing your body.
Real talk? I think my body has recovered pretty well. My blood results have been mostly okay. My periods have never gone back to normal. My teeth aren’t in the best condition. But overall, I think my body has forgiven me, which is pretty amazing. I try to be kind to it now. I exercise, I eat vegetables. I take a multivitamin almost as an apology for depriving it of them for so long.
My body allows me to run, to dance, to travel the world. I have hated it with all my heart at times, but now I am learning to love it not for how it looks, but for the opportunities it gives me. And I’ll be forever grateful that it still lets me after how I’ve treated it.
Learning to love your body is hard. But mostly I’ve found that the more I love myself for who I am, the more that my weight doesn’t matter.
I am so much more than the space I inhabit, and I’m getting better at realising that every day.