So, it’s Friday morning and I’m sitting backwards in a circle of fifty people whilst someone occasionally squeezes my shoulders.
I am also sobbing (not so) quietly to myself.
I’ve been away. For those of you who have known me for some time, you will know that this is a big thing. I do not leave home. I certainly do not leave home to stay with strangers some two hours away from home. I have not done this since long before hospital, long before everything became so unbearably difficult.
And, yet, this week I did.
One of the things that I have found difficult throughout my recovery is being able to imagine an ‘end point’. My therapist spent the best part of two years trying to help me formulate an understanding of who I wanted to be and the life I wanted to live. I’ve written before here about values based recovery, something which struck a chord with me and I began to focus my recovery around.
For me, recovery became about being strong enough; stable enough; me enough to be able to help other people.
I am not going to write about what I did this week: it seems grossly unfair to tie my mental illness to anything that happened, because I was determined that anorexia didn’t have the chance to make an appearance – it would have been grossly unfair on everyone I was with if it had. Suffice to say, however, that it involved being with some of the bravest, funniest, most incredible children I have ever had the privilege to meet, and meeting some of the most genuine, humorous, kind adults I have ever had the privilege to work with.
I went with expectations. The first was that I wouldn’t fit in, because I am always convinced that I will not fit in, and the second was that I wouldn’t be able to cope with deciding what and when I ate for a whole week by myself for the first time in over five years.
My expectations of failure, however, would not have got me through the week. It would have been easy to make excuses about mealtimes; to shy away from the challenges; to do what I really wanted to do when I arrived, and drive straight back out of the gates.
There have been times in the past where I have been guilty of not trying, but I am only too aware that they never lead to a positive place. So, this week I tried. I tried so hard that sometimes it really, really hurt, but it was so, so, so utterly and completely worth it.
First steps are hard: it’s difficult to walk into a room full of strangers for anyone, but especially when you have spent so much of your life being bullied. But, walk into the room I did because what’s progress if it’s not about taking first steps?
What I have realised this week is that most people are not bullies. What happened to me was an exception to the norm, and it was extreme and it was not fair and it was not OK, but it is not what is supposed to happen to me: I do not deserve to be bullied.
What I have also realised this week is that I can be me – really me – and people won’t dislike me all that much.
I chose not to tell the people I met about my mental health, and I don’t think they noticed. That’s OK. I don’t have to excuse myself; my behaviour; who I am. I do not have to hide behind starvation; I do not have to hide behind an illness.
And, this week, I danced and I sang and I talked. Those of you who are, erm, fortunate to have known me forever will know that I do not EVER move my body, especially if there’s music. For those of you who have known me for a long time, you will have watched me become almost silent; unable to speak to anyone. But, this week, I let go of some of the hatred I have had about my body for so long and I danced, and I let go of the worries about being weird and saying the wrong thing and I spoke to people I had never met before.
There are no words to describe the feeling of freedom.
I do not talk about food here because this is (hardly ever) about the food, but I didn’t hide myself away at mealtimes; I didn’t take myself quietly to disabled toilets after eating and I didn’t always choose the safest option.
For the first time in years, I had the realisation that I do not want a slightly scrawny, on-the-edge-of-semi-starvation body: I want to look like a real person now. And I’m terrified and I’m confused about those thoughts. But that’s OK: I will get there.
I’m not saying it all just slots into place one day. I’m not saying that it’s easy, or that it suddenly happened as if by magic: I worked bloody hard to get here and I will have to continue to work hard, probably for the rest of my life.
But that’s OK because the people I met this week; the experiences I had this week; the lakes I canoed on this week; the number of times I properly, properly laughed this week; the food I enjoyed this week, they make it truly, truly worth it.
And I loved it.
I really and truly loved it.
And so, there I am, sitting backwards in a circle of fifty volunteers and I am sobbing.
And I am sobbing because I have found my end point.
And I can reach it.
If I can reach it, so can you.