Anorexia is not a life choice.
That’s the best thing about it – you can choose it. And if you forget to choose recovery one day, you can still choose recovery again the next.
Also, it’s amazing.
I’m not saying, of course, that it’s always fantastic and wonderful and skipping through the daises with a talking llama (what?): there are days which include a lot of sobbing and tiny portions of rice etc. etc. but there is also a whole world of possibility where nobody stares at you because you’re ridiculously thin (because, if you have anorexia, you are ridiculously thin, whatever your brain is telling you), and, if you reach a healthy enough bodyweight, you won’t care about it either.
When I was discharged from inpatient (a year ago today. Did I mention it?!), I was still really poorly. I had my relapse planned out, quite literally. I was going to be back in hospital within three months because that was my safe place, and I wasn’t quite sure I could live without it.
So what went wrong?
I had a couple of serendipitous accidents. I started to volunteer, just once a week, at a charity. I found that sometimes thinking about volunteering at the charity was enough to make me eat my lunch, because there were people there that I liked, and made me laugh. After a while, I found that I wasn’t terrible at the volunteering, either, and that they were happy for me to go in more than once a week.
This gave me a purpose.
My boyfriend, who has always waited patiently for me, wherever my mentalness has taken me, took me out for breakfast or lunch on a Wednesday. I remember one Wednesday, we went to look at the aquariums with fish for sale at a garden centre close to where I live. This might not sound like much, but I loved it.
And so I had a base upon which to live.
I was lucky because I didn’t have to see my therapist where I had been in hospital. She was new, and so I didn’t have to think about being in hospital when I saw her. She became safe. And another piece of the puzzle.
I found out that I love going to the cinema. I made new best friends. They keep me sane, even if other people don’t understand how finding besties in the asylum does that. I tried really hard, despite the fact that I still don’t really believe that anybody likes me, to keep talking to them and seeing them.
I kept going to the hospital, three times a week (this was agreed; I wasn’t just turning up). They taught me that it was OK to go home at the end of the day and that I’d still be welcomed there when I was supposed to be there. They still listened to me and they still believed that my recovery was important.
And then the three months was over and I wasn’t back in hospital.
I’m not going to lie: I miss being in hospital. I miss the safety and security; I miss the people and I miss knowing that someone was always there if I needed to talk to them. And, yes, I view my admission through rose-tinted spectacles (say, ‘spectacleeeees’…sorry, wrong blog!). I have also come to realise that I am going to feel an ongoing affinity with the place and the people who saved my life, but that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be the right place for me.
Slowly, I stopped being scared of being well. I found that it didn’t suddenly make people assume I could do the things I struggled with, and it didn’t mean that all of a sudden I had to find a full-time job.
I took my time to recover. Yes, there were hiccups where I rushed things and made unwise choices, but I was surrounded by people who really did love me for who I am, and so it didn’t matter, and they were there to pick me up when it went wrong.
Recovery is not a state of mind. You cannot be recovered.
You can make choices synonymous with recovery, but the anorexia – as my therapist tells me (and I see this as more helpful every time I think about it) – is always there, should I feel the need to return to it. That makes me feel powerful: I do not want to be tiny thin, cold and bird-bony, even if the unwell part of me does tell me that. And that choice belongs to me and I can make that choice.
I know that I do not always have to make the same choices. You can arm yourself with as many strategies as you want to: there aren’t any wrong ones.
Sometimes, I want to choose thinking about my charity work, but sometimes I’d rather be in hospital than doing charity work. Sometimes I think about how my relationship with my beautiful little sister has grown back, but sometimes she’s in a stroppy mood (sorry, Annaballs). Sometimes, I don’t want to eat at all, but I remember that my therapist says that I mustn’t fuss, and then I remember all the times when I thought I couldn’t do it before, and all the times when – actually – I did do it, and I know that I am stronger than I think (and sometimes stronger than I would like to be, and like to admit that I am).
And sometimes I do not make the recovery choices.
But the important thing is that I have a large enough arsenal (pardon you?!) to understand what went wrong and to find something – anything – to help me make the right choice.
And the beauty of this is that anybody can do it.
Anybody at all.
And that means you.