There have been times during the last year when I have felt completely and utterly alone. I have felt like a freak, a malfunction, a weirdo. I watched my friends devour cheesy pizzas and sip sugary cocktails and I marvelled at their normalcy, their ability to simply eat and drink as they pleased without the suffocating dread and anxiety that consumed me whenever a crumb passed my lips. I lived in fear of humanity’s most fundamental requirement, and I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me.
Although I struggle to recall a time where I didn’t worry about what I was eating and the way I looked, the active stage of my eating disorder started innocently enough. Influenced by the clean eating wellness fads that were sweeping society, I began eliminating foods I was told were unhealthy and started exercising more and more, all in a pursuit of optimum fitness and a beautifully thin body. Before I knew it, these intentions had snowballed and I was in the grips of this horribly lonely existence. I was freezing and weak and unbearably exhausted. I spent my days feeling dizzy and faint and I couldn’t concentrate on anything, whilst my hair fell out, my skin cracked and bled, my bruised body ached and I couldn’t sleep. I became extremely anxious, depressed and withdrawn as my vision narrowed to encompass only food: all I could think about was what I was going to eat, what I had already eaten, and how to avoid eating. It was a painfully miserable, isolating and scary period of my life, but I felt trapped by anorexia’s lies and I just could not see a way out.
I knew I was anorexic long before I actually admitted I had an illness. People are afraid of accepting they’re ill for so many reasons, predominantly fear, but for mental illness in particular there remains such a stigma, a stereotype of being weak or melodramatic, a belief that if an illness cannot be seen it will not be believed (which is unfortunately too often the case). But admitting you are struggling is the first step to getting better: you don’t need to “prove” you are unwell and you don’t need tangible evidence. If you are suffering – mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever – then you are worthy of support, treatment and recovery.
This ED Awareness week (27th February – 5th March), campaigners are focusing particularly on early intervention, emphasising the proven fact that the sooner a sufferer starts receiving support, the greater the chance of a full recovery. You may think that you are not sick enough or thin enough to ask for help, but this is not true. Regardless of your weight or your age or your gender, despite your shame and your fear and your lack of self-worth, reach out to somebody – anybody – and ask for help.
In the words of Selena Gomez, if you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.
You are not a drama queen, you are not a nuisance, you are not a burden. You are not alone.