Why I Eat.

‘I thought you might like a cake each, they’re left over from our meeting.’ My heart was racing and my mind was blurring, because I was given a cup cake to eat today in a lesson. Yesterday, I started to shake and my mind started raging because someone told me how nice I looked, and how much I suited all the weight I’d put on. Last week, I had to hold back tears as I stared at a menu in a restaurant. My head was spinning too much to make a decision and tell the waiter standing behind me.

I am so well now. I am physically healthy, my relationships with my friends and family have never been stronger, I have the social life I never dreamed of, and a future that looks so exciting. Yet, to tell you the truth, some days I miss anorexia, I want it back. I know I am falling into the illness’s trap of looking back with rose-tinted spectacles and ignoring the sheer hell of it. But sometimes I want to be back there- recovery is so exhausting. So why do I eat?

In order to explain this, I need to start off by telling you why I didn’t eat.

I wanted to feel powerful. I wanted to make sure that everyone else was ok, that I wasn’t upsetting or hurting those around me, so I had to be the perfect girl. The healthier, fitter and more independent I could be, the closer I was to achieving this. I wanted to be someone with self-control, determination, someone that was doing everything right. I wanted to be our world’s idea of powerful and successful. The lies that had started to dominate my mind had convinced me that I was worthless and that everyone else saw me in this way too. I had to become someone or something to have a place in this world.

I wanted a secret. Something that made me special, something that was just for me- a gift only I could have. No one else could hear anorexia’s soothing voice- just me. Because of the lies in my head, and the disgusting person I believed myself to be, there was no way I could believe that anyone else would see me as anything other than worthless. I had to shut out the world, but I needed a companion to occupy the empty shell I thought I had become. Anorexia was what I believed I needed.

I wanted to numb myself. As humans, we can experience so many raging and violent emotions- I was consumed with distress and shame. How are we meant to handle this? But, I found a way. The further and further I fell into anorexia’s grasp, the duller and duller my mind became. Thoughts became illusive, life became a hazy swirl of events- I had my own place to escape to. Even when I realised the place anorexia was taking me was so dark, I didn’t care. I believed that it was where I was supposed to be, what I deserved.

I wanted to become invisible. I remember smiling at how perfectly defined each rib was,  at doctors who acted with a mix of deep concern and frustration as I lost more and more weight and as my heart beat became slower and slower. I was achieving my goal; I was becoming invisible- I was getting closer and closer to disappearing all together.

In actual fact, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I wanted help. I had become a victim of my own mind, a prisoner to myself. But it didn’t make sense, I had done so many great things in the past, I couldn’t be failing now.  Everyone believed I was so mature and so sorted and so together- so when my head started to tell me I needed to hurt myself, I had no words to call for help with. But I found a way to express it. I could use the destruction of my body as a scream of distress, an SOS call. Anorexia became my life line.

But there was a moment when I made a decision. I was lying in a crowded general medical ward, freezing, alone and terrified. I realised I had a choice: I could stay in the perceived safety of my prison of anorexia, or leap into the dark unknown of recovery. I was tired to trying to not exist, and when you are at rock bottom, what do you have to lose? Could I fall any further? I was tired of trying not to live. I was ready to start fighting to be alive.

It was absolute torture. Fighting myself every single day, over and over. Ignoring the voices in my head telling me I was too worthless for this, that I didn’t deserve to be alive, that I was hurting everyone else around me. But I did it, or rather am doing it. I have a life that I could never have dreamed of now. It is still a fight, but I know why I need to do this. So this is why I eat:

I want to be normal. Sometimes when I find myself stressing about the bus being late, or unable to decide what to wear to the next party I can’t suppress a smile. To have the stresses of normal life to worry about feels amazing. Creating a corridor jam at school because you’re too weak to push the doors open, collecting all of the hair that has fallen out in the last ten minutes on your sofa before anyone notices, crying because you have to touch the body that you have come to loath so much to wash yourself in the shower, is not a normal life. And it’s a life I hated. So every time I want to slip the biscuit you’ve just given me into my pocket to put in the bin later, or pretend I’ve eaten lunch so I don’t need to eat my sandwich in front of you, or stir my yoghurt round and round and round to put off eating it for as long as possible, I just have to remember how closed and confined my life had become, how removed from what life is supposed to feel like, how trapped I was. Then I know what to do. I want this normal, ordinary life that I have fought so hard to have.

I want to never, ever go back to that place. There was one day where my family went to the cinema. But the twenty meter walk back to the car was too much- my brother had to support me and help me into the seat, where I sat slumped over, unable to support myself. I was carried into the house, and placed on the sofa.  My mum had to hold me as I cried and told her I was so tired of keeping myself alive, that I couldn’t do it any longer. My starved brain couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, my life had become one tortuous nightmare. I never, ever want go back to that place.

I want to live. It took for me to have my life stripped bare to realise how beautiful life is. I used to have to list the reasons why I have to stay alive to convince myself to get out of bed in the morning. Now, I like to wake up and list all of the reasons why I am so blessed to be alive. I had to choose whether I wanted to live my life, and I have chosen to do so. Anorexia is not a life, and I want to live.

So this is why I eat.

Eating disorders are not glamorous or romantic or an achievement. They are not special or comfortable or pleasant. They are destructive and debilitating and terrifying. They are not a choice, they are an illness. I don’t know why we are allowed to suffer. I don’t understand why we are left to hurt so much. But I do know that it has been this suffering and hurt that has taught me to see not just the harshness in this world, but to see also how compassionate, how strong, how brave, have precious people can be. And above all, how beautiful life is.       

Ordinary extraordinary people.

I have a secret to tell you. It is a secret that I have never understood until now, and it is a secret I now want to share.

It wasn’t doctors and nurses who saved my life. It wasn’t therapy or group work or medication. It was ordinary people like you.

Why do you even bother any more, you are so worthless. You are going to make a fool of yourself yet again. Of course you are because you are just so useless. SO USELESS. Hi! It’s great to see you, how are you doing? You do realise they don’t really care. They are lying. You know they’re lying to you don’t you? That’s because you are so worthless. They won’t even be listening to whatever you say back to them. I’m doing OK thank you. Hahaha no one knows, no one knows how you feel and most importantly no one cares! They hate you, they all hate you. You deserve this. Oh good. I’ve just been thinking about you, I noticed you’ve been a bit quite recently and was just wondering how things are. No they haven’t been, that’s another lie! You are such a disgusting person, why would they care? Why would anyone ever care? Do you understand? NO ONE CARES. I’ve just been really busy and things, that’s all. I’m fine. That’s right, hide, hide, hide. From everyone. Keep yourself shut away. Lock yourself in your mind. That’s what you deserve, because this is your fault you know, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT. OK, cool. But if you ever want to talk to me about anything I’m always here to listen. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare burden other people, how selfish are you to burden people just because you can’t cope! There you are, hurting more people again. Just because you are so pathetic, why should other people suffer too? You brought this have to all on yourself, by being so worthless, SO WORTHLESS. Well erm actually, I’m not feeling too good at the moment, and I guess I’m just finding things quite hard at the moment. WHAT are you doing? Do you really think they care? Why are you being so selfish? You are going to look so stupid when they judge you and laugh at you and ignore you- they won’t believe a word of what you tell them. And if they do, they will tell you it’s your fault-which it is. I’m so sorry to hear that things have been hard for you. Do you want to come to my house for a cup of tea tomorrow? Lies. Lies. Lies. You are so worthless. They don’t even care, no one cares. You deserve to be alone.

But why would they ask how I’m feeling? Why would they listen to me? Why would they ask to spend time with me? Maybe, just maybe they do care. Maybe I’m not alone in this.

Mental illness feels like you are living under a shield of bulletproof glass that surrounds you every single moment. It holds you prisoner. On the inside, your tumultuous thoughts and emotions rage, rebounding of the glass edges like an endless game of pinball. They form a hazy cloud of distress around you, consuming all that you are, and distorting your view of the world. On the outside, the smiles and kindly intended words or your family and friends fizzle out like tails of fireworks as they collide with your unbreakable force field.  You are imprisoned in a violent swirl of distress. Alone.  Until someone reaches out their hand.

Every time someone was brave enough to ask me how I was feeling, to send me a quick text, to invite me around for a cup of tea, to remind me that they are always there to listen, something strange happened. It was like each ordinary act of compassion was a tiny diamond bullet that left a crack in my glass prison. At first I didn’t notice, and then I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t- the lies in my mind were too loud. But then over time, as more and more kind words and actions were spoken and given to me, those cracks got bigger and bigger. The prison got weaker and weaker. Until, every so often,  I had a glimpse of life on the outside. I saw that my thoughts and feelings weren’t true, but the compassion of those around me was. They do care. I’m not alone in this.

Doctors and nurses showed me how to get through it, therapy helped me to understand it, medication helped me to weaken it. But it was the brave actions of ordinary, extra ordinary people in my life that enabled me to shatter the glass prison and rediscover the reality of life-It is not always easy or gentle or clear, but it can be beautiful.

Let’s be ordinary extraordinary people. It’s time to talk about mental health.