I sit sipping at my coffee in a cafe on a cold day in November. It is dark and cold outside with just under a month till Christmas. As I think ahead to Christmas I am not like the average other person in the UK excited for the day itself. Instead the day fills me with dread and fear. From head to foot I feel a shiver run through my body as the panic of all the food around me. It scares me.
I look around the cafe I am sat in, one man typing on a laptop, another flicking through bbc sport on his phone and then a older woman staring in to space drinking her coffee. It is strange sitting in such close proximity to these people but not knowing anything about them. But then how much do we really know about those around us? How much do we know about our family, friends, work colleagues or loved ones?
On the 16 November 2007 I was submitted to a mental health hospital for adolescents where I lived for a year. The months leading up to this I was in and out of CAMHs on a weekly basis. I used to sit in the waiting room, weights in my pockets having drunk litres and litres of water before my weigh in. I thought I was a genius. I spent hours of my time practising how to get food off my plate in to my pockets secretly, I worked out in my room for hours, sneaked off to the gym before school and emptied all my protein milk that had been given to me by the hospital, filled it with water and resealed the lids. I was fantastic at having anorexia. I was good at cheating the system and hiding things from those around me. And I didn’t feel a thing, all my emotions were so caught up in dying to avoid food that I was emotional-less. Or was I just being a selfish bitch obsessed with calories, damaging my family and hurting those closest to me?
On the day I got submitted to hospital I didn’t realise what a nightmare it was going to be and how hard it was going to be to get well. I was watched constantly. The days morphed together as I fell into the routine of 7am weigh-ins, breakfast, bed rest, snack, bed rest, lunch, bed rest, snack, bed rest, dinner and visitors then another snack and finally bed. It was exhausting and I don’t know how I did it. Sometimes when I am sat at work, or out with friends I think back to my time and think what I would be doing at this time.
I am always scared of telling people I have had anorexia. Why though? If I had broken my arm would I be scared to tell people? But a mental illness with no explanation freaks people out. If I tell people I have lived in a psychiatric hospital what would they think? When I found out that’s where I was heading I thought it would be full of weirdos walking round in white gowns with gaunt pale faces nots saying anything. There is still so much stigma attached to mental illness and there shouldn’t be, but yes I am still afraid it will hold me back in my career and that people won’t like me as much.
But does she still control me?
I have taken leaps and bounds over the last seven years since I was discharged. Yes it has been tough, at times more so than others, but I have kept going. But yes she does still have that hold of me and will it ever go? I worry it won’t. I worry she will be in control of me. Some mornings I wake up and she tells me I am fat, i stand in my room trying on clothes after clothes and she taunts me – “you can’t wear that look at the size of your stomach” “what are you thinking wearing that” “no that makes you look fat to” – the taunts drive me mad and I just want to sink back in to bed and write the day off. But no I am a fighter and I won’t let her win. She won’t beat me down. But then the fact that some food still scares me shortly that means she is still winning. Surely because I can’t completely let my guard down, does that mean she has won? I missed taking my younger sister out for a fancy birthday lunch because I knew I would find the food too stressful, but why seven years on can I not let my guard down? Why seven years on do I come across as fine but I don’t always feel fine? Why do I still have fat days and why do I compare myself to others? It frustrates me that I am like this, it makes me cross that I can’t completely let go of her. I bring myself in to a false sense of security that I am 100% well reassuring those around me I am fine, but in reality I don’t think I am. I am too scared to tell others this.
Anorexia is such a secret disease and maybe that part of her still is in me and stops me opening up to others? Maybe that’s why I don’t tell people I had anorexia. Do you ever really get over a mental illness or is there in the back of your mind forever? If 1 in 4 people have a mental illness in the UK there must be others that I work with, other friends… Maybe they all feel like me? Afraid to open up, afraid of the stigma and afraid that people will then start to watch their every move.
I am a fighter, and I managed to get out of hospital once. Nothing would ever send me back there, but why then if I am not going to diet anymore, not going to be sneaky about meals why won’t I completely let her go?