I’ve written about this before, but it’s something that I can never quite put my finger on. As much as I draft and redraft, analogise and explain, I can’t quite say what’s in my brain. The following is complete brain-splurge in the faint hope that some of it will make a little bit of sense.
For a long time, I thought that having anorexia was the only thing that made me different. I thought that being ‘thin’ and helpless was the only reason anybody else would ever give me any attention.
The other day, my Dad said to me something along the lines of, ‘I didn’t dislike you; I disliked your illness.’. This might sound clichéd, but my Dad didn’t properly understand veganism until a fortnight ago, so I’m taking it that this came from the heart.
Today, I went for afternoon tea with one of my favourite people ever. At one point, our afternoon would’ve been filled with conversation about my mental health; what I could and couldn’t eat; her gently coaxing me to eat something. At that time, I was very caught up in the belief that, if I became capable of eating alone, our relationship would dissolve.
I felt the same about my Mum: I worried that she would stop caring about me if she didn’t have to feed me. I imagined that there would be no reason for me to live at home, to be loved and looked after if I were a healthy weight.
The truth is that this is not the truth. The truth is that anorexia wraps you up in a web of lies and tells you that your deepest fears will become reality.
Honestly, I am still guilty of this sometimes. I can’t, for example, get out of bed without my Mum coming to wake me up first because, every morning, I am scared that she will think I don’t need her anymore if I get out of bed without seeing her first because it is something I can do by myself. I know that there is absolutely no likelihood of this happening. But it doesn’t change the way I feel inside.
This, like a lot of other things, is something I am working on. For me, the key has been very similar to a lot of other parts of my recovery:
I have found that fear is always best faced with honesty. Anorexia cannot tell you lies when there is a real person in front of you telling the truth.
Anorexia cannot tell you that you will not be cared for if you start eating without support because the people you love will still be there, eating with you.
Anorexia cannot lie to you that your friends will desert you if you don’t deny yourself food if you ask your friends if this is true.
The more you say aloud what is in your head, the less your head can persuade you that you are alone. The thing is that mental illness relies upon you withdrawing into its clutches.
It has no power if you refuse.
It can be terrifying to think about life without the support you know you need and that, for me, is part of what made me cling to mental illness for so long, but that’s where honesty comes in. Tell people what support you need, and it’ll be there for you. Tell people the thoughts circulating in your head and they’ll support you wherever you need support.
Begin to recover, and people will celebrate with you; they will be there for you over and over and over again. And, eventually, you will find that your relationships – the real relationships – are stronger than ever. That your friends, your family like you for you.
For me, this has been an exciting, wonderful, magical discovery. More powerful and important that anorexia, anxiety, depression, OCD have ever been.
And, for anybody who worries about the impact of their illness upon me: I am not your friend because you are underweight; I am not your friend because you are vulnerable; I am not your friend because you have anorexia. I am your friend because you are you.
Please be honest with everyone in your life (OK, maybe not the milkman) about how you’re feeling.
You are not liked purely because you have anorexia/anxiety/bulimia/depression/OCD.