[Note: I wrote this a few years ago, reposted here from my old blog. I tried to be careful to leave out weights and details, but if you’re easily triggered with ED stuff be cautious just in case x]
First off, I just want to say that anorexia really fucking sucked. No matter how much I’d have insisted at the time that I liked feeling as if I was on the verge of fainting for most of the day, I really didn’t. I don’t much like the after-effects I still have 10 years on either. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t enviable; by the time I hit my lowest weight no one would have wanted to take my photograph for fashion magazines (excess arm hair and terrible skin aren’t much sought after). It started out like many cases do – a simple diet, possibly even a sensible one. I was fat. I’m not going to write numbers in here, because I know that’s not helpful. But I was fat at 16, by anyone’s standards. A lonely, depressed few years around puberty had meant I’d been comfort eating in a big way, occasionally binging and purging but mostly just binging. By cutting out junk food snacks, eschewing school lunches in favour of sandwiches brought from home etc, I was able to lose weight and finally see the benefit of my twice-weekly martial arts class. For a short while I was actually at my physical fitness peak. I got compliments from girls in my class on my appearance for the first time ever. Life, however, went sort of tits up. Family problems and mental health issues spiralled, and my diet was the one thing I felt in some way in control of (I’m using “control” loosely here. At some point I stopped being in control, badly). I stopped being toned, and started being thin. If my dad noticed, he didn’t mention it; he’s very British like that. My boyfriend complained about my ribs. I found it difficult to sleep comfortably because of my hip and pelvic bones. My periods became erratic, then stopped. I learnt how to throw up without using my fingers. If I hadn’t had short hair I would have noticed how much it was falling out. Numbers started being important. I didn’t just want thinner legs any more – I wanted to get down to the next even number on the scale. For an average student, fairly decent at a few things, being exceptionally good at shrinking myself became priority.
When I was 17 I had to move out of home. That’s for another blog that I probably won’t write (some things will never stop being raw). The stress of sleeping on friends’ floors, juggling college with housing applications, and still dealing with deteriorating mental health badly affected things and after 3 months hellbent on self-destruction I found myself hospitalised in an adolescent psychiatric unit (yet another future blog/novel…). While anorexia was not the main reason for this, it was made clear to me that I wasn’t going to get out of hospital without changing my behaviours. It was the first time I’d been forced to accept that I had to stop. I’d long since stopped caring that my boyfriend was upset that I wouldn’t eat. I’d stopped caring that my friend, who’d bravely taken on the role of foster mum, was emotionally cut up. All I cared about at that point was destroying myself, even if it felt at the time like I was making myself a better (thinner) person. I remember writing a letter to a friend after I’d been in hospital for about 6 weeks, saying that this was the turning point; I’d thought of something funny while washing my face and grinned to myself in the mirror. I looked macabre. Skin stretched over bones, trying to mimic a smile. Something had to change after that. Putting it on paper, a proclamation to someone, that made it real. Six months later, I left hospital having gained about a stone. I’m notoriously stubborn, and had to learn to shift from stubbornly refusing to eat, to refusing to NOT eat, and refusing to let anorexia take over my life any more. Unlearning disordered eating habits sounds simple, but imagine that every time you prepare a meal, there’s a voice in your head telling you how many calories are in each slice of potato, each carrot stick. You get surprisingly good at maths. Before hospital, I didn’t have “safe” foods; no food was safe. In recovery I found a few foods I felt safe eating, and went on from there.
A book that I used to help with my recovery was Anorexia: A Survival Guide For Friends, Families, and Sufferers by Janet Treasure. Recommended by my therapist, this book appealed to me mostly because it wasn’t written by a former sufferer, therefore didn’t contain the details of their starvation regime (tips!) or details of their lowest weight (goals!), and there was no author picture of someone who’d made it out of anorexia while still retaining an enviable waif-like figure, unlike me, for whom recovery would inevitably mean (fat!) getting back to (fat!) where I started (fat!). The book taught me to think of the “anorexic voice” as more of a nuisance, an irritable demon clinging onto my shoulders, in stark contrast to the “saint ana” figure written about in numerous pro-ED blogs.
I’m not going to lie and say things were perfect from then on. I never relapsed badly, but getting back to a healthy weight took literally years. For a while I kept Ipecac in my bathroom in case of binging, but later threw it out in a fit of panic in case I had a black mood and drank it all. A few years ago things were suddenly, amazingly, good. I had the realisation that I was more comfortable being a little bit overweight. Having curves and not giving a fuck. Obviously this is not an outlook that everyone will agree with, but when I was teetering between thin/okay I always felt pressure on myself to stay on the thin side. I keep a few extra pounds on now, mostly for emergencies, but also to say FUCK YOU to the occasional anorexic voices that come back to jeer at me for having “given up”. (When you’re in recovery they deal with the physical problems. No one warns you that you’ll still have internal monologues when you’re a healthy weight, even when you’ve been weight restored for a decade.) It goes without saying that I don’t own scales. I’ve learnt my body, and I know what’s comfortable. It feels good to write that. IT’S MY BODY. I don’t have to be thin. I can eat if I want to. I can eat WHAT I want to. I am back in control.