I think positive stories of recovery are so important. When you’re sick, it’s easy to think that this is all you are, all you’ll ever be – an overwhelming feeling of stagnation really. But positive stories offer hope – they remind us that people have been where you are and have made it through, and so can you. I hope that by sharing my story, even if only one person resonates with it, that I can help others to reach out and know they’re worthy of life and recovery. Finding a place to start this story is always the hardest part, but I my story of recovery starts mid-2017.
I first went to a doctor – not for my own benefit, but to assuage worries others for my wellbeing. I was convinced that nothing was wrong, and I just wanted a doctor to confirm that, however I walked out of that doctors appointment with referrals and a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (AN) among other mental health conditions. I didn’t accept my diagnosis, I didn’t think anything was wrong because I didn’t feel sick, I was convinced I was ‘too big to be sick’ – until few months later I was pulled aside by a former teacher/co-worker at the time whom I trusted greatly, who basically said ‘What’s wrong George? And don’t tell me nothing because I can see something is….’. The conversation, while small, was an eye opener for me, I realised people were starting to notice and for a few weeks I decided to try recovery.
However, I ‘fell off the wagon’ so to speak – I started losing weight again and was threatened with an involuntary hospital admission. At this time too, I was working at a school, and was told by my manager that the students were noticing, which really concerned me. By then I had acknowledged the fact I was sick, and hearing that young students were noticing was concerning– I was worried they’d see me and think my relationship with food, exercise, and myself was normal – which, of course, it wasn’t. This motivated me to recover, however once again the motivation didn’t last long.
Months passed, and with my mental health declining I really wasn’t living. I was merely existing. I had no motivation for life- I wished I wasn’t here- so many times I wondered how painful it would be to end it all, I honestly thought I was a burden and that everyone would be better off without me. I isolated myself partly because socialising meant food which scared me immensely, and partly because I felt as though I was inflicting myself on others and didn’t want to be a burden, among other reasons.
Not only the mental toll, AN takes a toll on you physically – I was told I had osteopenia with the bones of a 60 year old, I was anaemic, dizzy and freezing cold all the time, I was also exhausted to the point where basic tasks like getting out of bed in the morning were a huge effort. I was miserable – I really hit a low point. When I was sick with anorexia, I lost so much more than weight. I lost friends, health, employment, education, independence – myself.
Eventually I was admitted into an inpatient clinic for eating disorders, and that admission changed my life.
I honestly think I can give a lot of credit to my admission to me being able to recover. I realised I wasn’t doing recovery right, I was in an environment where I had to confront my emotions and everything that was going on as I couldn’t use my behaviours as I had done previously, so I learnt strategies to manage. I was so supported by the team there, and my team back at home, I finally had the skills and motivation to do it properly. I meticulously planned my discharge, and I kept up what I learnt in the clinic at home, and a year later I am weight restored, and finally able to eat at peace.
I have gained weight, and as I have weight restored I have gained so much more than weight- I’ve gained supportive friends and an understanding of who is there for me, I learnt I am loved and wanted despite what I think, that I am not a burden and that yes people would actually care if I something happened to me, I have learnt that I am capable, and I am starting to learn that I am OK as I am. I’ve also learned I don’t have to be thin to be sick, that even though I am weight restored my struggles are still valid and I still deserve help.
Needless to say, recovery hasn’t been easy – god no. It’s been one hell of a journey. I fell back so many times. Especially at the start as I was doing things my eating disorder told me not to. Not acting on ED behaviours was hard, I used the behaviours to mask emotions, I had the idea that somehow these behaviours would lead to happiness (yet they never did…) so not doing them took a lot of will power but once I pushed through that part, it did get easier, and a while down the track I’m starting to find myself again. I’m starting to try to accept my weight restored body. I am back at work full time and genuinely enjoy life, I have plans for the future! I can eat out with friends, go to events and places with people, I am living. Happiness came after what felt like years of pain, but I made it. I still have bad days, but that is ok, I’m handling them a lot better now and using coping mechanisms that are not ED behaviours, which is a huge step. I can say I am currently the happiest I have been in years- which is quite the achievement. I can’t put into words how glad I am I chose to recover.
If you are just starting on your recovery journey, I want to tell you firstly how proud I am of you for taking those steps, and to not give up entirely if you have slip ups along the way – it is part of the journey, no story of recovery is linear. I want you to know that you are worth recovery – you are worthy of a life beyond your Eating Disorder even though your ED will tell you you’re not (trust me, it’s lying), and that you will get there if you keep at the decision to recover.
Know there is no shame in seeking help- I am so thankful for my doctor for being so understanding and supportive, and I’m also grateful for everyone else in my treatment team. There are many professionals that can help, ask your GP for advice. I also found the Eating Disorders Victoria, Butterfly Foundation, and beyondblue helplines extremely helpful when I was in crisis.
As hard as it is to accept, recovery is up to you. No one else can make you recover- your family, friends, doctors, nurses etc can support and guide you through it but they can’t make you recover- they cannot save you. You need to choose to recover every day and it’s a choice you’ll probably need to make hundreds of times a day. If you muck up, that’s ok- try again. Take small steps every day. Use your supports such as close family and friends, see your treatment team, take your medications, keep in contact with friends, and take care of yourself as best as you can.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, recovery is hard but it is worth the struggle. I made it, and so can you. Keep at it.
Contributed by Georgia