Hope Virgo, 26. Anorexia Survivor and Author.

Name: Hope Virgo

Age:  26

Occupation: Stakeholder Relations Officer for Alzheimer’s Society

Mood today? Good – After a bad couple of days I feel determined today and the sun is shining which always helps!

Wine, coffee or green smoothie? Coffee! 

What’s the best thing anyone has ever said to you? ‘Don’t let it beat you’ 

If you weren’t a stakeholder relations officer, what would you be? An Olympic Athlete competing in the marathon.

***************

What’s in your Headcase? Anorexia

When did you first notice things might not be quite….’right’. There were the odd occasions when I was 16 and I wasn’t eating, and people would comment, but I didn’t realise it was a big deal. I just wanted to lose weight.

What were the symptoms/what happened? I lost weight, I felt completely distracted constantly by food and exercise. I stopped trusting people and began to distance myself from them. Physically, my body not only lost weight but my hair began to fall out, my feet went to shit and my body took a long time to repair itself if it got hurt or if I had blisters from running.

How did you feel? I was in complete denial at first. I remember when my Mum took me to the GP and I sat in the waiting room not really sure why I was there. My only thought was that people were trying to make me fat and take away the one thing in life that gave me value. I continued to be in denial and didn’t believe anything anyone said to me. All the health professionals told me my heart could stop, but I didn’t believe that in the slightest. There was only one time when I felt that something was wrong. This was when I had the results of an ECG and I was afraid that I was going to die. I suddenly felt scared, and trapped in a cycle. But this was short-lived and I returned to my best friend Anorexia shortly afterwards.

Do you know why it started? When I was about 13.

Did you know what it was, or what to do? I didn’t think anything was wrong so no, I didn’t. I don’t think I understood what mental health was at all. At times I knew I probably wasn’t very OK, but I thought it was because I was weird or had something wrong with me, character-wise.  

How long did you wait before telling anyone? I didn’t tell anyone about it until I started attending CAMHs and then occasionally I would try and talk to my Mum about it. I didn’t think my friends knew what was wrong until I ended up telling them I was being admitted to hospital.

Who did you talk to? I had a support team at CAMHs but didn’t share this with anyone else. I still didn’t think there was anything all that wrong with me – even at that stage! - and I didn’t want to tell people if there was, because I didn’t want them to watch me and make me eat more.

What help did you get? I attended CAMHs for about 6 – 8 months and then got admitted to a mental health hospital, where I lived for a year.

What happened then? I lived as an in-patient on a mental health hospital ward. It was hard work and there were set meal times in place to ensure I put on weight, but it worked for me. I hung in there. It took a while for the mental side of it catch up with the physical weight gain, definitely, but I managed it. One thing that helped massively was having my motivations on a piece of paper to help encourage me to get well. I remind myself of these when I’m struggling now, and it helps me stick with it.  

How are you now? Much better! I still manage my anorexia daily, and at times she creeps up on me, but I have done it. And I am in a much better place! I know my triggers and can manage them! And above all, I have learnt the importance of talking to people about how I feel.

What worked best for you? Talking about things. I used to be so bad at this, and at times I still am. I find it hard to trust people but it helps so much when you open up! Find the people around you that you trust, and open up to them. Share how you feel and this will help you. I was well for nearly 10 years and then had a mini relapse and I nearly killed myself in the summer of 2016. If I hadn’t talked about things I wouldn’t have survived. And now, when I have a fat day, a bad mental health day or just feel like a failure I tell someone and then it stops me giving up on life.

What you would say to anyone who is suffering similar things, or to yourself in that state? You think anorexia is your friend, you think she understands you and values you, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t care about you. Life after recovery is so much better and yes, it’s bloody hard at times but it’s so much better to hang in there. Stick with it, fight her and you will make it!

What’s the biggest change in mental health you would like to see? I would like to see people talking about it and opening up if they are struggling. People feel so ashamed of mental health and they shouldn’t. It doesn’t make us any worse or weaker. 

If you could say anything to your mental health issue, what would it be? You’re a manipulative bitch who lied to me, tried to be my friend, but in reality you made me nearly lose everything. We are SO over.  

Hope Virgo is the author of Stand Tall Little Girl, available here!

Liz Fraser