My Experience of Anorexia, Psychosis and Recovery

Tina McGuff

TW: this blog contains references to suicide, trauma and psychosis.

Before I start please know that I can only talk from my perspective. We all experience eating disorders differently, however its important to share our stories so we can help others see they are not alone in this journey to recovery.

Having anorexia was the worst time of my life. I would love it and hate it in equal measure daily, until eventually I hated it all the time.

It took me away from the trauma I was experiencing in my head. It was a very complex time, and one I would never wish anyone to have to go through.

Mine developed as a coping mechanism after a very traumatic event in our family. My mum discovered that our father was a terrible parent and husband. Let’s just say he was an abusive man on various levels, and it was very complicated. My mum had enough and decided to attack him one night with a kitchen knife.

Mum ended up in jail on remand and dad in hospital. We then lost everything, our home, our safety as a family, happiness, food, and worst of all love. When you live in poverty and no electric and not knowing where your next hot meal will be coming from your world becomes a very dark and dismal place. Especially as a child.

My way of dealing with it all ultimately came in the behaviour of control over my body. I was completely obsessed with exercise and every single calorie that went into my mouth, which ultimately led to me being so unwell I was even scared to breathe. I ended up being sectioned into an adult psychiatric unit at 16 and lived there on and off for the next few years.

During that time, I suffered episodes of psychosis. I did not realise what it was, but it lurked around in my brain a lot of the time. There was one particular episode where I was convinced there was a guillotine above my hospital bed, I could see the blade clearly shining, but when I told the nurses they tried to tell me there was nothing there. I refused to sleep lying down as it was destined to fall. It disappeared eventually. Now many years later I can remember that episode as if it were yesterday. I can still see the blade; however, my rational mind now can tell me I must have been hallucinating as it could not have been there.

Please know if you're reading this that each day it's baby steps in recovery. Be patient and kind to yourself. You will make it through with love and support.

Even through these challenges and fights against myself in my own head, I decided to give my all to recovery. I felt the easy path which was the path of least resistance to me which was living with anorexia. It was all I knew and consumed me, gave me all the comfort I needed, was my best friend. But I knew deep down I had to live and continuing to allow anorexia to control me would put pain to my survival.

There were a couple of key moments when I knew I was worthy of recovery. One of the most significant came after I tried to end my life one particularly horrific day. When I spoke to my psychiatrist after the event she reassured me that one day I would look back and not believe how far I had come, she asked me to trust her as she could see I was full of doubt and self-destruction: trust being the hardest thing to do with anorexia. However, I wanted to believe her as the pain and anguish the illness was causing me and my family was at times unbearable. So reluctantly and with the magnitude of a grain of sand in a desert I had that tiny belief to hold on to. I’m so glad I did as slowly, with baby steps and a huge amount of psychological work, I started on my recovery journey.

I did not have another impactful episode like this one until many years later when I was in my early twenties. My life was so happy at the time and this is why it was such a shock. I was working hard, not in therapy, weight restored, in love with the man of my dreams. I literally felt like I was on top of the world. My mind started to unravel slowly, and I eventually ended up almost losing my life again. I ended up back in the same psychiatric unit and had experienced a psychotic episode. It took me a year to recover and thankfully I’ve been mentally healthy and strong ever since.

The psychiatrists at the time told me the episode was all linked to my trauma and anorexia. I had no idea this would even come back and bite my in the arse after so long out of treatment and feeling great. It certainly gave me a new respect for really looking after my mental health as I saw just how quickly it hit me and almost cost me my life.

This is why I share my story; I don’t want anyone else going through this. I don’t want any family to feel alone without insight and information. I want everyone to see what it's really like to live through anorexia at its worst, however, make a full recovery to have a family and a fantastically healthy life if someone you love has been through it or is going through it.

Please know if you're reading this that each day it’s baby steps in recovery, be patient and kind to yourself. You will make it through with love and support.

Tina a mental health campaigner and author of best-selling Seconds To Snap. She is a regular guest on National TV, radio and newspapers, and speaker at schools, universities, hospitals and workplaces around the world. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram or on her website.

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