Two years ago today I was admitted to an eating disorders ward. I remember little of being there at first, but I do remember my Mum having to pack my clothes the night before because I didn’t have the energy. I also remember protesting when I was wheelchaired for an ECG because the day before I had been walking circuits around town.
I expected to be better within six months. I thought I’d be out for Christmas and have a job by the following January. What I didn’t realise was quite how long, and exhausting, recovery was going to be.
On the first of July, I will have been eating a normal diet for two years. And two years on, my body is still exhausted. I slept during the day every day for eighteen months. Sometimes I still have days where my body aches and I don’t feel capable of doing much. I have done things which I have later discovered to be too much; too early.
It’s still trial and error, but what I understand now is that it has to be underpinned by a solid, repetitive, reliable diet. That, too, has come as a shock. I thought that, once I had regained weight, I would be able to eat what and when I liked. I thought I would spontaneously develop a healthy, functional relationship with food.
I was wrong.
Two years in and I still can’t trust that I will eat the right amount of food at the right time without following a meal plan. It feels unfair that, despite the fact that I desperately want to be rid of anorexia, my mindset is still very much anorectic by default. It is tiring to go against what seems natural and what seems right because there is never a time when I can have a break.
This sounds grim and difficult, and some days that is all it is. But the point is that I do want to get better. And that is my responsibility. Before I had started any attempt at recovery, people often told me that nobody could recover for me. I thought I understood what they meant, but it has a clearer meaning now: my recovery is a lifelong commitment, which is a commitment which only I can make.
On the other hand, I cannot underline how progressively wonderful my two years of allowing myself another chance at life have been. This makes it sounds like it’s been one long party of unicorns and rainbows and – of course, and taking into account everything I’ve said above – it hasn’t. But there is something wonderful about waking up and knowing that I have the choice to eat Weetabix, and to go to bed and know that I am allowed to go to sleep and that my body will let me sleep. For a long time after I had allowed myself to begin recovering, the silence in my head – the lack of screaming and shouting and confusion – was overwhelming. I love doing nothing because, for so long, I wasn’t allowed to stop moving.
My key nurse used to tell me that it would be two steps forward and one step back. She was right. There are – sometimes seemingly insurmountable – setbacks, but I have achieved so, so much. I work; I have friends; I spent last weekend celebrating and loving somebody else whilst making sure that I looked after myself and that I ate the right food at the right time without somebody employed to look after me. I have a car; people are slowly starting to trust me again and my hair is thick (yeah, OK, really thick) again.
I’m not so sure about body image but, once upon a time (two years ago, surprisingly…), I thought that I would never be able to tolerate anything but skeletal. Further into weight gain, I thought that I would only ever be able to tolerate being underweight. But I have discovered that, the more I try, the more I can cope with. I am surprisingly adaptable and it is true that giving something a go is so very worth it. I’m not going to lie and say I love my body. I will never be a model but then I don’t want to be. I will never be someone who feels comfortable showcasing their body in public, but that’s OK. I can live with that.
What I would like to say is that, if at any point, or in any way, you’re unsure that you can recover (and you will be, and it’s normal and OK), remember that you have nothing to lose by trying. There is nobody who cannot do it. It is not easy but it is not impossible. I believed that I would never get better – sometimes I still believe that I am going to fall backwards and get sucked back in to anorexia – but I have to trust my commitment and keep moving forward, even if that is often at snail-pace.
Obviously, the next two years might be terrible and horrible and awful: I can’t predict my own future. But I can promise myself that I will keep trying. And I can promise that these two years have been infinitely better than the two preceding years. I can’t give you the answer, or any tricks. There is no way forward but forward, and there is no quick fix: no way of getting better that isn’t relentless and emotional.
But it is worth it.
And so are you.