Imagine getting up each morning looking in the mirror and seeing someone you don’t recognise staring back at you. Imagine struggling to know what to wear every morning and voices going around your head … “have you seen the size of your stomach?” … “You can’t be serious that dress is only for skinny people” … “you can only wear that when you’ve lost another two pounds” …
That was a daily occurrence for me throughout my teenage years. I would look in the mirror and hated what I saw. My eyes would dart frantically around my body, my head spinning and my eyes whirling with tears. I would try on my entire wardrobe and nothing looked right so I would resort to trackies and big jumpers to hide myself so no one would be able to see how large I was.
But was what I saw reality?
I always thought it was and that’s when I met my friend Anorexia for the first time. She was amazing, she understood me and knew where I was coming from. She taught me everything I needed to know and educated me until I was an expert in dieting, nutrition, calories… she would hold my hand on tough days, make me feel alive and give me energy to keep going. She would be there when my family argued or something upset me at school.
As I began to diet more, the larger I felt. There was a constant chant in my head shouting “keep going!”. And even as I managed to get into size 4 jeans all I could see in the mirror staring back at me was a whale-like figure. Even as the scales dropped lower it was never good enough.
I turned up at CAMHs and began sessions there but all I could think was that they were all wrong, that they were all just jealous of me and my newfound skills. They didn’t get me, they didn’t understand me like Anorexia did. They saw me for a few hours a week and then left me to look after myself. They definitely didn’t care about me like she did.
Eventually my heart nearly stopped, and I got admitted to an inpatient hospital but I still couldn’t see the reality. In my pre-assessment words like “emaciated” were thrown around but I couldn’t see it. They were all just lying to me.
The only time I actually really saw what I looked like was on the Friday evening after I had been admitted to hospital and Emma, my care worker, came to my bedroom. It had been a rotten 48 hours and by that time all I wanted to do was go home and give up. She pulled out huge pieces of paper and got me to draw how I imagined myself, then she drew round me. I couldn’t understand the difference. It was at that moment that I thought, for the first time, that maybe I wasn’t as fat as I had believed.
I then set out on the hardest year of my life – I had to re-teach myself the importance of eating. I had to learn to be rational about my appearance and talk about my feelings. It was a hard slog waking up each day as my weight increased. I panicked day in and day out about my increasing weight and my mind wasn’t able to keep up. Nothing made sense and my deep-rooted hatred of food was not going away. Food had been my enemy for so long and I was scared of getting fat. Every time I ate I felt like I was cheating on my anorexia but I knew I didn’t have a choice about it if I wanted to stay alive. I kept promising her I would eat now as a short-term resort but that once I was discharged we would become friends again.
As my BMI increased, my feelings came back to me. I felt things that I didn’t even know existed; anger, sadness, happiness and, worst of all, I didn’t know how to deal with them. In the past, my coping mechanism was to stop eating, to numb the pain of anger, or sadness, or disappointment but I had to learn to manage all these emotions in a totally different way.
Since leaving hospital I have had ups and downs and I will admit that there were times when I wanted my friend Anorexia back- after all she did always understand me, always knew exactly how to make me feel better …
I remember after my grandma died I felt so alone, so much guilt and lost. Anorexia came to me. She picked up the pieces of my broken heart and held me whilst I grieved. As I started slipping back in to old habits, listening to my old friend more I knew I had to challenge this.
I didn’t want to go back to hospital and I definitely didn’t want to die.
I won’t ever forget the goals I had in hospital – two of them included 1) wearing a bikini and 2) having a day when I didn’t feel fat. At the time I didn’t think either of these would ever be possible but 9 years on since my discharge I can wear a bikini! And yes of course I still wake up and have days when I look in the mirror and hate what I see and struggle to find clothes that sit right but those times are so rare now! And even when I have those thoughts I can reason with myself.
If you look around right now, people are all kinds of shapes and sizes! This is what makes the world and people so exciting! So hang in there when you have a fat day! Reason with yourself and challenge Anorexia. She is your worst enemy masquerading as your best friend.
Hope suffered from anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She now lives and works in London. She is a mental health advocate and the first author of our theinspirationalseries™. The rest of Hope’s story will be available in March 2017.