Emily talks about living with anorexia and her road to recovery
As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 1-7 March, we spoke to Emily, a former patient, about her experience of suffering with an eating disorder and the help she received from our teams to recover.
Emily had started suffering with anorexia from the age of 15. She spent three years getting support from our CAMHS eating disorder service before being supported by our adult service for two years.
Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting how much they eat and drink. They may develop “rules” around what they feel they can and cannot eat, as well as things like when and where they’ll eat. Anorexia can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background.
“My anorexia started after I decided to give up food groups for lent, this started a snowball effect. From that I went to giving up whole food groups and calorie counting. It gave me the feeling that I was able to do something better than others and was superior. I knew that is was making me so thin, I had bones sticking out, my cognitive functions weren’t working properly and I was freezing due to having no body fat, but I couldn’t stop. One of the hardest things though was upsetting my parents, as they found it really hard to see me like that. I would also lie to them a lot, anorexia makes you very deceiving.”
“I started getting support from the CAMHS Eating Disorder Service, after seeing my GP a couple of times. When I was first referred whilst I was waiting to be seen, it spiralled and I was fainting when standing up. I recognised at that point that if I wasn’t seen soon I may not be here in a few weeks. We went back to the GP and I was seen within a couple of days. At this point I was very poorly, I was so weak I was in a wheelchair.
“The support I received included seeing a dietician, counsellor and psychiatrist weekly. The dieticians would talk to me about what I was eating and explain the importance of different food groups and how just because I ate a big pizza for example, I wasn’t going to put lots of weight on. The facts and scientific reasoning helped me justify nourishing myself in my head. What I found most helpful though was the therapy, we would talk about how I was feeling, particularly feelings of guilt and anxiety. Therapy taught me so much about myself and the struggles I have which were different to others. I was able to talk about how I felt openly and try to change the negative thoughts of myself. My mum also gave up work for a period of time so that she could look after me at home, without this I would have ended up in impatient care.
“When I moved to adult services I met Fiona, an occupational therapist, and she was amazing. Adult services focus more on your responsibility to take control and recover; this approach really worked for me. It was very future focused. Thinking about where I wanted to be in the future and how my eating disorder would even fit into that or allow it to happen. Looking at where you are now and where you want to be makes you look holistically and direct my own progress and lifestyle. I really engaged with the recovery and after 6 months I was at a healthy BMI.
“Two years later I was discharged from the service. Fiona and I wrote each other a letter about the journey I had been on and I still look at it now to remember the struggles I overcame."
“There are still days that can be difficult, and I do think about restricting food, but being able to recognise when I am having these thoughts and apply learnt tactics helps me keep on track. CAMHS and adult services taught me not to micromanage, not to let one moment ruin my week and to ask myself why anorexia is rearing its ugly head once more.
“Fiona taught me to sit through some uncomfortable feelings, to tap into those insecurities and, most importantly, embrace them. I no longer wanted to be superior or a cold fronted figure, I wanted real friends, real relationships and be relatable in the present world.
“I thank the services for not only saving my life, but enabling me to live my day-to-day life now as a humble, energetic and thriving 22 year old.
“I owe everything to Fiona, she was absolutely brilliant. I would also like to thank CAMHS for the support they gave me and my family. I thank them for the personal relationships I built with my nurses and dietician. I now know, whole heartedly, I would not be a 'survivor' if it wasn’t for them.
“My advice to anyone struggling would be to know that there will come a time that life gets bigger than your eating disorder. Other things become more important and you can get to that point eventually. The most important thing is that you get the help you need. It is not as terrifying as it may seem.”