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My anorexia began when my people-pleasing, hypersensitive, perfectionist, 16-year-old-self had a rocky year. My mother had cancer, other family members had terminal illnesses, I was applying to med school, A-Levels, had self-doubt, and I was trying to juggle everyone else’s needs and expectations, while constantly taking on responsibilities that were not mine.
I weighed myself one day, having been told I’d lost weight. I had no idea and little interest in my weight, but I looked at the number and decided I wanted it to go down to a perfectly rounded digit. I am grimly determined, and so began a cycle of creating goal number after goal number and striving to meet them.
Over time, anorexia became a ‘useful’ distraction.
It resulted in numbness and emotional distance from what was going on around me. I no longer felt my feelings. I was comforted by the thought that this was one thing I was in control of — could be sure of.
After a brief hospital stay in March 2011, I began to listen to others’ concerns and try to eat more. I had to be healthy to go to South Africa for my gap year so numbed out and pushed through multiple panic attacks a day to weight restore.
I managed, with a lot of leaning on God and much support from church and friends, to stay healthy for several months. But, moving to a new city for medical school, away from my support network and accountability, was the start of my poorliest time.
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At different points, I was referred to ED services and, afraid of how consumed and unhappy I’d become, genuinely tried to get better. However, attempts to restore my weight were too overwhelming and I would relapse again.
I remember anorexia mostly in snapshots.
Having a panic attack over the packaging of my-only-safe-brand-and-flavour-of-organic-fat-free-sugar-free-(taste-free)- yoghurt changing and having to abandon my Tesco basket in an aisle. Feeling unbearably lonely but being too afraid to accept social invitations. Doing jumping jacks at night in my room in halls until my feet bled from the friction. Losing the power in my singing voice.
Being made to eat a proper meal then spending an hour in the disgusting toilet of a moving train desperately throwing it up. Weighing out cucumber and measuring milk for my tea. My curly hair falling out and becoming limp and thin. Sleeping all of the time to make the days go by and still having no energy.
I was lying to people who loved me, promising I’d be honest next time, then lying again.
The worst thing for me was how I poured all my time, energy, and strength into this all-consuming whirlpool that gives nothing back, but is increasingly determined to take more of your life. No level of ‘sick’ will ever be enough, but it’s possible to lose everything in the exhausting, desperate pursuit of that empty goal.
As I started my second year at medical school, I hit my rock bottom. Within a week, my eating disorder caused me to lose my house, multiple friends, and nearly my degree and career. I seriously considered suicide. I really could see no way out of the exhausting, relentless battle my life had become, and knew I just couldn’t spend decades more in this torture. I was crying out for help, but too afraid of rejection to wait for the answer.
I wish I could say there was a moment of revelation – but it happened gradually for me.
Due to losing my house, I moved in as a lodger with a wonderful young family. I have always had a particular connection with children – they bring out the best in me – and living with a beautiful 18-month-old who had no concept of mental illness but loved me big and would want to share meals with me and feed me her snacks, changed my perspective.
I so wanted to set a good example to this tiny person who had begun imitating everything I did. I felt God speak so strongly to me through loving her — this is how He sees me. Precious, innocent, and in need of comfort and love.
I ate my meals and felt disgusting, but threw myself into everything in my life that wasn’t my eating disorder and gradually, my heart and head began to catch up.
Recovery is like the colours flooding back into what had become my grayscale life.
It’s like coming up for air after swimming a length underwater. It feels overwhelming at first – terrifyingly new; raw and unsafe but so full of potential and hope.
There are wonderful ‘I am living again’ moments, but they do come within a daily plod of pushing forwards. Recovery is not easy: days and years of waking up each morning already exhausted, eating through panic and sitting with feelings in tears.
Yet, by God’s grace, those moments are enough to carry us through until the next burst of life and joy. Laughing until everything aches with a friend; rocking a baby to sleep; losing myself in worshipping Jesus; singing in the shower; drinking tea at the perfect strength and temperature; lying in the sun.
Slowly, the ‘life’ moments become more frequent–one leading to another.
Now those moments join up to make my everyday life–and being present in my life, however messy that can be, is so beautiful. Feeling my feelings is incredibly scary and I’m still learning to ‘sit with emotions.’ I do still struggle with self-harm and some days I tune into anorexia’s lies again and eating is hard.
The difference is that I now dig underneath the feeling and try to meet the need the lies reflect by going to God, journaling, worshipping, crying. I can laugh as my Goddaughter puts her yoghurt spoon into my mouth, and get excited about bacon breakfasts with my best friends. Though being present can still be raw and painful.
I will always choose this colourful, dynamic, messy life over anorexia’s grayscale dictatorship.
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