I want to share my story in the hope that it will help at least one person to seek the support they need and to keep fighting when it feels like there is no way out. I am not recovered but I am a good sight closer to that than I have been for over 15 years. I have experienced a lot of treatment, both good and bad, and I know I am very privileged to have had access to that when many go without. But whatever your situation, please take from this that even when it seems that all hope is lost, things can and do change, and the glimpses I now have of life without anorexia are a million times better than I could ever have imagined. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but those moments of true freedom make the (still quite frequent) lows worth the pain.
I was first diagnosed in 2009, at the age of 19, but my issues with food began long before that and developed from cripplingly low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Utterly convinced that I was the most hideous, boring and worthless person that had ever existed, I believed that my only redeeming quality was my thinness. In combination with an extremely challenging home environment, I began to see food as something which I could control when life was chaotic around me. Once I started losing weight and restricting my food, the sense of control, order and safety that anorexia gave me was far more powerful than any concept of an ideal body shape and I hated myself so much that I just wanted to disappear because I felt totally undeserving of any care, love or affection, and definitely not deserving of the basic human need of food.
While I have met some absolutely wonderful professionals over the years, I have also experienced the inadequacies of treatment in the UK and, I feel, been failed by certain services. The system is chronically underfunded, and even if you do meet the extremely prohibitive criteria for access to specialist treatment, there is such a shortage of community-based support. Over the years, I was repeatedly taken into Eating Disorder Units, forced to gain weight rapidly and without psychological input, then thrown out into the community with limited support and no idea how to cope with life and food by myself. Community-based treatment is, in my experience, far more effective in achieving long-term change in behaviour and outlook than being shut up in hospital for months on end and being disconnected from those things that make life worth living, such as work, education, leisure, family and social life. I got to a point where I could not imagine a life outside of hospital: I had lost everything; I’d had to leave several jobs; I had zero social life, family relationships were extremely strained; I only managed to finish my degree by the skin of my teeth and ended up in hospital shortly after. This left me with nothing to fight for, and of course it was inevitable that when I was discharged to a life which was miserable and empty, with the root causes of my illness unaddressed and no healthier coping mechanisms developed, I turned once again to the only resource I had – anorexia.
Life has changed for me now. Beginning with a longer-term placement which allowed me to take things at my own pace, I began to build up my life alongside my recovery. I have now been working for 3 years in the career I have always dreamed of; COVID aside, I have developed a social life and friendships; my relationships with my family are the best they’ve ever been and, crucially, I am able to feed myself without constant supervision and support, meaning I am now able to keep myself stable in the community for the first time in my life and am living independently in my own flat.
Of course, these things are hugely challenging, especially when you have existed in an eating disorder bubble of hospital admissions and appointments for so many years, and been so far removed from the ‘normal’ life led by your peers. This is where the support I am receiving from TEDS is absolutely invaluable. My sessions fit around my life, meaning I can continue to progress in my recovery without having to give up all the things which are important to me and keep me motivated. Clare and Rachael are so knowledgeable, experienced and, above all, incredibly compassionate – they truly do care enormously for their clients and are so passionate about their work and making eating disorder treatment accessible and effective for as many people as possible. In my experience, these things, sadly, are not a given for professionals working in this field. I am beyond grateful to have them both by my side as I navigate the next stages of my recovery, knowing that they will guide me expertly through the inevitable challenges, while genuinely celebrating the triumphs alongside me.
Although there is still a lot of work ahead as I move into these next phases of my journey, I genuinely feel like I have turned a corner and I am confident that I am on the right path. I know that there will be blips along the way but I will not end up back in hospital because I have so, so much more to live for and, for the first time, I have the support I need to be able to move forwards with my life in the community. I have taken ownership of my own recovery; it is no longer something that is being forced upon me or that I am doing solely for other people, but, equally, I recognise that I cannot, and do not have to, do this alone. I surprise myself daily with the myriad of things I am achieving which would have been totally unthinkable until only recently – in areas directly related to the eating disorder such as food and exercise, but also professionally, socially and more. But these accomplishments still are accompanied by crippling guilt, self-doubt, anxiety and overthinking, and I know that I would not be able to keep working through those things without Clare and Rach’s support. I’m a work in progress, but that’s okay. For well over a decade, I felt like there was no way out from what seemed an intolerably hellish existent, at times feeling that taking my own life or dying in my sleep would be preferable to continuing, but I now have that very elusive, but incredibly powerful, thing which I have always wanted – hope.