Anorexia Nervosa; the need for early intervention.
I have a current diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa, as well as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). For the past two years anorexia has controlled my entire life.
It all started in an attempt to deal with my emotions and the scary unpredictable nature of life (a deep fear, caused by the experience of multiple bereavements). Anorexia took hold when I started to restrict my food, more and more. I became obsessed with my own rules and the notion of ‘eating days’ and non-eating’ days. At its worst I was only allowing myself to eat one day a week, whilst exercising (running) in excess.
In the initial stages of my anorexia, it gave me a sense of control, power, achievement and what I thought was emotional self-sufficiency. The starvation high was in fact quite euphoric. However, this false sense of happiness wasn’t maintainable without real risk to my health. My weight plummeted to a very unhealthy level. I was undertaking a dangerous pursuit that I wish I’d never started.
It took a referral to STEPS Eating Disorder Service in Bristol and a heart-breaking assessment, to open my eyes to the reality of my situation. I read the assessment outcome letter over and over. I wanted to deny it, but there it was there in black and white in front of me. There was no going back, ‘I had an eating disorder’. Intensive treatment as an inpatient at STEPS Eating Disorder Unit was advised, but I wasn’t ready to really ‘hear’ this recommendation at the time, as just seeing the words ‘eating disorder’ next to my name on my assessment was traumatic enough.
After some time to reflect on my situation, and a whole heap of even more difficult feelings, I was ready to seek help for my eating disorder. This was the moment that things changed for the better, as I finally admitted I had a real problem and chose to engage with the STEPS Community Team. To openly share my inner demons in respect of my eating disordered beliefs and behaviours was a cathartic yet confusing journey of self discovery. My eating disorder remained relentless and in the end I agreed to a hospital admission, as I knew I couldn’t get well without this support. It was 10 weeks of weight restoration and emotional hell, as I was an ‘impatient inpatient’ who just wanted to get well. On discharge, anxiety returned with a vengeance, so I quickly and foolishly resorted to old eating disordered habits to attain a sense of emotional protection. This however just led me straight back to chasing weight loss, a slippery slope of despair and a year later another hospital admission (8 weeks inpatient). This second admission however changed me more than I could have imagined.
What has worked best for me in recovery, is talking - being open, honest and listened to in a non-judgemental and supportive manner by professionals. Meeting other sufferers and obtaining mutual support, understanding and insight has also been central to my recovery journey.
I have been very lucky to have had great support from my GP, the NHS Mental Health Services, as well as STEPS Eating Disorder Service. I remain indebted to their collective input into my recovery.
I have now finally acknowledged that recovery is a slow process, a process that isn’t linear; it’s full of ups and downs, and that’s OK. I’m still trying to accept a body that is a healthy weight and I’m still trying to learn patience and self compassion through mindfulness and CBT skills. I continue to battle with my conflicting emotional and logical mind, but for now I have to accept this is OK, as after all I’m still a work in progress.
I have great insight into my own mental health but insight alone does not magic up recovery. It has taken me years to accept the complexity of my illness. I have however met many inspirational people (both sufferers and professionals) in my journey of recovery, and I am truly grateful for their value and contribution in my life.
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given regarding my mental health is the statement that ‘feelings change’. Because as unbearable as your feelings might be in any given moment (and trust me sometimes they can really feel s**t!), they will change; this factor really is a life saver. I also think that seeking help at the first opportunity is imperative to effective treatment, especially in relation to anorexia nervosa, as early intervention is crucial. Don’t be afraid of asking for help, seeking support will only ever make you a stronger person.