Did you know you had an eating disorder?
I didn’t know I had an eating disorder, I just thought there was something wrong with me and my body. My response to that was to try to control my relationship with food. It didn’t really occur to me that I had an eating disorder; the first time I went to a GP and they even suggested that there might be a problem, I was really embarrassed because I thought that people with eating disorders look really unwell. I didn’t think I looked unwell and certainly didn’t think I looked underweight (even though I most definitely was at the time). It took about 10 years of being unwell before I recognised there was something that was actually a problem.
What was the turning point for you?
I managed to get into therapy, not because of my relationship with food but because I was just unwell (generally mentally unwell). I had had a lot of traumatic experiences and I wasn’t functioning very well. I was very underweight and really wasn’t able to take care of myself. I didn’t have any family support around me so having therapy was the turning point of just meeting somebody who was kind to me. It wasn’t exactly revolutionary but it got me into a place where each week for 50 minutes I was able to be looked after and that was when things started to change.
How did you find the right therapist?
I didn’t. I went through the NHS and was given a therapist on my university campus. I was just lucky that I met somebody who was particularly kind. I don’t think they were an amazing therapist, they weren’t specialising in eating disorders or anything like that, they were just a nice person and for me that was enough of a space to feel a little bit held. I certainly didn’t get better during that time. If anything, I think my eating disorder symptoms got worse over those years.
How did you know you were with the right therapist when you found them?
There’s been a couple. I’ve had over 10 therapists over my life-time! Somehow I have been put in the right pair of hands at different points and sometimes that was therapists and sometimes that was just kind people or mentors – people who came into my life for whatever reason who were able to offer me help and support and aided my recovery journey. A lot of people who helped me were not necessarily therapists. I had an amazing acupuncturist who was just so kind to me and an incredible mentor who just told me I was smart, for the first time in my life. These things made a massive difference.
So many people who don’t have the resources to go out and pay for an expensive therapist feel like there is no other option. Actually, healing comes in many forms, it’s not always seeing a therapist that’s going to make a difference.
Did you stay with the same therapist?
I did for a period of time when I was at university because it was free support. When I left and went back home to London, I tried to see different people through the NHS but I just found myself shifting which is such a familiar story to anybody else out there who has been through this. Shifting refers to moving from one person to the next and not really having any sort of relationship or continuity of care between anybody. That’s when things really deteriorated.
Have you ever used Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)?
Not personally but I’m a big fan of acupuncture!
I feel distant from my mum because of my anorexia, have you experienced this?
Yes. Eating disorders do a great job of isolating us from our loved ones. Your mum may not fully understand your illness but maybe she doesn’t need to. Could you let a little love in? Be brave, you can do this!
I feel stuck in a “functioning anorexic” stage, did you ever feel like this?
Yes and it’s miserable. Make your goal nurturing a compassionate relationship with yourself. Your eating disorder won’t be able to survive if you start to really care for yourself. Recovery is possible, you just need to believe you can do it.
Would you say you have always been confident or has that changed?
I have definitely not always been confident. I am naturally a really shy person and in the early days I felt awkward about that and wasn’t sure how to manage that in social situations. Now I am much more accepting of that part of me and who I am. I believe learning to accept who I am was such a big part of becoming confident because I wasn’t constantly trying to change who I was, to be different or feel like I needed to improve on who I already was. Once I became accepting of that, the confidence followed.
Just having experiences, getting a bit older and wiser, thinking about how hard I was on my younger self and giving myself permission not to do that any more (and to make a decision not to do that) has been quite empowering as well. It’s definitely something that people can work on and change if they want to.
How did your pregnancies affect your body image and how did you come to terms with your new body?
My pregnancies affected my body image in different ways because I’ve had 2 and my body has changed radically each time. The first time, I really embraced my new shape because I felt like I looked more womanly than I did before when I maybe had more of an athletic physique – I really embraced my curves. I saw that my body showed landmarks in my life; every scar, every big bump and every scratch mark told a story. It took time but I learned to embrace those things as almost embracing milestones of my life and pregnancy is just one of the biggest, most challenging but wonderful things that I have experienced and when my body tells that story too, it’s not something that I really want to banish.
I’m not saying that I don’t have those thoughts of thinking “I wish that fantastic dress still fit me” but it’s not worth it. I recognise that I am good enough and good enough doesn’t have to be whatever culturally we perceive to be perfect. It can be just good enough for me and that’s OK.
Do you ever struggle with your mental health now?
It’s realistic to say that everybody struggles with their mental health. I think to what extent is really significant. Having been through the experience of recovery where I’ve really had to learn to take care of myself, I am particularly mindful now of what my mental health needs are so I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as struggling with mental health problems. I would say that I am extremely mindful about how I take care of my mental health and that’s a big part of how I choose to live.
What helps you to look after yourself/your mental health?
I have a horrible habit of taking on lots and lots of things and doing too much so every couple of months I have to reign myself back in and make sure that I’m not doing too much.
I also make sure I spend lots of time with my husband, my kids and my friends – that’s where I get lots of good vibes from so I fill my life up with that stuff as much as I can.
If you could give a message to your younger unwell self, what would you say?
That it’s OK. Even in your darkest days when you think things won’t change, they will. Don’t be ashamed for not being OK. Having held such a huge amount of shame for not being alright for what that brought… I didn’t need to do that.
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