It was Easter 2015 when I found myself with one small chocolate in the palm of my hand, but unable to bring myself to eat it.
This was very out of character for me as my love for sugary things was one I have had since I was a little girl and it was at this point I knew my new healthy lifestyle was no longer healthy. It was controlling, rule-abiding, restricting and accompanied a never-ending exercise regimen.
I was living in America at the time, away from my home and my family back in Australia. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t have the people around me to confirm it. I moved back to my family home hoping my parents would notice my changes, my diet, my constant need to exercise as this was not the same girl that they knew and loved.
Noticed they did, but they didn’t know how to address it. The usual “I’m fine! Leave me alone!” would be spat venomously toward their direction if they even glimpsed at the smallest amount of food possible that laid on my plate.
One day after getting home from my gruelling morning routine, my mother made the brave decision to tell me I had a doctor’s appointment in an hour and I needed to get ready. There was a part of me that was furious.
But there was also a part of me that was relieved.
Diagnosed with anorexia on May 4th, 2015, it all went down hill from there.
Once diagnosed with an illness one would think that it would start to get better, but my mind wouldn’t have it that way.
The critical voice would scream, “You’re not sick enough, thin enough, loved enough, you’re a disgrace to this label that has been given to you. You’ve once again failed.”
It got much worse before it got better.
Days were spent hating each moment, wanting to get better but at the same time fearing the consequence of doing so. It’s not as easy as just “eating a burger” and getting over it.
The internal battle was constant.
I existed in a body that fought to survive, with a mind that tried to die.
The self-hatred and critical voices that came after finishing a meal was becoming too much and there were times where I wondered if I was strong enough to beat this illness myself.
The statistics I found on the internet told me that anorexia had the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It had me wondering if I was going to be next.
The chest pain was constant, my heart beat slowing, my thick locks of hair were no more and were now found in chunks all over the floors. The migraines were there from the time I woke to the time I laid my body onto my once comfy mattress that now felt like I was sleeping on a bed of nails—bones sticking into the springs meant another night of not sleeping. The simplicity of standing had my vision blackening, and my concentration lacking meant I couldn’t even string a simple sentence together.
My womanhood taken away from me, and the constant sweats of teenage puberty were now reoccurring in my twenty-second year.
Not wanting eyes to be staring at my every move I hid away from the world and restricted myself to my spot on the couch in front of the television, where I laid for days, nights and weeks that soon turned into months. The spot where I became weaker and weaker, muscles I use to have could no longer even help me walk.
I knew something had to change.
I wasn’t going to live like this, and even more—I wasn’t going to die like this.
I was once a happy girl, who travelled the world and lived with love and passion in my heart. Now I found myself not even wanting to be on this earth anymore, not if this was the way I was going to be existing in it.
So I decided to get better.
It wasn’t easy, the great things in life never are, but it was every bit of my life worth it.
When I was labelled anorexic, my mind used that as a way to become even more ill, so I decided if I want to be labelled as recovered, I would become the best version of recovered I could be.
It’s been a battle each day, there have been more times I felt like I have lost more than I’ve won. The biggest turning point was recognising my eating disorder behaviours.
I’ve read it takes 21 days to develop a habit and 21 days to break the habit but in my case, I believe it would only take one day of doing something to feed into my ED and that behaviour would stick. At times I didn’t even realise what that behaviour was; it could have been as simple as staring at myself in the mirror and criticising myself for too long. Once noticing these ED behaviours for what they were, I made sure I wold try my hardest to no longer do them. It took practice, and most of the time I would recognise after I had given in.
ED behaviours quickly and quietly become second nature, making us feel normal, safe and as if they were protecting us from what else was going on in our lives. But that is not the case. They were keeping me sick, trapped, scared, restricted, and so very sad.
Eventually, through the help of my family, friends, doctor, dietician and psychologist, I made it.
It’s now 2016 and a year later I am restored. Not only in my weight but in my life. I can live the life I want to live without the rules and restrictions of anorexia. I am no longer labelled anorexic. I am labelled recovered which requires much more strength and determination than my anorexia ever did.
There are times where I still find my eating disorder nipping at my heels, wanting my attention—but through the help of my psychologists and doctors, I have developed healthy ways of dealing with what life throws at me and I no longer need to take it out on myself and my beautiful body.
My body fought each day through the battle with my eating disorder and I love it so much more now for never giving up on me.
Life is short. It’s hard and can be unforgiving at times but it’s worth it.
Here are a few of my lessons learnt, through my recovery:
The difference between reality and fear. (Clear mind & Eating Disorder mind)
The reality is, there’s food on my plate. That food will fuel my body, feed my mind—will save my life.
Fear is telling me I’ve failed, it’s too much, you’ll put on too much weight, you’ve worked so hard, you won’t be perfect, you’ll be sick, this isn’t healthy, you’re not skinny enough—and some of the biggest lies: you’re fine, you don’t need this, you’re full.
Fear had a way of clouding reality and make me believe that it was my reality—but once I learnt to separate the two and bring myself out from the clouded headspace, that was when the real magic began. That was when I could see fear for what it was: an emotion.
Acknowledging the fear.
The fear that could cripple me in an instant knows my weaknesses and will bring them to the front of my mind until they become all consuming. The “what if’s” and the “should have’s” will bring up emotions from the past and worries about the future. By learning to sit with the emotion of fear and not let it scare me, but instead inspire me; by knowing I am moving closer to my truth.
Knowing that fear is just an emotion brings me the peace to just let it be what it is—an emotion that has no place in telling me how to live my life.
Having patience and being kind to yourself.
When in recovery I found myself being even more critical for not getting better quicker. One week I would be home not wanting to see anyone, the next I would be out to dinner with friends but unless the night went “perfectly” it would usually end in tears on the drive home and crying myself to sleep. I was feeling as though in recovery I was also failing.
Instead of being proud of my little achievements and wins I would be harsh and feel as though they weren’t enough. What I learnt though this is everything takes the amount of time it needs to heal, there is no race in recovery. Patience and kindness are the key, I got to where I needed to be in the end and now I can look back and see those little wins for what they were: big wins coming in small packages.
It’s easy to get caught up in the big picture and wanting to get there now but by doing so the moment gets ruined. All of those nights where I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, instead of thinking “go me!” I would cry myself to sleep. By knowing this now, I’m much kinder to myself, and that’s the nicest feeling.
Love your body, it is trying to heal.
This takes a lot of practice.
When in the early stage of re-feeding my body I was “hating life”. My days would revolve around the one thing I was hating most at the time: food. I would wake up eat breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Every meal was a battle, every meal left me feeling bloated and full as I could possibly be. I would find my ED tricking me into believing once again that my body was failing me: it wasn’t absorbing the food I was eating, it wasn’t making this process any easier for me, and I was mad!
It took some time and an X-ray to reveal my stomach had shrunk down to the size of baby and I was eating adult portions of food, for me to understand. My poor body, I put it through hell and back starving it and then filling it back up with food and it didn’t know how to respond. I learnt to eat what was on my meal plan and sit with the feeling of full, all the emotions that came with that feeling and of course the backlash of the ED in my mind.
By learning to sit with this feeling, knowing my body is doing everything it can to fix itself, I have now found more love for my body then I ever thought was possible.
After the re-feeding stage came the enjoyment of life stage! I can now walk, run, jump and enjoy my life because my body and I have a much stronger connection and I’m no longer suppressing how it feels. When it is hungry, I eat. When it is tired, I rest. We enjoy yoga and walks along the beach. The connection between loving my body and listening to how it feels brings a peace to my heart and a quietness to my mind that I never really experience before my ED.
Making friends, losing friends.
Eating disorders can be described as an emotionally abusive relationship. It was like having someone outside of me tell me all the things that are wrong in my life: whether it be feeling failure, un-belonging, undeserving, unworthiness or unhappiness. It made me feel as though if I listened and did everything it said I would find the happiness I’d been looking for.
Eating disorders are liars. I recall sitting in my dieticians office when she told me to “rally the troops” and that I would need all the support from my friends and family to beat this thing. Leaving her office, I realised my friends were few and far between. As I’d become socially anxious, lacked concentration and had not being able to control the situation outside of the “safe” zone I created for myself, I would say no to dinners, lunches and movies.
It was at these times I noticed how much as human beings we live around food, therefore being fearful of food and judgement meant saying no to everyone I knew. There were only so many times I could say no before my friends stopped inviting me. However, through my recovery with anorexia, I found out who my real friends were. The ones who kept asking, the ones who waited for the smile to return to my face, the ones who were concerned and asked what was best for me at that time.
I also made friends I would never have made before, by going to recovery groups and meeting others that were in the same place as myself and wanting to get better. I made some of the strongest friendships I’ve ever had. To talk to someone who truly understood what I was going through as they were there themselves, we would help each other find our way out. I am so thankful for the people who stood beside me and offered help as I saved myself. Those friendships will truly last through anything.
I may only be able to count them on one hand, but I am truly lucky.
Accepting the things I can’t change.
I am who I am and others are who they are.
Everyone on this earth has their own emotions, and reactions, I am not responsible for the way someone else chooses to act or react. With a critical mind, it is easy for me to feel as if I’ve done something wrong. My brain will go a mile a minute to try and fix the situation ahead of me, whether it be in a relationship, with a boss or with a friend. If someone else in the room is in a bad mood, I immediately think, ” what did I do?”. The reality is they could be angry for many different reasons.
I have learnt I do not need to take someone else emotions or reactions on as my own. I am not responsible for the way someone else reacts to a situation, I am only responsible for my own reaction and emotions and that is perfectly okay.
Knowing my worth and believing in myself.
Each of us are all worthy to live the life we wish. For the longest time, I cared too much about what other people thought of me. I would find myself moulding into the person someone would want me to be rather than being myself. My fear of not being perfect in the eyes of someone else overruled me being perfect in the only eyes that mattered: my own.
I have always put someone else happiness before my own. If they said jump, I’d ask how high? When? Am I jumping okay? Do you need more?
What I’ve learnt is asking for someone else’s approval meant I was never truly believing in me and my worth. I needed someone else to tell me that I was doing okay, rather than knowing deep within and believing in myself. I was giving all the power to someone else and when I gave my power to someone else, their emotions, their thoughts, their judgements, started to feel a lot like my own.
By learning to believe in myself, I no longer needed the approval of someone else. I can now stand on my own two feet happily knowing what I’m doing is okay because I’m giving it my best and that’s all I can do.
I am only human and there is always more than one way to do something. The critical voice inside my mind wants me to be “perfect”. Perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect body, perfect job, the perfect relationship, perfect personality.
What I’ve come to learn is there is no perfect version of me. By not being so hard on myself and forgiving myself for the mistakes I make knowing I’m only trying my best, I give myself the inner peace I’ve been searching for. There is happiness in forgiveness rather than perfection.
Peace and joy.
I let peace and joy inspire how I live my life. I’ve always longed to be happy and to have perfection, but in knowing happiness is just an emotion and perfection doesn’t exist, I can live my life with peace and joy.
By clearing my mind and being able to listen to the voice of my heart and what it wants and connecting the two together, my inner peace is found and I can live my life joyfully.
Above all else, love!
There is so much anger and hate in this world, so much negativity and comparison to our fellow humans. We are all here making it up as we go along. Kindness and love will go a long way, but we need to start with ourselves.
Most importantly, knowing:
I am worthy.
You are worthy.
We are all worthy.
For If, there is no enemy within. The enemy outside can do us no harm.
~ Old African Proverb.
Author: Briahne Kelly
Image: Youtube/Whip It
Editor: Erin Lawson