Anorexia is an evil illness.
Onlookers might be confused as to why some of us try to cling onto it so hard. Why would anyone want an illness that makes them so miserable? And, why, after recovery, do people keep going back to it time and time again? Relapse rates are high, and full recovery rates not brilliant.
There are two things that make it so difficult to overcome. One, is that the more unwell you get, the less insight you have. When I relapsed in 2019 I knew pretty early on that I needed more support and was referred back into the eating disorders service again. However, by the time I was admitted to day patient six months later, I had completely lost sight of how bad things had got and thought that everyone around me was being dramatic and worrying unnecessarily. It’s hard to recover from something when you never feel like you’re ‘sick enough’. You always feel like you can’t start to get better until you’ve reached a certain milestone: a new BMI bracket, a target weight, a hospital admission. You will never be sick enough in anorexia’s eyes to feel like you deserve recovery.
Secondly, there is something I like to call the ‘grass is greener’ effect. Anorexia – and the early stages of recovery – are both awful. But the longer you are away from it, the further into recovery you get, the less bad it seems. You forget about the fainting and the hospital admissions and the crippling hunger pangs. You no longer remember the constant nauseating anxiety or the brain fog or how sad you made everyone. The refeeding discomfort and the dizziness and the joint pain are a distant memory. Suddenly, it doesn’t really seem so bad at all. Because whilst we forget the bad bits, the good bits are crystal clear in our minds. The euphoria at seeing the number on the scale drop. The buzz of hunger. And most of all, the thinness. I can’t pretend I didn’t love being the skinniest person in the room or being swamped by my clothes, but my brain is very good at pretending that this came pain free accompanied by happiness and confidence. And this is why anorexia is so, so insidious, because it’s a fucking liar.
Please hear me when I say this: the grass was not greener. You were not happier when you were thinner. You were anxious and sad and irritable, and a shell of the person you are when you are well. Yes, it may have been easier to get dressed in the morning, but it was not easier to exist. It is so easy to run back to an illness that makes you think there are no downsides, when actually the ultimate downside is the possibility of death. It is never, ever worth relapsing.
One of the hardest things about recovery for me is trying to remind myself of all the bad things that came along with being thin. I romanticise my illness, looking back over photos of myself at my lowest weights and convincing myself I was happier in my existence. But I really want this to be the last time I let anorexia trick me into thinking my life was better when I was underweight. So I write this, not just for anybody reading, but for myself. As a record for me to look back on and remember that I don’t want to be sick anymore. I want to enjoy life in all its richness and glory, and I can’t do that with anorexia ruling my life.
Note to self: life was not better on the other side. Repeat, repeat, repeat.