It’s my 10 year Anorexia recovery anniversary this month, and I’m really bloody excited about it!
Those who know me know that I don’t “do” birthdays or publicly celebrate anything much, but this—overcoming Anorexia—is something I am openly proud of.
It started in May 2006
In May 2006, I was dying slowly, and I made the decision that unless I could work out how to stop dying slowly, I’d do myself the honor of allowing myself to die fast: suicide.
And I was serious, and I would have done it. Yes, that knowledge still scares the shit out of me. But Anorexia is a slow and painful process and I was so, so done. I’d had the disease for almost ten years and I was tired. I was losing. I knew it was all or bust.
Ten years ago today I was emaciated and exhausted and there was no room in my head for anything other than obsessive thoughts about food, eating, and exercise. These thoughts were like weeds, because they took over my entire existence and left no room for anything else. There was certainly no room for friends, family, career aspirations or dreams.
I don’t know if there is such a place as hell, but being trapped in your own brain by a disease and being forced to think over and over again about food and exercise for years with no hope of ever being able to think anything else is fucking nasty. The brain can be a prison, and mental illness is very real.
I shouldn’t have been able to go so long without adequate treatment, and that’s the reason I’m an advocate for proper treatment today, but that’s another story. The truth is that without getting that low I would never have given myself the ultimatum that caused me to research into and self-treat myself back to health.
What was that like?
Have you read the book (or seen the film) by Aron Ralston titled 127 hours? In summary: Aron is a mountain climber who is climbing alone and falls down a crevice. In the fall he dislodges a huge rock which lands on him, trapping his arm. After days of painfully waiting for help he comes to the knowledge the no help is going to come for him because nobody knows where he is.
His choice: stay put and certainly die of starvation. dehydration, or, cut off his own arm. That’s a huge conflict, as his brain would tell him “don’t cut off your arm,” but then another part of his brain would know that unless he did, he would die.
My experience of Anorexia was a time-lapse version of this. A ten year version. One day I understood that I could either stay where I was and certainly die or go against everything that my brain was telling me was crucial for my survival and see what happened. Don’t underestimate the power of a mental illness. Anorexia told me that unless I did what it wanted I would die—that’s my own brain telling me this, my own thoughts. I had to get to a very desperate place to find the strength to disobey my own mind.
I’m not fucking around with that analogy. One’s brain is what tells one what to fear, how to fear it, and how to react. If your brain tells you something is real, it is real. Don’t underestimate the power of your brain’s ability to form your reality. This is how mental illnesses work. Anorexia is a disease that affects the brain and turns the sufferer’s perception of food and eating into the inverse of what it normally would be.
So yeah, in some respect the one-time-event pain of cutting off my own arm sounds rather more appealing than years of self-treating myself for a mental illness. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way anymore thanks to the advocates who have forwarded the research and understanding of what eating disorders are and how to treat them. If I were a sufferer now, I would be able to seek help. That’s incredible progress.
Recovery was scary. But I’m so glad I chose that over Anorexia. Well worth it!
People, animals, colours … the world.
One thing that was really telling along my recovery was in the first year of weight gain I regained some senses, abilities, and sensibilities that I had not realized I had lost. It was rather stunning and very disconcerting, yet wonderful.
When talking to people, for example, the experience of being in another person’s presence gradually got richer—to the point I understood I had been only half seeing, listening and experiencing my family and friends for years. Anorexia had diluted my sense and ability to concentrate, care, emphasize, and understand other people.
The same was true for colours. Gradually my world seemed to grow more vibrant, and one time I remember literally stopping in my tracks to look at a colour of a house—one which I had passed every day on my way to work for years but never seen. Anoreixa took up so much space in my brain I guess some faculties had shut down in the same way that my menstrual cycle had done.
And my animals. I had stopped really loving animals when I was sick. I went from a animal-mad teenager to someone who didn’t really care for them and didn’t have any interest in keeping pets when I moved out of my parents house. One day, during recovery, it all flooded back and I went out and adopted Werm (my dog). I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t wanted a dog all those years. Now I do: Anorexia shut that part of my brain down too.
Those are just some examples of the magic of getting my brain back.
In the ten years since then, I began and successfully achieved a full recovery; met my adorable husband; moved to the USA; wrote a book (Love Fat); discovered my dream career path and sprinted along it; and became actively involved in the ED advocacy movement.
I’m guilty of taking my recovery for granted in as much as I don’t think often about how awful it was. Probably because I am too busy thinking about my life now that I have the pleasure of being able to do so.
But sometimes, on days like today, I remember graphically just how it was to live in the hell of Anorexia. And it dawns on me how in love I am with my life without Anorexia. These days I dream big, and I have so much brain-space in order to do that.
Only readers who have had or are suffering from Anorexia or a similar mental illness will truly be able to know exactly what I mean. If you are struggling today with those looping, obsessive thoughts, know that with the right treatment you can be free from them. The human brain is a wonderful thing when it is free from disease as it allows one to see the world in full-blown 3D colour-enhanced glory.
Do anything and everything within your ability to get your brain back—it’s so worth it. There are so many incredible things out there for you to think and dream about. Please don’t let Anorexia steal your space to dream.
Incidentally, it’s the first ever World Eating Disorder Action Day on June 2nd 2016. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Join me and some really incredible advocates for a Tweet Chat hosted by Mirror Mirror on June 2nd at 5pm.
Thank you to:
Everyone who read my book or reads this blog and emails me or comments—priceless support.
Mike, Vikki, Bethany, and Candy Alderson for being my ever-supportive family and never giving up on me.
Matt Farrar for loving the crap out of me regardless of anything Anorexia could throw at him.
Every single person in the village of Chute for being an extended family.
All of the IEDA members but especially Amy Cunningham, JD Ouellette, and Jen Haken;
F.E.A.S.T for publishing the information I needed in order to put myself though my own, adult version of FBT.