Today I’m going to talk about something that I don’t think I’ve ever discussed on my blog - my experience with eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa. One of the reasons I haven’t spoken about it in depth until now is because I was scared to focus on it. I didn’t want to ‘jinx it’ or trigger myself into going back to old patterns. But a few days ago I was thinking about it, and I realised just how long it has been since I displayed any disordered behaviour, or felt any anxiety or shame about my body. Only now can I see how far I have come, and how I got to this place of self-acceptance, that I never thought I would arrive at. I want to show you how I did it, in the hope that maybe someone out there will find it useful, and realise that it can get better.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and around 50% of sufferers also meet the criteria for depression, which is a scary-ass statistic. I’m not claiming to be an expert on mental health at all, but these tactics helped me, and maybe they’ll light a spark inside one of you.
Talk To Someone Who Understands: It is really, really important to have at least one person in your life while you are battling with an eating disorder who knows about your condition, who you can talk openly with, and who you can trust. It can be anyone from a school counsellor, a sibling, or a trusted friend. If you don’t have anyone in your life that you feel comfortable talking to, then you are always welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be more than happy to chat to you.
Find Your Triggers, And Kick Them The Fuck Out Of Your Life: Eliminating your triggers is a really important step to recovering, and is one of the most empowering tactics I know of. I started collecting fashion magazines when I was about 11, and looking at thousands of PhotoShopped images of models every day was not what I needed during puberty. I dropped to less than 7 stone without even realising - which at 5’9 is significantly underweight. So I cut them all up and made collages, which you can see on my artwork tab. Unfollow blogs or accounts that make you feel twinges of self-hatred. Make your internet space as safe and nurturing as it can be, and then…
Surround Yourself With People Who Love And Accept Your Body (And Their Own): The mind works like a sponge, and what we hear people say about our bodies (or their own) can stay inside us for a long time, unless we wring it out and re-fill on something positive. If you spend your day listening to friends reinforce the idea that fat = bad, then it will be pretty hard to avoid absorbing it. I’m not saying that if someone is struggling with their self-confidence that you should cut them out of your life, not at all. Just try and make sure that the majority of what you hear about food, body-image etc, is good stuff and not diet talk. If you have “friends” who make nasty comments about your looks, then please consider showing them the door. You deserve so much better. And never, ever date someone who thinks you are less than perfect. One of the most healing things for me was realising that there are people out there who will find me attractive just as I am; people that won’t even notice the flaws I see when I look in the mirror, because they’ll be too busy enjoying me. You deserve to be adored, and there are people waiting to adore you. Make room for them.
Fall In Love With A Sport, And Become A Warrior: One of the best things I ever did, and not just in relation to my disorder, was taking up swimming again. I have always loved the water, but for a long time during my teens I stayed away from the pool and the beach, because I hated the thought of someone seeing me in a swimsuit. One day I finally got to a place where staying away from the water was worse than people seeing my thighs. The peace I found there, in the sound vacuum that made me weightless and quietened my mind, is a feeling that I carried around with me for hours afterwards. I began to judge my body by different standards; how fast I could do a lap of the pool, how well I could dive. In order to do a sport well, you have to feed yourself. Not only did I have a healthier body as a result, but being in a swimsuit in public every day made me realise just how irrational my anxieties about nakedness had been. No one laughed. The world didn’t end. I stopped feeling ugly, and started feeling like a mermaid. Of course swimming won’t be for everyone; the trick is to find a sport that gives you that out-of-body-and-yet-blissfully-IN-your-body experience. These days I enjoy weight-lifting at the gym, and it brings out my inner superhero. Find your inner superhero.
Throw Away The Bathroom Scales: It’s obvious I know, but weighing or measuring yourself obsessively are habits that are all too easy to get into, and it can become uncontrollable. It might seem like an impossible thing to do, but throw them away. If you cannot make yourself throw them away, ask that person you trust to do it for you. Chances are, if you’re female, you’re pretty aware of your body already (the average woman monitors her own body every 30 seconds) and the scales are only making that worse. I threw mine away four years ago, and have never looked back.
Remind Yourself You Are More Than Your Disorder: It can be all too easy, when you first start your journey to recovery, to almost swap your obsession with losing weight for an obsession with beating the disorder, or with healthy living (this is known as orthorexia). Arm yourself with information, but remember that the disease does not define you. There is so much more to you than that. Sometimes the most healing thing you can do is just allow yourself to be. Dance. Read. Look at how children inhabit their bodies, and remember what it felt like to be that free. You can be that free again. It takes time, but I promise you, it can be done.