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Anything is possible. Even recovery.

Trigger warning: Personal account of eating disorders, with mentions of anorexia nervosa, weight, hospital, in-patient. 

For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Melissa, a Training Officer at Mind in Mid Herts, has written about her lived experience of Anorexia Nervosa, and what recovery means to her, in hopes of raising awareness.


Melissa’s story:

I never aimed to be anorexic. I highly doubt that anybody does. 

I was 16 when what started as going to the gym, swimming, and eating better, spiralled into an illness that could’ve ended my life. Before I knew it, aged 17, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

I didn’t recognise myself anymore, it was as though everything I knew myself to be had been taken away by the illness. With anorexia, your world becomes so tiny, not only are you physically weak, but your mind becomes so warped, you can’t distinguish what is your true voice and what is the illness. I became isolated, I didn’t want to socialise, I couldn’t even maintain a conversation because I was so entirely drained, but still, I couldn’t stop the behaviours and thoughts that were making me so unwell. I was exhausted but nothing was never enough, it was always, ‘just one more’…one more sit-up, one more hour without eating, one more kg lost.

It was July 7th, 2009, when I was admitted into an in-patient hospital. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t been admitted, I wouldn’t be here today. I always feel dramatic stating that, but when I look back at how ill I was, how my organs weren’t functioning properly, the amount of medical monitoring I was receiving…I know that I couldn’t have gotten better without the strict programme and care that I received once admitted. I’ll be forever thankful to those nurses, doctors, therapists, and support staff who held my hand through every meltdown, who picked me up off the floor (sometimes physically) when I wanted to give up, they never wavered, they always helped me to see that I could beat the illness.

I remember the day that, for the first time, I wanted to fight this. It wasn’t too long before I was admitted. I was walking home from my local town (a 15-minute walk), when I could feel my heart racing, I was sweating, my vision had gone blurry, my legs felt prickly. I forced myself to keep walking as I didn’t want to faint in public (funny how this was my worry) I somehow got home and collapsed on my bed and in desperation, I forced myself to eat a cereal bar. I genuinely thought I was going to die, I ended up in hospital where I had an ECG, fluids, and a very stern talk (it was needed) from a consultant about the state my body was in.

After that, I knew I wanted to be done with anorexia, I was so frightened by what had happened that I knew something had to change. I was scared to go into in-patient as I knew it meant that I would have no control, I knew I would have to eat, and I knew that meant gaining weight. I get how difficult anorexia is for people to understand, how could I be so scared for my life but at the same time be scared to eat and gain weight? Anorexia is so hypocritical, your mind becomes so warped once you deprive your body of food that logic goes out the window, the controlling thoughts are always so much stronger, and you feel physically and mentally too weak to fight them.

I luckily did manage to recover from anorexia. 

I wanted to base this blog around the subject of recovery, as it was a word that loomed over me during the most difficult years. Mostly my thoughts revolved around the fact that I would never recover, I couldn’t see a life where anorexia didn’t dominate it. How wrong I was. Recovery is entirely possible (!!!) even when it feels like something completely unattainable.

I did relapse a few times after being discharged from in-patient. Ultimately, the goal of treatment was to weight-restore me so that I could function, be physically safe and have begun some work around my thoughts. I was quite naïve though, and thought I’d be completely back to my pre-anorexic self once I was discharged, but really, this was just the beginning. It took me ten years in total to be in a position to say I was recovered.

Recovery means something different for everyone, and there is no timeline. Relapse is part of the journey for many people. I really thought I had failed when I first relapsed, but it was part of my process.  I was learning what worked and also, I wasn’t quite ready to fully engage with therapy or accept help. I was determined to be independent after having been under in-patient care, but the truth was, I needed to accept help from others.
Recovery’, for me, means no longer losing dramatic amounts of weight, not being all consumed by negative thoughts, no longer being a walking calorie calculator and no longer being controlled by my thoughts. I’ve been asked by many people as to how I recovered, and I tend to say that my sheer stubbornness and determination played a big part. When I was ill, those characteristics didn’t serve me well, it meant I did everything to the extreme and couldn’t be told otherwise, but as I began engaging in treatment and therapy, those characteristics pushed me to focus on everything I could achieve without anorexia.

I’ve achieved so much.

I got strong enough in my early twenties to work in the outdoor industry, my days were filled with instructing high ropes, canoeing & kayaking. I made new friends, moved to new places and started finding out who I was without anorexia. I returned to university at the age of 28 to complete my undergraduate degree, where I achieved 1st class honours. I now work for Mind in Mid Herts as a Training Officer, educating and spreading awareness of mental illness and maintaining mental wellbeing.

Mel Standing under colourful umbrella's

I also returned to the hospital I was admitted to, in the role of a Peer Supporter. I worked therapeutically with young people and used my experience to support them in any way that I could. It was strange to go back, although the hospital was in a new location, the programme remained the same, and the same caring, supportive environment emanated strongly. Working with these young people, being able to give them hope that things can change and be a small part of their journey to recovery was extremely powerful.

If anyone reading this is currently struggling, or feeling like they will never beat an eating disorder, please don’t lose hope. Talk to somebody, even if they may not understand what you are going through, it’s better than staying quiet and feeling isolated. I’ve found that people will try to help in any way they can, especially those closest to you, those people will move mountains to see you thrive again.
My family were (and still are) amazing in how they supported me, they let me navigate things for myself (which can’t have been easy to watch), but they were always there and never gave up on me. You can beat an eating disorder, and you are so much more than your diagnoses, don’t forget that.

Mel

 


It’s always worth reaching out – Beat, the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity, provides specialist UK wide support, and has a variety of really useful resources whether you have an eating disorder yourself or you would like to support someone you know.

For those in England you can access support through their helpline: 0808 801 0677, email:[email protected], or web chat.

For those outside of England, please see here for information about helplines, email and web chat support in your area. 

 

For urgent support or medical advice for you or someone else please contact 999 or the Samaritans on 116 123 if you are in immediate danger, or contact your GP or 111 for medical advice. 

 

Posted on: 28th February 2024