It came from nowhere, the intense rush and need to get rid of what I had just consumed. We were broke, travelling on a shoestring and opted for an ‘All You Can Eat’ Chinese buffet. I don’t even remember going back for seconds before I reached for the toilet. I had never done it before, but the relief from knowing I had got rid of what I had just consumed was huge. We were half way through our adventure, and I had begun my dissent into self-destruction.
I continued my travels awash with lies and deceit, until my increasingly erratic behaviour around food became too difficult to hide from my travelling buddy. Realising that visiting the bathroom after every bite had become too obvious, I decided it was much easier to just to skip food altogether. Soon enough I was trapped in a cycle of severe restriction.
Six months later, I returned home and was greeted with applause on how ‘well’ I looked. I had ditched the extra tyre that gripped my waist before I left, and I was positively blooming with a ‘Bondi Beach’ vibe. The compliments about new physique fuelled me to lose more. Having spent much of my school years feeling ‘blobby and lumpy’ I welcomed the comments with open arms.
I joined a gym, and spent hours punishing myself on the treadmill. I mastered the art of ‘wash and go’ – quickly getting changed back into my clothes before breezing through the door. I was oblivious to what was happening to me, until the day I made myself a coffee and decided to forgo the milk. I knew my thinking wasn’t right. I would eye up delicious plates of food, and congratulate myself on my willpower to say a polite “no thank you.”
My family were at a loss as to know what to do. With little help from the NHS who regarded me as not low enough in weight, I was sent to several treatment centres to be assessed. I remember walking into one and being absolutely terrified – locked doors, accompanied visits to the bathroom and crying my way through a baked potato. Eventually I spent the summer at a private centre which provided some respite for my family, but not for me. Despite feeling different from the other patients who were being treated for drug or alcohol addiction, we also shared many similarities. We all had crippling low self-esteem and very little confidence. We all coped with our feelings by engaging in unhealthy behaviours.
I left the centre in the summer, and only through sheer determination and willpower did I pass my degree. Despite my anorexia, I had some amazing times at university. It was a sanctuary of sorts, and I can only imagine just how incredible it would have been, without being shackled to the chains of my eating disorder.
After completing my degree, I headed straight to the big smoke and landed myself in the middle of one of the most popular national radio shows. Cities are a place where food is at the heart of socialising, but with my eating disorder in full swing I isolated myself more and more. Desperate to make connections, my fear of food made it impossible. London can be a lonely place at the best of times, but with an eating disorder it can be positively solitary.
I can honestly say that the next ten years of my life changed very little. I lived in London and was in constant therapy. I was trapped in a cycle of relapses and misery. But in 2012, I relapsed badly and was in utter despair.
Having previously been reluctant to in-patient treatment, I practically begged to be taken. The fight had worn me out. After many sleepless nights, relentless work on my family’s behalf, we managed to secure enough money for me to go to a recommended clinic in the US. I kicked and screamed on many occasions and wanted to give up numerous times, but despite all the tears and tantrums, the staff’s commitment to my recovery never wavered. They lovingly nursed my body, mind and spirit back to health, and without a doubt saved my life.
Today I am living in the here and now, with a life richer than I ever imagined. I do not wish to hold myself up as a figure-head for recovery – believe me I still have my battles, but I am a whole being, not a broken shell. I wake up each day and look forward to what it will bring. I no longer want to punish myself, and I believe I’m a valuable human being that deserves to be well and happy. On the days when I don’t quite believe it, (for which there are some) I fake it. I don’t mean in an inauthentic way, but sometimes it works to act like you are something, so you can…in fact…become that ‘thing’.
You may read this and think “well it’s alright for her, she had a family who paid for her to go into an expensive treatment centre.” I would say, I know the incredible opportunity I had is not possible for everyone. I feel a great sense of injustice that access to adequate treatment is available to the minority, and this is my primary reason for building Jiggsy. An eating disorder does not care for gender, race, age, social class or financial status – it can affect anyone and access to the right treatment should not be for those who can afford it. I hope you will share your journey of living and recovering from an eating disorder or mental health issue through Jiggsy to inspire others to NEVER give up. Recovery IS possible.