I was the normal-looking girl. The girl who was kinda chubby, who got good grades, had lots of friends, was confident, funny, friendly. I was also weak, anxious, irrational, depressed, and terrified of food. I suppose it was always going to happen. I have had a funny relationship with food and my body since I was 7, and one day, it just clicked. You never know who has an eating disorder. Maybe that girl whose collar bones and chest bones you can see has one. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe that size 12 athletic girl has one. Maybe not. Maybe the old woman who lives across the street, maybe the 9 year old you walked past crossing the road, maybe the dad with 3 kids at the park has one. Or maybe not.
I think the fact that eating disorders are a mental illness is massively overlooked. Restriction, to me, is something that gives you an illusion of control, when really, you have completely lost all control. I was blind to what was right and what was wrong. I couldn’t “just eat” – eating was something that filled me with so much anxiety and self-hatred that I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of eating anything that wasn’t “safe”. You never realise how broken and irrational a starved brain is until you start to feed yourself again. When I physically couldn’t chew my food, I thought I was fine. When I would argue with my teachers over eating my lunch, I thought I was fine. When I cried and begged them to leave me alone, to give up on me because, “I’m not worth it, I can’t do it, I’m a burden, it’s too much, I’m taking up too much time”, I thought I was fine. When I said that I wished I was a worm, but would probably be rejected by my worm family because I was too fat, I thought I was fine. When I would avoid going out with my friends for casual lunches or birthday dinners, I thought I was fine.
Now, when I look back, 3 years on, I realise I was sick. I see it when I go out for dinner with my best friends. I see it when I drunkenly laugh as I secretly eat the buns of my friend’s cheeseburger while she goes to the toilet. I hear it when I make a strange noise as I try to catch my breath after laughing so hard. I feel it when I hug my friends and my role models. I recently sat and laughed with my very first therapist instead of looking at her with an empty expression on my face. I am due to run the first of the (hopefully) many half marathons I will run in my life time. I was sick with an invisible illness that was going to destroy everything I am and can be. I am slowly healing thanks to the best medicine: love. I would not be who or where I am today without all of the love I received from those who helped me.
When I began my recovery journey, I believed it was going to be a waste of time, because I thought I was never going to get better. More importantly, I didn’t believe I even had anything to get better from, because I looked normal and healthy… but not good enough, which is why I thought I shouldn’t get better. I am a huge perfectionist, and it will be the death of me. My eating disorder was a dirty liar, handing me a key to unlock the door of being perfect. The key didn’t fit. No key fits. I am beginning to think that my crippling need to be perfect is so incredibly futile, because I will never be perfect, so there is no point in destroying myself trying to be. It is time to take a deep breath and allow myself to be who I am. Recovery so far has not been rainbows and unicorns. The process is ugly. Painful. Unbearable. But it is teaching me the most valuable lessons: self-acceptance, being kinder to myself, learning how to enjoy food and that it won’t hurt me, allowing myself to be human. I do often wonder whether I am on the right path; even now it’s not always clear, but deep down, I know I’d rather choose living over merely existing.
Please, be more aware of the fact that anyone around you could have an eating disorder. Understand that it’s not their fault. Be careful of the way you speak about food. No one, repeat, no one appreciates hearing about your new diet, or that you were “naughty” and had a piece of cheesecake the previous night, or hearing food being referred to as “good” or “bad”. Least of all someone with an eating disorder. It is unnecessary to comment on a person’s weight – your leg will not fall off if you refrain from telling someone that they have gained or lost weight. So just don’t do it. Again, you never know who has an eating disorder, so you never know who might take your comment and continue to use unhealthy, disordered behaviours which could kill them. If you are someone to whom a sufferer confides in, don’t tire of them having the same issue week in, week out; they can’t help it. Most of all, never, ever, give up on someone who is suffering. No one is a lost cause.