There was a stage when I dismissed anyone who tried to help me. When my family and friends were getting worried about my changed eating patterns and weight loss (before I was diagnosed with an Eating Disorder), if anyone tried to have a conversation with me about it I would either nervously laugh and try to dodge my way round the conversation, or I would get annoyed saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine’. At that stage I remember feeling confused. I knew my relationship with food had changed, but I saw this relationship as my ‘new normal’ and nothing to be concerned about. There were times when I internally questioned my reduced food intake, but almost immediately after this thought entered my head, ‘it’ created a counterargument and convinced me everything was grand and I just needed to keep doing what I was doing. So I did.
Around this time, I remember my mum and sister trying to have conversations with me many times about me eating less – and whenever they thought they were getting somewhere and I was seeing reason, the line ‘I’m fine’ was used again.
I also distinctly remember a text I got the last day of Year 10 when we got off for summer. My best friend sent the loveliest text, telling me how worried she and my friends were about me, and asking if I would go to my GP and get help. I read this text and felt a whole range of emotions – relieved, loved, scared, confused, worried. And once I had composed a long reply, talking about my confusion as to what was going on in my life and how I didn’t know what to do, my finger pressed the delete button, and those 2 words came back instead… ‘I’m fine’.
You see, at the time I could sometimes see that things were different in my life in terms of food/weight – but never for one moment did I think I had an Eating Disorder. My naivety led me to believe that, ‘People with Eating Disorders don’t eat at all – I still eat something each day so I can’t have an Eating Disorder, right?’
Wrong. The truth is, Eating Disorders are serious Mental Illnesses with physical side effects – eg. weight loss, reduced food intake etc. At this point in my life, I was mentally ill and consequently physically ill – I just hadn’t realised it yet. But I was confused. I knew logically that I wasn’t eating what I used to, and I had lost weight – but at that point, that seemed like an achievement to me rather than a problem. Now I know it was most definitely a problem caused by the sneaky, devious illness that is, Anorexia Nervosa.
Then, Summer 2012 came and I received professional treatment for my illness for the first time. On the surface, I dismissed any person who was trying to help me. I remember being so angry, thinking that everyone was interfering with my life, that I should be allowed to live my life the way I ‘wanted’ to, that these people were just fussing and making a big deal out of ‘nothing’. Well, I say ‘I’ but looking back, these thoughts came from ‘it’ – my Eating Disorder. ‘It’ was scared at this point, because ‘it’ knew that these people could help and save the Naomi part of me – and ‘it’ was going down.
But ‘it’ put up a fight. It tortured me every moment of every day, making me feel guilty for every mouthful of food I ate, making me feel the need to burn calories in any way possible, making me feel completely worthless and horrible. Some ‘friend’ Miss A.N. is right?
At the start of recovery, the Naomi part of me was still lost. My ED was controlling my life more than I was at that stage – as a result, I appeared to be a dismissive, ill, 14 year old girl who didn’t believe she had a problem or needed help. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me…I’m fine…Leave me alone…Let me make my own decisions…I’m 14, I’m not a small child…Stop interfering with my life!’
So what changed?
Okay, so although I would love to give you a potion to magically within the click of a finger be able to cure someone with an Eating Disorder…I can’t, because it doesn’t exist. However, I can let you know about my change from an ill, 14 year old girl who didn’t want or think she needed help, to me now – a healthy, happy 19 year old doing really really well, writing this message in the hope it’ll help someone reading it.
Although it took time to progress from 14 year old me to 19 year old me, there were glimmers of light along the way. Recovery is very much an up and down journey – unpredictable, scary, but worthwhile. I remember in the early days of recovery, accepting I had an illness was one of the first steps which helped me get better – and this acceptance was one of the biggest, most important steps. I’ll put this into context: For about 6-7 months I had been developing this illness, and my illness was convincing me that what I was doing was normal – there wasn’t a problem with it. Then suddenly I was going to an Eating Disorder clinic with professionals telling my mum how to support me in recovering from this very serious, harmful illness. But didn’t ‘it’ just tell me that I didn’t have a problem and everything was normal? …Confused? Well I was.
Anorexia Nervosa tells you nothing but lies over and over – so when the truth is being told to you, especially for the first time, well that goes against everything Miss A.N. has said – so it is confusing. For me, there were times in those early days where the thought of ‘Maybe I do have an illness and I need help’ came into my mind – but in the early days that thought may have only lasted 10 seconds. Then Miss A.N. would take over again.
What I’m saying is that in recovery, there will be glimpses of the real person shining through a mask created by the illness – at the start, those glimpses may be very occasional, but over time, those glimpses will hopefully become more frequent and stronger. During those moments of hope, the real person inside will hopefully start to realise and accept that they have an illness and they need to fight it to be free. Yes, the illness may combat that thought by making the person fearful of ‘Life without it’, but the stronger and less entangled the person becomes, the more able they are to see that a life of freedom is the aim – and a life controlled by an ED, now that is the scary thing.
The biggest thing that changed for me was that the Naomi part of me gradually accepted that she had an illness that was ruining her life and she needed to fight against it. After that, I was able to start separating myself from the ED, in which I had become entangled, and that was a massive part of my recovery – separating the ED thoughts from the Naomi thoughts. The acceptance and separation didn’t happen suddenly in a day, a week, a month – but over time the glimmers of hope and realisation built up into a new, healthier thought process. And this thought process was controlled by Naomi – not her ED.
The best part is, things can change. 4-5 years ago when I was in the midst of being entangled by my illness I couldn’t have imagined a free, happy, healthy life – but now I’m living that life. The work and determination recovery takes is hard and exhausting, but believe me when I say it is 100% worthwhile.