At a glance, it may appear my life is perfectly put together with my perfect family, good grades, an abundance of friends and access to all necessities for survival. But “perfection” is a flawless illusion designed to create unrealistic expectations. I am diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, which is the only thing I managed to gain from trying to fit into this world we call society.
I can’t pinpoint when anorexia first became part of my life – at what point do you class an unhelpful thought as an eating disorder? But you don’t just wake up one day, suddenly enthralled in anorexia’s grasp; it builds and builds over time, until one day, your brain is clouded over with fear of food and weight gain, leaving no room for rational thoughts and arguments.
Prior to my illness, I had been a happy, chatty teenager. I had always had high expectations of myself; I liked to perform to the best of my ability. This is one of the reasons anorexia was so dangerous – I set my sights on starving myself, and that was what I was going to do. I put all my efforts into my GCSEs, and came out of my exams with top grades – but this wasn’t enough for me. I needed another challenge to gain self-esteem, and that was anorexia.
After my first CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) referral, I was left struck dumb as the conversation about the risk of being admitted to hospital began. Part of me wanted to be admitted; I knew it would guarantee my chances of recovery because I was aware of the fact I could get away with much more at home, but part of me didn’t want to be admitted. I didn’t believe I was ill enough, neither did I want to accept the fact that I had fallen into anorexia’s trap like so many people. We came to the compromise that we would do a “hospital at home”. I was pulled out of sixth form and put on a meal plan that required supervision from my parents, with weekly meetings and weigh-ins with the CAMHS team.
It’s fair to say I played my part as the poorly patient well. I didn’t get dressed – I couldn’t see the point of making an effort if I was trapped inside all day. I would stay huddled up on the sofa under piles of blankets because I was permanently freezing and exhausted (both emotionally and physically) due to the constant crying and lack of energy. I was missing out on all the Christmas fun at sixth form; I could see it all happening on social media without me, and at first I was jealous and angry. Everyone was having a good time without me, while I was stuck at home, unable to even walk up the flight of stairs.
Regardless of what CAMHS told me, I couldn’t see that I was ill and I needed help. The dressing gown in which I lived became my invisibility cloak; I would put it on and hide from the world. Not only that, but I would use it to hide food, croissants, toast, biscuits – you name it, I would hide it. I would do literally anything to avoid eating, much of which I am ashamed of. I would compulsively exercise in my bedroom, and while my parents were out at work I would run up and down the stairs. My milky hot chocolates were replaced with hot water and minimal powder, and I would take complete control of cooking in the kitchen.
I continued to rebel against the recovery plan for a good four months, and even after that I would occasionally slip into old habits. But after the initial few months of hell were over, it was like a switch flicked in my head. I could no longer see myself living life like this forever; I could see a recovered life in the distance – almost touch it even. I had something to aim for: going out for dinner with friends, going shopping with my sister, effortlessly laughing and having fun.
My friends were a massive support; they never gave up on me, even when I had given up on myself. My family would sit with me during every meal, no matter how long I took to eat, and would always forgive me if I lost my temper with them. I found writing my book beneficial too; it became a gateway of relief. I could be honest with myself, and I have set myself the target to publish my novel to help other sufferers like me.
Writing has always been something I have loved. I have recently been appointed as news editor on the student union, which has given me new-found self-confidence. In recent weeks I have found a weekend job; despite many meltdowns and panics, I am proud to say I stuck with it and am now enjoying meeting new people. I have developed my independence, and I can now enjoy going out with my friends and spending my wages.
I don’t know where anorexia came from, but she outstayed her welcome, and I am slowly coming round to the idea that I am enough.
– Hannah Jones