Erin's Story

Erin received treatment through FREED in London. She shares her experiences of her eating disorder, treatment and recovery.

I have to be perfect.

This thought was my mantra, a standard I applied to all I did or said. If I was perfect it meant I was in control, and by being in total control of myself—my emotions and my appearance and how much I ate—I was in control of everything.

I could control how others viewed me, how successful I was in my studies, how intelligent and interesting I seemed as an individual. Only if I was perfect would I mean something. Only then would I be worthy of love, friendship, affection. If I wasn’t… well, then I’d failed. Hadn’t I? I would be worthless, unlovable, stupid, ugly and utterly forgettable.

That was my logic, at least.

My anorexia didn’t develop overnight, but was something insidious which wormed its way inside through the cracks of my insecurity. At first, it made me feel empowered and secure, less like things were slipping out of my control. I was at university, living away from home for the first time, and struggling to cope with coursework pressure. Every single essay I submitted had to be flawless, if I wanted to achieve first class honours; I became obsessed, compelled to prove my ability to achieve achieve achieve.

By policing my food intake so rigidly, first cutting out certain food groups then restricting more and more, it seemed like I had a kind of handle on that stress and anxiety. The bonus was that it would simultaneously deal with my body image concerns, where losing weight meant that I could mould my body into a shape I thought more acceptably attractive. Through restriction I was proving my mental determination, refusing to listen to my body by overriding my hunger, showing my strength through this self-restraint. Surely if I could refuse to ‘give in’ to something as simple as hunger, I could accomplish anything? Surely I was succeeding?

"When I'd left the structure of daycare & then outpatients, Winnie was a big incentive for me to get out into the world each day. When it would’ve been so easy to retreat into my head, she helped me to focus on the good things I now had - the energy, excitement and hope that came as a result of recovery."
As time passed by, however, my anorexia grew more manipulative and malicious. What had started as a sort of game, with small attainable goals to reach and simple rules to follow, suddenly became demanding and difficult. Whenever I seemed to approach the finish line, it would jump two, three steps ahead, the endpoint hovering a centimetre out of reach. No matter what I did, a voice at the back of my mind continued to sneer that I wasn’t doing enough; I should study more, eat less, work harder, if I ever wanted to be faultless. I just had to follow the rules. Food soon became a weapon I wielded to punish myself for not being ‘good enough’.

Each time I returned home for the holidays, my mum grew increasingly concerned for my health. We’d spoken on the phone about how stressed I felt, but she hadn’t anticipated how bad things were getting for me. Half-truths and white lies masked how I wasn’t coping, and part of me feared that confessing my eating disorder habits would mean my mum could then put a stop to them. I believed that my rigid rules kept me grounded, and if they were ripped away I would spiral.

It was in my final year at university that my physical health rapidly deteriorated, and my body more accurately reflected the mental illness I was suffering. I could no longer conceal how my eating disorder was hurting me, how it made me believe that I was weak for struggling. Ironically, it was only when my appearance changed so drastically did I think that maybe I had lost control, not realising that anorexia had been in control a long time before that.

It came to a point where I just couldn’t continue the way I was. The pressure and hopelessness of playing by my eating disorder rules was suffocating. My world had narrowed to solely thinking about what I could and couldn’t eat, at what time and at what place, how I could avoid others witnessing me eat in case they thought I was greedy or fat. On and on and on.

I tried using kinesiology to deal with my problems, but every second of every day I still felt miserable, weak, sick and tired. The worst part was being constantly cold; warmth was a distant memory, even with my layers and layers of clothing. I realised then that if I travelled any further down this rabbit hole, the damage would be irreversible. I would never be able to claw my way out.

Of course it wasn't simple to change. At first I was angry and extremely stubborn, believing that I was still ‘in control’ and would only try to adjust on my terms, on my own. When my parents gently confronted me about my eating disorder and urged me to seek medical help, however, I was relieved. Finally I was free to stop battling my body’s hunger, released of this pressure and responsibility to follow my self-imposed and self-destructive rules.

With the support of my mum and dad, my brother and the rest of my family, I booked an appointment to see my local GP. After this initial assessment, I was referred to the Maudsley where I met with a doctor who confirmed my diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. She suggested that inpatient treatment would be most effective for me, and I agreed, willing to take the first step on my road to recovery. I moved into a hospital for inpatient treatment and remained there for several months, working on restoring my weight, attending individual and family therapy sessions, as well as psychological groups, and also exploring my artistic interests in occupational therapy classes. Following my discharge from the inpatient service, I then attended a day care programme at the Maudsley, as I was not yet at a healthy weight and knew that I required a little more help to mentally and emotionally get to the place I needed to be.

Now as an outpatient, I look back on my recovery from anorexia and I know that I will never be the person I once was, in the best possible way.

I do not regret having developed an eating disorder, as fighting it has shown what I am truly capable of. Anorexia made me believe I wasn't strong or determined or resilient yet, funnily enough, these were the qualities which helped me to face up to and overcome this illness.

My experiences have allowed me to understand what matters most in life, what kind of relationships I want and what connections I can form. I am closer to my parents and friends, and more honest with myself and how I’m thinking and feeling. I don’t need to be perfect in order to be loved or liked, because that perfect person could never exist. I can be me, whatever my body shape or clothes size, whatever my academic or life achievements, and I will still be worthy. I am not anorexia, and anorexia is not me.

Recovery has not been straightforward or easy, and the waters can still get choppy from time to time, but the possibility of change has helped me to dig deep when letting go seemed impossible. Anorexia can no longer bully me. There is so much potential and happiness ahead, and although there is also uncertainty, I will always keep moving forward.

"Now as an outpatient, I look back on my recovery from anorexia and I know that I will never be the person I once was, in the best possible way."

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