In my early few years of Eating Disorder recovery, I always remembered dates and anniversaries of when certain things happened. The day of my first appointment to Beechcroft Eating Disorder Outpatients, the day of my second appointment at EDYS and almost being admitted to Beechcroft Inpatient, the day I was admitted into a children’s medical ward in the Ulster Hospital, the day I was seen by the crisis team due to not coping well. I would always think, ‘This time last week…; this time a month ago…; this time last year…’. I reminisced a lot – but not in a good way. You see, at this stage I was still in the grips of my ED, and although I knew how unhappy my Eating Disorder made me, in a way, I longed to go back to when ‘it’ was in control.
I’ll be honest, when ‘it’ was in control my life was miserable – but ‘it’ convinced me that it was safe. Even though I was tired, hungry, felt so sad, craved so many foods that I wouldn’t let myself eat, made myself frantically exercise while feeling like I would faint, pushed people away, felt hopeless – I was listening to this ‘thing’ in my head that told me that it’s instructions were more important than anything that anyone else would ever tell me.
It lied to me. It told me that I would be happier if I reduced calories, if I increased exercise, if the number on the scales went down. And I did all of those things – but each day I fell deeper and deeper into something that I wasn’t going to get back out of with ease.
Today, I started my university course which is really exciting! I’m studying Primary Teaching at Stranmillis University College in Belfast. When I was in my final year at school, I knew I needed some time out from studying. I had always been a ‘stressy’ person about school/coursework/exams – but after being out of school for most of Year 11 and only being in occasionally in Year 12, I learnt and completed a reduced number of GCSEs in about 6 months, and then moved straight on to A levels. During this time, I was still struggling with eating, I still had a very low mood, I still felt anxious around people and talking to them.
I ended up taking two gap years – and honestly, they were 100% the best thing for me. In many ways, I have come so far during these 2 years. 18 year old Naomi was very different to me now as a 20 year old – and 20 year old Naomi compared to her 14 year old self is pretty unrecognisable. Not many people at university know about my mental health history. To be honest, I don’t mind if they find out (I mean, I write blogs and put them on the internet so I’m not overly private about the whole thing!), but it’s nice for them to get to know me first as ‘Naomi’ rather than ‘that girl with mental health problems’. Last week, I talked so much (which was probably one of the reasons I lost my voice!), I wasn’t regimental with food, I felt happy! Those are 3 things that I could never have imagined doing when I was in the grips of my eating disorder. I’m not saying that I don’t ever have times where I have to fight off ED thoughts – for me, making sure I stay healthy is an ongoing journey. However, I’m in a place where I’m able to be happy, make friends, enjoy life – and after being through misery during my teenage years, that is something that I am so thankful for!
When I was sitting in my first lecture today, I realised what date it is – 24th September 2018. Remember those ‘specific dates/anniversaries’ I was talking about earlier – well this is one of them. 24th September 2012 was the day I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I had ‘gone along’ with my ED recovery programme since July 2012. I basically wanted to deceitfully make the professionals think I was ‘okay’ so that they would discharge me and so I could go and lose weight again. It’s bizarre, because my illness didn’t start as a ‘lose weight’ thing – but eventually, losing weight and eating little became the 2 most important things in my life.
However, 2 months had passed since I had started ED treatment. I had very reluctantly eaten what they wanted me to, and very distressingly put on some of the weight I had lost. But I remember on this day just thinking, ‘enough is enough’. I refused lunch. That led to then refusing snack. Then dinner, supper, breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner – I just kept saying ‘no’ to any food or drink my parents were desperately encouraging me to eat. My ED was fully in control of my mind. I sat in my room and stared at my wall for the majority of the 24th&25th September. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I didn’t know what else to do.
I ended up being admitted to a Children’s Medical ward on the evening of the 25th September, and was in that ward for 10 days. However, what surprised me today was the fact that I didn’t even remember about today or tomorrow being an ‘anniversary’ of anything. And that is good. You see, for a number of years, my ED used these dates to torment me. It shouted in my mind, ‘You were happier then – you need to go back to doing what you did then’ – but I can now honestly say that nothing would ever convince me to go back to how my life was in September 2012. I’m not saying that the ED thoughts never come into my mind – but I have learnt how to rationalise them and manage them in a healthy way. (I may actually write a blog post some day specifically about controlling the ED long term.)
Today I’m happy, chatty, healthy weight, enjoy life, have energy, love being with people and doing different things. I feel like for the majority of my teenage years, the real Naomi was ‘lost’ – she was hidden and hurt by this dark, horrible ‘thing’ that lived in her mind. But now I’m so happy to be at the stage I am at today. I feel like recovery is something you have to ensure you stay on track with each day – but when you do get to a better place, it’s something you will definitely thank yourself for.
Don’t pressurise yourself. Don’t put time limits on things. Don’t feel like you’re a failure. Recovering from anything has it’s ups and downs. Even now, I feel quite anxious about the prospect of starting to study again. But I’m glad I’ve waited until now to do this. If you need to take time and focus on yourself – do that! I took 2 years doing this and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made because now I feel so much more ready to start a new experience.