Recovery From Within:
A Mother and Daughter's Story
Rebecca Perkins & Bea Arscott
As a mother and daughter who together battled with anorexia for many years, we know how tough it can be, both for the person suffering and those who are caring for them. We experienced the spectrum of emotions that you may be feeling right now: fear, anxiety, despair, anger, isolation and frustration. But we’ve made it out the other side and are now supporting others to do the same. We know that full recovery is possible for everyone.
Life with an eating disorder: Bea’s perspective
In 2008, when I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia. Unlike what some people may think, eating disorders are not a deliberate choice. For some reason, subconsciously and very quietly, I just started telling myself that food was no longer my friend.
Throughout my recovery I bounced from therapist to counsellor to dietician to psychotherapist - each trying their best to disentangle me from the illness and return me to a healthy weight. Eventually, I was discharged by the medical team, but still felt a long way from recovery. I was constantly battling to keep my anorexic voice at bay and avoid the ‘triggers’ that surrounded me. I didn’t feel like I was free from the grips of the illness, and at the time, I believed that my life would look like that forever. It’s what a lot of people are led to believe.
But that simply wasn’t true. Recovery from eating disorders is possible, even if it might not look that way to you right now.
The turning point for me was realising for the first time that I didn’t have to believe and act on the thoughts in my mind. I could finally see that the stories and rules I had unconsciously created and lived my life by for so many years weren’t real. I saw that I no longer needed to take them so seriously.
The power our minds have to create such compelling, convincing arguments and stories never ceases to amaze me. But for most of my life, I didn’t realise that I had the ability to question them.
For some readers, this may seem like the most obvious thing in the world. But for others, the idea of ‘disobeying’ the eating disorder will feel like an impossible task. I get that.
For a long time, any form of rebelling against the eating disorder would lead me to experience feelings of guilt, self-hatred and shame. So I would do anything to avoid feeling that way. From a young age we’re taught to fix or push away uncomfortable feelings - “cheer up”, “calm down”, “stop crying”. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to feel everything. In fact, the more we try to run from those feelings, the more likely they are to build up and release all at once.
Many of you may be experiencing high levels of discomfort right now, but no matter how overwhelming and painful they might feel, it’s okay - be gentle with yourself - you will get through it. The eating disorder is something you are experiencing - it’s not who you are.
Life as a carer: Rebecca’s perspective
Knowing Bea had anorexia was one of the toughest things I had to face up to in my life. As her mother, knowing that I couldn’t make her better was terrifying. Over the months and years that followed her diagnosis we battled the illness and each other to find a way through and out the other side. It was an exhausting process, especially as I was also trying to hold the whole family together. We all walked on eggshells.
You may well recognise yourself or your loved one in this and be finding it incredibly challenging right now. You may not be able to see a way through. We’ve seen for ourselves and those we work with that there is always hope, and that recovery from eating disorders is absolutely possible. At times this will feel difficult for you to believe. Yes, I felt that too.
You may well feel despair at times, helpless in the face of this illness that seems to have taken over you or your loved one. Yet, hope is something we can always hold on to. When we have hope we have less on our mind. We’re calmer, wiser, and more creative. We’re more likely to see solutions and a way forward.
Right now the eating disorder may have centre stage and it may feel like it’s dominating more than ever. But what’s really helpful to understand is that you or your loved one is not the eating disorder. It may be really hard to see that right now and we get that. The person is always there behind all the eating disorder behaviours, they are simply caught up in a whirlwind of unhelpful, habitual thinking.
It’s as if they are wearing a mask. We need to learn to speak to the person behind the mask. At some point they will respond. As parents we love unconditionally and this can feel difficult when the eating disorder is so loud. But the more we truly see our loved one, the easier it becomes to connect with them and not get caught up in the eating disorder, which thrives on conflict.
Recovery is possible
Together we survived the toughest experience of our lives and are now providing support to families and organisations to help them see recovery from a new perspective.
There is no manual on how to navigate through recovery, but no matter how you might be feeling right now, we want you to understand that you are not alone. We want you to see that what you are going through right now is not permanent. We want you to know that recovery is possible.
Rebecca and Bea are a mother and daughter who together battled for many years with Bea's eating disorder. They now work together, coaching and running programmes for those with eating disorders and their carers. They have also also written a book, Recovery From Within, sharing their insights, experience and the message that recovery is possible.