Recovering from an eating disorder
A letter to my 14 year old self
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Énouement – The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
I didn’t know there was a word for this. It’s a feeling I experience every day that I thought could not be defined. I want to go back to the me of several years ago; the skin and bone shadow of a person who was lying in a hospital bed, and tell her that she is going to be okay.
I want her to know that, contrary to the beliefs of her teachers and family, she would get into her dream course in University. I want her to know all of this, but one of the most bittersweet aspects of things getting better is that you will not be able to comprehend it as a possibility until it happens. I can’t tell that version of me, but if I could here is a letter to the Me who was suffering with Anorexia Nervosa.
I know you feel like you can never recover from this. You can’t bear to look at pictures from your childhood. You were always the chubby child in primary school and I cannot remember a time when it didn’t upset you.
When you were twelve, your teacher decided to educate your class on the importance of making healthy food choices. You watched a very dramatic documentary about the revolting consequences of eating McDonald’s regularly. You learned about how much fat was in each brand of cereal and in egg yolks.
Your teacher wasn’t aware that these facts would stick in your head for years to come, even now as I’m writing this. That teacher didn’t realise that these classes would be one of the reasons you have spent the majority of a year in hospital, struggling to eat a slice of toast.
I know you see nothing wrong with the diet that lead you to lying where you are now, with a drip in your hand and your family questioning your future. What began as another one of your phased diets has ended in you eating barely anything each day.
However, you are there because you have a problem. It is a problem that thrives on secrecy and denial, and you will have to admit its existence in order to recover. This is going to be really difficult, but you will do it.
You have a problem. You probably should have realised it when your stomach went into reverse and you were force fed through a tube down your throat. You should have realised you were in trouble when the three minute walk from the bus stop to your school gave you chest pains. It was clear to everyone else when you couldn’t stand up for too long without your vision being speckled with black dots and feeling an intense wave of nausea.
When your doctor took one look at you, she realised immediately that you needed help and you need to realise that too.
You may think the nurses are borderline evil for sitting with you during meal times, insuring you eat that sandwich. You have cried many times because you are forced to swallow calorie drinks. As time goes on, you will grow to like these nurses. They were very good to you.
You should know that you will pull through this. You will be discharged from hospital and granted permission to return to school. You will have the energy to socialise and communicate with people, something I know you haven’t done in the last year. You will make friends, some of whom you no longer talk to and some that you still adore and see regularly today.
These friends all will support you when you relapse next year. They motivate you to climb up from your lowest ever weight and become healthy enough to start aiming towards a better future.
Despite struggling with your mental health, you will start working towards the goal you’ve had since you were a child. You will study hard and do well in your exams. You proceed to do Journalism and New Media in The University of Limerick.
You will be able to move out of home, live with seven other fantastically strange students and be able to maintain eating regularly. I know you used not be able to bear eating in front of others, but you have grown so much that you can now joke about your strange diet with your housemates. Well done.
Through your course, you will meet like-minded people who you connect with and adore. You consider some of the people you’ve met to be some of your best friends.
I’m not going to lie to you and say absolutely everything is perfect. You still struggle with your mental health and anxiety, but you have definitely improved. You still cannot eat any junk food and your diet is still unvaried. Sometimes I feel like it will always be that way, but I try to remember that you never thought you’d get to where I am now and here we are.
I have to remember that I have come from the dark place that you thought was never ending, and I am telling myself that there is hope. I am still not completely happy with my body, but I am doing much better than I was when I was in your place. You have that to look forward to.
Finally, I want you to know that you are at the point where you can use this experience to help others. You want to break the stigma that eating disorders are a “Teenage girl issue”. You want to break down gender and age barriers, because eating disorders can affect absolutely everyone.
You want to encourage other college students to seek help for their issues. You are going to want to share your story to let others know that if they are suffering in the way you did, there is hope. You want everyone with an eating disorder to know it is possible to achieve things that seem impossible.
I am proud of you.
It is important to remember that if you have an unhealthy relationship with food, or worry that someone you love may be developing an eating disorder, you need to seek help. There is nothing shameful about having an eating disorder. They thrive on secrecy and deception, and communication is key to recovery. Eating disorders know no boundaries. People of every age and gender suffer from them. Seek help from your GP, college counselling service or health centre. For more information and support, visit Bodywhys.ie.