Here’s the second part of my ten year struggle with anorexia…
Having become a chronic sufferer by my early thirties, by this stage I’d also admitted to myself that I did have anorexia. But I still believed that I would never reach the urgent or critical stages that I’d read about in the often melodramatic news stories.
This was a double-edged feeling. I felt I was somehow strong that I could live with the illness. I was a fighter, being able to succeed academically and professionally as I re-trained to become a lawyer, despite the increasing signals from both my body and my mind that it was getting worse. But at the same time, I felt that I had failed at my young adult life as I became more and more isolated and depressed. And yet I had also failed at being ‘anorexic enough’ for the world to know I was in pain.
I think I wanted someone to help me at this stage and subconsciously saw myself as weak for needing to eat too much to allow me bring my weight far enough down to get help. This feeling was partly caused by the impact on my brain of being constantly hungry and anxious. But it was also caused by the messages I’d picked up from some healthcare practitioners that I wasn’t a ‘real’ anorexic. This is why that first visit to the GP is so important for eating disorder sufferers, and I feel angry and sad that it often seems to leave us with dangerous and triggering messages that stick.
By the age of 32, I was used to ana running a corner of my brain every second of every day while I tried to keep as much headspace free of her as I could for everything else. It was my normality.
It wasn’t even anorexia that drove me to the doctor’s to beg for help in January 2017. It was actually a severe chest infection. I’d just spent Christmas sitting on the sofa between my mum and sister almost unable to hear, with absolutely no energy, trying to cope with my increasingly collapsed digestive system, and finally trying to eat so I could fight the infection. My mum kept saying my weight had gotten so low, but my body dysmorphia meant that I didn’t believe her. It was only when my sister suggested that my hearing loss might actually be a result of more internal tissue wastage due to anorexia that I was scared enough to brave the GP once more.
The day before my appointment I dared to check my weight after not knowing for over a year. I’d stopped the daily checks of the earlier years of my illness as I couldn’t cope with the pressure any more. I had at least enough of a self-preservation instinct left to do this. So this time I was shocked to see how much more I’d lost without even trying – the sign of how ingrained restrictive eating habits become in chronic anorexia. I staggered to the GP and blurted out the story of my decade. I was lucky as this doctor was sympathetic, took me seriously, and finally gave me the urgent referral I had needed years ago.
So began my treatment at an outpatient clinic. My first appointments shocked me as I was told that I was very close to hospitalisation and I had to act fast to avoid it. I have very mixed feelings about my treatment – which I will explain in later posts – but one thing it did do for me was make me finally realise how ill I was, and spurred me on to start a sustained recovery. I just wish that I hadn’t had to reach the cusp of hospitalisation, and even being told it could happen against my will if things got any worse. I also wish I could have started recovery before the onset of osteoporosis, and urge others to take this risk seriously and try to avoid it developing, or getting worse.
Fighting Back, Beating Ana
I’m now a year into my first ever sustained recovery. I’ve come a long way since I staggered to the GP back in January, but there’s still a long road ahead to full physical and mental well-being.
It’s been challenging, but as time has gone on and I’ve started to get stronger, the benefits of recovery are greater than my fears and this keeps me going. The start is hard – physically and mentally – but it is so worth it. Even just a few months in, I started to feel Hannah was returning to the world, and ana was steadily retreating into a smaller and smaller corner of my mind.
The best part of my recovery so far is re-discovering my identity and finding the experienced woman I have become compared to the girl who went into this illness. It is tough for chronic anorexia sufferers as we often feel lost at the start. I didn’t want to be the person I was before I got ill because she was a girl and I am now a woman. So while I’ve found the old Hannah, I’m also developing her into the strong healthy woman I want to be.
That’s a challenge – feeling both so young while I try to find my adult identity, and yet so old after a decade without periods and a diagnosis of osteoporosis. But I’m trying to transform this challenge into an amazing opportunity to re-shape my destiny and build my own recovered future.
And I’d like to tell others who are struggling at the very start of recovery that this act of building does start to feel liberating and empowering even just a little further in to the journey – let’s not give up!