Anorexia nearly killed me – but now I’m healthier and happier than ever before

To mark the end of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, here’s my story

Before January 2017, I had no real idea of what it was like to be inside a psychiatric ward. I was just your normal 20-year-old uni student. I went out with friends, flirted around and wrote passable essays. I had a loving family, amazing friends and tutors that I looked up to.

I had visions of becoming an English Literature lecturer in the future, with a family and a real life.

I assumed that psychiatric wards were cold, dark and full of “crazy people." Not the kind of place for people like me. Little did I know that my view of psychiatric patients and treatment was totally misguided.

So how did I end up on the wrong side of a locked psych ward door? Well, it’s not simple.

Throughout my life I’ve been no stranger to mental illness. Depression, anxiety and anorexia nervosa plagued my teenage years. I was usually too afraid to talk openly about these issues, even with my own mum. Anorexia especially felt like an embarrassing secret.

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After receiving two A-levels I decided to spend a year at home to finish studying and regain some weight. Sadly, I didn’t really get better, only at lying. Anorexia rapidly became my entire existence. I was thin, exhausted and a shadow of the person I used to be.

I got my final A-level result and secured my place at university. It was a relief. Both my mother and I thought it would be a fresh start and a way for me to build a life for myself that didn’t have to do with calories, restriction and depression.

Sadly, that was far from what ended up happening. The stress of being in a new environment, coupled with the freedom to starve led to a deep depression. Although I tried to maintain a semblance of normalcy, I quickly began to lose hope of any sort of normal life.

On January 19th, I took an overdose. I then lay down and waited for the inevitable. Luckily I had previously been on the phone with the crisis team and my lack in response led them to contact the university security team. When they burst down the door, they immediately phoned for an ambulance and I was taken into A&E. They saved my life.

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Even whilst being seen by AMHAT (Arden Mental Health Assessment Team) I was still desperately embarrassed about my anorexia, so when they told me that the best thing for me was an admission to the local psychiatric unit it didn’t really hit home.

I was told that I could go as an informal patient, or be sectioned. Part of my logical brain was still functional, so I agreed to the admission. I didn’t think it would be for long. Mostly I was worried about how I would keep up with my essays. It hadn’t really clicked in my head that this would be a huge turning point in my life.

I was taken to an acute mental health ward, late at night and in a strange smelling van. There, I was taken through one door, then another, then another. Each one clicked as it closed behind me. Locked, to keep patients inside.

I was put on constant observation due to poor health and mental state. The fact that I had to have someone shadowing my every move, including whenever I needed to use the bathroom made me feel humiliated. I kept thinking that they were looking at my skeletal body and seeing the fat I had convinced myself was there.

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That night I phoned my mum to tell her that I had been admitted. It was the worst call I’ve ever had to make and it must have been one of the hardest calls my mum has ever received. However, through her being upset, she told me that she loved me and that she always would.

I was moved to an EDU (Eating Disorder Unit) the next month due to my heart problems. I was 20 and had months to live. It was from there that I finally started moving towards recovery. I met many amazing women, each with her own sad story, but all holding onto some form of hope. It took me over a year and multiple admissions, but I reached a healthy weight.

I waited a long time, hoping that I would some day feel ready to gain weight, but eventually I realised that this feeling would never come and that recovery was a choice that I had to make for myself. I could remain thin and unhappy; controlled by numbers and clothes sizes, or I could accept the help I was lucky to be offered and move towards recovery.

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This offer is one that, sadly, many individuals do not receive until too late. So, I picked myself up from the floor and sat myself down at the dinner table. Day after day, I chose recovery.

Now I can say that I have a healthy attitude towards food. I have an amazing group of friends, a loving boyfriend, and I’m even looking to go back to university in October. I have plans to travel the world and spread ED awareness, and I now have the energy to do so.

Recovery is always worth it.