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There Is No 'Right Way' to Recover From an Eating Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

My name is Becca and I cannot recover from anorexia. I will never be able to eat again and I will never feel happy. The recovery process is just too hard, and I cannot possibly find a way through it. No one knows what this pain feels like and I am totally alone.

I am also wrong.

Before I became unwell I was a grade A student and could do anything I set my mind to. Once the anorexia set in, it became my identity and it seemed I had lost everything else. I couldn’t think straight, and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not be perpetually afraid of food or to not look at my body with disgust.

Then I began treatment.

I would like to say that it was because I had had enough of being plagued by awful thoughts, or that I wanted my family to be proud of me. And while both of those things were true, they weren’t the reason I entered treatment. The anorexia hung onto me too tightly. So I was sectioned and forced to confront my demons head on.

In the hospital I was surrounded by lots of other poorly people. Each day we would eat, or in some cases like mine be fed through a tube. We would sit in groups, fill in homework sheets and be encouraged to share how we were feeling. And I was great at this. Like I said, I was a grade A student. But somehow things weren’t getting any easier. If anything the longer I stayed, the more hopeless and despairing I became. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong.

Then the day came when the girl I used to sit next to in the lounge was discharged back home. When I arrived she was very very ill. I don’t think I had ever seen someone so entrenched in their behaviors or looking so fragile. I used to look at her and think, “This girl is going to die, this disease is going to kill her.” Yet four months later she walked out of the door — not cured — but the creases on her forehead not so strained and with eyes that were bright and not protruding into her skull.

The last thing she said to me was, “Do it for you. Do what you have to do and not what works for everyone else. Do it because you truly believe you have a future. Do it for you.”

Two things changed after that.

The first one was that I sat down with a nurse and we went through my whole treatment plan. My folder was full to the brim with therapy homework sheets I had half-heartedly filled in (though they were pink and pretty and neat). I knew deep down I didn’t believe a word they said. So we threw them in the bin. We brainstormed ideas and started again.

Personally, I found that I needed tough love. I needed someone to remind me that what I was doing was not OK and I needed to pull myself together. I needed a strict diet plan for awhile so I could get away with nothing, and for awhile this meant I needed NG feeding. I found structured therapy sessions helpful, rather than just a generally weekly catch up (though I did also needed a safe space to vent). And I needed the love of my friends, family and dogs. my friend, she needed compliance sheets, group therapy and mindfulness and other forms of support. It’s OK if what works for everyone else, doesn’t work for you.

The other thing that changed was that I began to have hope. I started to believe that I too could get better, that I might not be the only person who can never recover from anorexia. Maybe I could be happy and maybe things might get better.

And they did.

Over time and after a lot of hard work I left the hospital too, just like my friend. We both found a healthier life and though we got there in very different ways, what matters is that they worked for us.

Recovery from any mental illness is one of the hardest things a human being will ever have to do, and I don’t say that lightly. So when it hurts the most and you want more than anything to give up, remember that you too can recover and that you will be happy again.

Remember to have hope.

Photo credit: Marcin Wiklik/Getty Images

Originally published: July 12, 2019
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