National Eating Disorders Awareness Week finishes today. Its theme this year is Let’s Get Real and the goal is to expand the conversation and highlight stories we don’t often hear. So I thought I would share mine.

From about 16 years old to my first year of uni, around 21 years old, I suffered with my inner demon. I call her ‘The Anorexia’. She is now under control but will raise her head from time to time to put me down, make me feel ugly inside and out, and make me hate my body and feel overweight. Fortunately, my body is now healthy enough that my brain can function properly, and I can think more rationally, knowing there is little truth in these thoughts. I won’t lie…she has never left me and at low points in my life, she finds ways to manifest her self-sabotaging ways in more areas than my diet and exercise habits.

It started with me feeling I was ugly, I was a horrible person, I had average intelligence…I was depressed, I was lonely, I was fat…I knew I wasn’t really ‘fat’…I hated my thighs mainly. I had done dancing and horse riding so developed quite an inner thigh muscle, but I wanted a straight line! No way that will ever happen I realise now, but I wanted it gone and saw it as fat. I wouldn’t have my photo taken as I hated the way I looked. That’s why I couldn’t put a ‘before’ photo with this post. My parents did take a Polaroid picture of me in my bikini to try and show me how my bones protruded and how skinny I was, but I just couldn’t see it. We can’t find that picture now…I no doubt found a way to destroy it.

Not eating made me feel empty, which I found addictive. I guess it made me feel in control…even though I was anything but ‘in control’. I got down to 6 stone which is about 38kg, this was the limit that I kept myself at, as if I dropped any lower I would be admitted to hospital. I survived off 2 Weetabix with milk, and an orange a day. I ate my lunch but would go to the bathroom at school and throw up anything I ate, and I made sure I had a shower after dinner at home so I could throw that up, disguising the noise with the falling water. I wore big jumpers and baggy trousers to hide my body so people didn’t see how thin I was, and it looked like I was eating normally so nobody questioned me. The Anorexia makes you become very deceitful and conniving.

My calves then began to waste away and my boney legs became obvious in my school uniform. I remember my dad saying my legs looked like Minnie Mouse with my big black shoes and string with knots in for knees. That’s when people started to realise what was happening. I remember people writing messages in my school leaving book, to please put on weight. I got to a point where I didn’t even want to be anymore. I would close my eyes when driving, letting fate take over. Fortunately what was left of the real me eventually forced me to open my eyes and stay on the road. About this time, I came home from school one day and a close family member that I loved dearly, who was also a nurse, was at home. My mum and dad asked me to please talk to her. She told me how distraught my mum was, and this is when I think I realised that it wasn’t all about me. Other people did love me, and I was making them suffer. That’s when I started to open up a little and when the ‘help’ and doctors were contacted.

I remember numerous hours spent discussing my thoughts and actions with psychologists, with and without my parents present. I had no respect or trust in their words as they were often grey-faced people that were overweight – I was so judgemental I thought ‘what the hell do you know”, “no way in hell do I want to ‘get better’ if it means looking like you!” I had to take special meal replacement drinks, which I kind of liked, not because they tasted good, but because I saw them as a kind of label. I think I liked being sick, being the victim, worthless me, this is what I deserved…poor me! I loved when people told me I was too thin. I think I even believed they were jealous of me!

I remember discussing with the psychologists about my want to please my father, that I felt I never really achieved anything that wasn’t just expected of me, I didn’t feel my father gave me the praise I wanted etc. I felt like the psychologists were formulating questions, in a way that my answers convicted my parents.  This started to cause tension in our family, my mother and father now feeling to blame and depressed that it was their fault somehow. But this wasn’t true, I knew my parents loved me and were proud of me, I knew my dad had difficulty showing it at times, but I knew deep down he was immensely proud of my achievements, he supported my dreams and did his best to make them happen…I knew it wasn’t his ‘fault’. To see my parents suffer, particularly the pain it was causing my mum, is what made me change. The thing that made me want to get better. Not for me, but for her.

I don’t know why I was depressed and loved to starve myself. I had loving, supportive parents, pretty good friends and family. Anorexia didn’t run in the family. I consider it probably just happened at that time of life when we are entering puberty, our brain neurology, body, hormone levels and emotions/moods etc are all changing, we are participating in numerous exams that we feel determine our futures, and we are trying to decide what we want to do as a career for the rest of our lives, plus all the other pressures we experience as a teenager leaving school. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol, I chose to starve myself.

I did start to get better and put on weight but would control everything that went into my meals. That control wanned a little but I think evolved into orthorexia when I became vegan for a year and started to learn about nutrition more and omit numerous food items from my diet. It also evolved into over exercise where I would do two hours of hard cardio daily. I caused so much stress on my body I couldn’t sleep at night. I contracted a parasite in my gut that caused me to bloat and have severe abdominal pain…oh, my gosh the feelings of being fat and that mental battle began again. I don’t know what true damage I did to my body over those years…some things are starting to manifest that I think I caused back then, but hopefully, with my broad knowledge of holistic health practices and physiology, I will be able to heal myself from those also.

And now…I won’t lie…there’s still times when I am too hard on myself. I am a still a perfectionist, my worst critic, I like to be in control of things, I hate my body one day and love it the next. But I do have a much better more comprehensive understanding of nutrition and wellness. I appreciate fat and understand how important it is in our diet, I enjoy food and love cooking for my friends and family (even if I do make sure they are all healthy ingredients!)…I still make that caramel slice but with coconut cream and raw chocolate! I like to have muscle tone and a strong body, my exercise focusing now on morning walks and yoga. I also learned to stop The Anorexia voice from taking over, I learned meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, Reiki. I have found my good balance and I am back in control of my life. I now use my analytical and critical mind in positive ways and love to share my knowledge and experiences with people to help them with their own life battles, to defeat them and find their core selves again.

Anorexia is different for each of us but it is rarely about food and simply the thought of being fat. It is so much more. Sufferers need to learn ways to manage The Anorexia and keep her suppressed, letting their true selves dominate. Sharing information, sharing your darkest thoughts, getting them in the open, is what shuts The Anorexia down, what takes her power away from her. Don’t shut yourself off and let her dominate you. You are worthy, you are loved, you are so much more than her…