The post below is from Liz. She describes her experience of a longstanding eating disorder and offers some helpful, compassionate suggestions for navigating the process of untangling oneself.
I responded to a call from Emma for a letter of hope to you who are in the middle of dealing with an eating disorder. My 10 years of anorexia nervosa (don’t believe anyone who says recovery isn’t possible after a long time) was a while ago now but I will try and tell you how I recovered. But first – I can remember being introduced to someone who had recovered when I was in hospital. She bounced in telling me about her flat and I found it quite terrifying! ‘I can never be like her’ I thought ‘This is who I am.’ They might as well have introduced to me to someone from Mars. That’s one of the great tricky deceptions of AN – that it is our identity. No it’s not. Even if it is that pesky voice sitting on your shoulder a lot of the time it isn’t you. You are much more complex and richer and full of potential.
So to recovery: Take the time you need to recover properly. I kept trying to return to a job I wasn’t suited to, only to go off sick again. It wasn’t until a psychiatrist advised me to take at least a year off that I had the space to concentrate on getting well. Exams and courses, jobs and long-term ambitions can be put off. You will manage them much better if you have taken the time to get properly well. Not everyone needs to, but I lowered my sights, changed direction completely and was much happier as a result. Try as a first goal to agree to keep to a weight where you are at least safe and can think straight and interact with others. I found that making friends in a hospital setting greatly increased my self esteem; some of those people are still friends years later. Eating disorders isolate us so much we need to do this. We need to know we are likeable (and we are, faults and all) and are more than just a person with an ED.
I did find the early part of recovery a painful process as the feelings suppressed by AN came back, making me feel horribly vulnerable. I received a great deal of help at this stage and it is my wish that all people recovering could have this help. It is so important. Take all the help and support you can get so that you are not tempted to think the only thing to do is to lose weight again.
There was no magic moment of truth when AN left me. It was more a gradual process of getting involved in a life I could manage, and of other things becoming more important. The huge effort required to keep at a low weight didn’t really seem so important, and I gradually relaxed my eating and stopped walking miles to work. I got a job, and met a partner and had two lovely boys.
Now, years later, I only think about it when I see someone in the street with that distant unhappy expression, and my heart goes out to them. My heart goes out to you too; you will need a lot of bravery and lots of help but you will be able to do it and you will be free of this horrible illness.
With my love