MISCONCEPTIONS. There’s so many of them surrounding the massive spectrum of invisible illnesses. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. SERIOUSLY. There’s more to a person on the inside than what you see on the outside.
Most people would associate anorexia with just wanting to be super skinny. Most people don’t realise that it’s actually a mental illness. Did you know that there’s more to anorexia than what you originally thought it was? Read on to find out what Rachel went through and is still going through, only being discharged from hospital quite recently, she has willingly accepted to share her story!
The truth behind Anorexia Nervosa
Before writing this, I decided to google the definition of anorexia nervosa and this is the first one I found – “Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an irrational fear of food as well as extreme, life-threatening weight loss. Patients who suffer from anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image and an excessive, obsessive fear of obesity, even when they are morbidly underweight.” One of the key points I picked up from this definition is that it is totally focused on weight. I totally disagree with the assumption that this illness is all about wanting to be ‘skinny.’ It is so so much more. I think the hardest part of living with the illness is the misconceptions. People assume that if you are anorexic, you are underweight and that you do not eat. Anorexia nervosa is an invisible illness. The stereotypes associated with the illness is something that needs to change, and quickly. I am now a healthy weight, but I am still anorexic. No matter how much weight I put on or calories I consume – I am still anorexic. The thought process that I have battled with every day is still there. Everyone needs to wake up and open their eyes to the facts of this illness – the life it takes away from you. I was barely surviving, let alone living. Stop assuming people are recovered just because they’re eating and/or weight restored. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, not physical.
I had a voice in my head that shouted at me not to eat. The more starved my brain got, the louder it got. If I listened, it was happy. But the reality was, Rachel was not happy. At the time I couldn’t distinguish my real thoughts to my anorexic ones which made me believe that I was alright if I didn’t eat and it was the right thing to do. My body was craving food, and it was all I ever thought about. The daily struggle of what to eat, when to eat, how to eat it. I couldn’t concentrate at college and people would say that talking to me was like talking to a ‘brick wall’. This is not Rachel at all, it was the anorexia taking over. I never spent time with my friends and I isolated myself because I felt this horrible urge to exercise. If I didn’t, the voices were loud. Exhaustion took over and I felt dizzy all the time. My hair fell out. I lost interest in all my hobbies, I was too weak to play drums and didn’t even have the strength to pick up my saxophone. The scariest part of it was, through all of this, I convinced myself I was okay.
I was only diagnosed, towards the end of 2016 and that’s when my world turned upside down. My family had no idea how to help me, because I refused to be helped. I went for endless blood tests, weigh-ins and had a lot of therapy but nothing seemed to be working. I couldn’t shift my thinking patterns no matter how hard I tried but I think the biggest factor was – I didn’t want to get better. The responsibility of putting on weight myself and eating myself was too much, so eventually, this responsibility was taken away from me and I went to a hospital treating adults with eating disorders. I spent 4 months as an inpatient there and have only recently been discharged. I still go there two days a week, so I can get support if I am struggling and so they can keep an eye on me. Grateful is an understatement. For a long time, I refused to open up and I have a vivid memory of one therapy session where myself and the psychologist sat there in silence for one hour along with the nurse I was on 1:1 with. I spent 6 weeks with a nurse 24/7 – they watched me sleep, eat and even go to the toilet because I couldn’t be trusted on my own. My life day in, day out, was eat, sleep and sit in the awfully mind-numbing longue for an hour after every time I ate. Hearing screaming and crying from other patients and myself became normal for me, and I became oblivious to it. The emergency alarm would constantly ring and that ring still haunts me today. I completely forgot what ‘normal’ life was because to me – this was normal. Eating disorders are often glamorised but I cannot understand why this is.
I saw no way out of the anorexic cycle that I had depended on for so long. It was engraved into me and it was a part of me. I didn’t open up and talk about my feelings because I couldn’t understand them myself. Not knowing the root causes of my illness meant I couldn’t see a way out of it and any talk of my future without my illness, made me feel physically sick. But eventually things did start to click into place. Therapy started to help me and I was honest. After a lot of persuasion, I finally spoke about my real feelings and this is where the road to recovery finally began. The amount of support I got in hospital was life changing. I am now a totally different person. The nurses, healthcare assistants, therapists, dieticians and my consultant all taught me how to live again and proved to me that the voices were wrong. My real thoughts and emotions came back and I was no longer “numb”. Now, I can talk about my anorexia openly because I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed and I want people to know who are suffering with this illness, that they shouldn’t be either.
I met a lot of amazing people whilst being inpatient and these people continue to inspire me daily. I feel very connected to them because we have been through a lot together and I support them the best that I can. We are in this together. Anorexia made me feel sheltered from everyone and everything and I felt as if I was the only one struggling until I went into hospital and it suddenly hit me how common it really is.
1.6 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder and 1 in 10 women are affected by anorexia.
The scary part is, there are more undiagnosed cases out there but because anorexia is an invisible illness and people are not being listened to. If you think you are struggling with an eating disorder, please, please, please, speak out. Talk about it. If you don’t feel able to talk, write it down and give it to someone before it’s too late. Eating disorders don’t just affect the individuals battling them but their friends, family, work colleagues and other people around them too. Recovery is not all about the food, it’s about the feelings. I remember comments like “you look good today” made me feel bad about my body but comments saying about how much energy I had built up my self esteem and made me realise I am a human being with values and there is more to me than how I look.
“Recovery is the most unpredictable part of one’s journey. It can make you feel and think crazy things.” – Sacha Justine. I found this quote and it sums up recovery for me. I still have bad days, bad meals, arguments with friends and family because sometimes anorexia will do anything and everything to take control again. But I won’t let it because now, Rachel is finally winning.
“First I ate to save my life. And now – why do I eat? Because my fight weight is my happy weight. Because I need energy to work & love & say no to guilt-ridden, idiotic, self-defeating mindset that thinner/lighter/smaller is better. You deserve more.” – Emma Woolf
Before I left for inpatient (Feb 2017
On my home leave (June 2017)
Thank you to Rachel for being brave and sharing her story! I can’t stress enough how important it is to speak up about invisible illnesses if you or a loved one is suffering. Eating disorders are very common and very very dangerous. Thank you to Rachel again for highlighting how important recovery was to her, as this will show people how important it is for them to take a step forward into healing and accepting recovery before it is too late.
I hope this post has also helped to highlight the misconceptions of Anorexia Nervosa, and has inspired some people to speak up about their eating disorders and invisible illnesses.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, I have been told by Rachel that the UK’S ‘BEATS’ charity have helped her a lot.
CLICK HERE to go straight to their website!
And my blog is open to anyone who is suffering from any invisible illness, so if you would like to share your story then be my guest!
Thanks for reading,