I spent the next year in hospital having to tackle that voice in my head, and had to realise that what the anorexia had to offer me was absolutely nothing in comparison to the rest of the world.
The problem is, despite everything I learnt in hospital, I still found recovery hard work. I still didn’t know really what to do when I left hospital and despite my best intentions it wasn’t always straight forward. Recovery isn’t this easy peasy thing: it is hard work and there will be things that come against us that may cause us to get sucked back. And for me this happened in 2016.
The thing with me though was I knew exactly what was happening and I knew that at any point I would lose that control.
You Don't Have To Be Stick Thin To Have an Eating Disorder
It’s estimated that over a million people across the UK suffer from an eating disorder, yet many remain undiagnosed.
Whilst many people with eating disorders will not have taken steps to seek treatment, others have visited GPs, only to be told
that they aren’t thin enough to warrant diagnosis. Imagine getting turned away for not having a broken-enough leg. There
would be complete outrage, but yet this is the norm for so many people struggling with food.
I met Anorexia when I was about 13 years old and it became my everything. The anorexia comforted me at night when I was sad and alone, it kept me going each day and gave me this real purpose to live. I loved what it gave me and I longed to please it more and more each day. She was literally like having this best friend with me the entire time.
I didn’t realise though that the reality of having a friend like that was actually really toxic and dangerous.
Fast forward to November 2007 and I was standing in a hospital reception, tears streaming down my face, angry at my family, angry at those around me. I didn’t get. How could something that made me feel so good be so bad for me? I was convinced that everyone else was just jealous. I had found this magical cure to life and everyone else wanted a bit of it. Even as I stood in the hospital doorway, I was so sure I was right and that everyone else was wrong.
I ended up referring myself to services but, instead of getting the support I needed and deserved, I was turned away for not being thin enough. I was told my BMI wasn’t low enough so there was nothing they could do for me. Being left in the lurch like that you end up feeling like this fake anorexic person, someone who needs to prove a point. I felt fat, and hypocritical and that relentless voice in my head, my anorexia, was making everything feel so much worse. I was left feeling suicidal and extremely unsure about how I could keep moving forward in life with this. This relentless voice dictating my every move.
Eating disorders are not about weight, there is so much more to them than that. But yet still for some reason across the whole of society and for diagnosis there is this mind-set that to have an eating disorder you have to look like a skeleton.
We know that if eating disorders are treated sooner there is a better chance of long term recovery. So why then do we feel the need to wait?
Not only does recovery take longer when you have have lived with the illness for
that long but it causes this feeling that we cannot accept this illness. That we aren’t
good enough at having anorexia. It fuels that competitive side of the eating disorder
making the individual feel so much worse than they already felt.
Through the work I do in hospitals I meet individuals who have eating disorders
(sometimes as the primary diagnosis, sometimes as the secondary) and so many of
these people talk openly about how hard it is to be taken seriously when their
weight is going up, or if they didn’t get as low as someone else. As someone who
has had anorexia, it is upsetting that we live in a society where the
severity of the mental state of an individual with an eating disorder is judged on
their weight. This exactly why I launched my petition to #DumpTheScales to
change this! And I want you to know you are being heard even when it doesn’t
feel like it. Even when you can’t get that support or that voice is so loud in your
head. We are listening and we are there. Whatever you do, don’t stop fighting.
It is hard work, it feels horrible and unbearable at times but it is possible and
life in recovery feels incredible. Keep pushing those boundaries, challenging
those food rituals and learn to talk.
And a few final things for you to remember:
You don’t have to be underweight to have an eating disorder
You deserve that treatment and support
There is so much more to life
Talking whilst might feel hard is so so important!
Recovery is so possible, yes it is hard work at times, but it is so achievable.
Hope Virgo is a mental health campaigner and author of 'Stand Tall Little Girl.' You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @HopeVirgo_