1.25 million people in the UK suffer from the disorder and ninety percent of those are women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five.
So far, I’d ticked all the boxes, but when the psychologist saw me for my assessment, I was greeted with utter shock and amazement: “Oh! You’re anorexic and disabled.” she exclaimed, whilst glaring at my wheelchair. I had now created a new box to tick.
On face value, living with Anorexia Nervosa, commonly known as Ana, involved the stereotypical stuff; control and perfectionism. I could control the calories that entered my body and in doing so become a perfect version of myself. The initial medical advice was to introduce half a KitKat into my diet. This was neither my idea of perfection nor something I could control without a fight. I marvelled at the incomprehensible ignorance
Two years prior to this bewildering day, after having four digestive biscuits as an evening snack, I set myself a challenge. The following day I would eat breakfast and skip lunch. If I achieved it, I could reward myself with a meal at teatime. That would be a good day.
Within weeks, Ana had wormed her way into every inch of my life. She had become my best friend, my crutch, and had given me strength like nothing I’d ever experienced. It wasn’t long before I was scrupulously measuring my intake. Day after day, I kept within my calorie curfew and I relished the complements: “Don’t you look good?”, “You’re looking very slim”, “Are you on a diet?” With every comment, came a sense of self-worth and a reason to keep Ana in my life.
I was once told the brain can only contain a limited amount of data. For instance, if you’re a mathematical genius, then the chances are, your expertise won’t also lie with Shakespeare. I think this is the best analogy to describe how Ana worked for me, and undoubtedly against me. The more she wheedled her way in, the more my mind wasn’t my own. An obsession arose with where each bin was situated around the school and which toilet I was going to flush my food down. I no longer enjoyed hanging out with my friends and good grades were a thing of the past. I exploited every aspect of life as pawns for Ana’s game. We played Russian Roulette from dawn ‘til dusk with her stakes getting higher upon the arrival of each meal.
The emphasis that was put on the simplicity of a resolution baffled and infuriated me. Did anyone realise how terrifying the prospect of “just eating” actually was? Firstly, I didn’t need to eat to gain weight because I wasn’t skinny and my body didn’t resemble any of the classic images of anorexia I’d seen on the internet, nor did I want it to. Secondly, my protruding hip bones and washboard stomach represented Ana’s dedication to reaching my perfect weight; ideal for manhandling and manoeuvring. Cerebral Palsy helped me with this. It had always been part of my physiotherapy to walk. I had to keep that up. I had to train my body. I had to tick the box of being anorexic and disabled.
Most importantly, I couldn’t “just eat” because I didn’t know why Ana had made me stop. Amidst all the chaos, she had come to save me from something, so even though part of me wanted her to leave, I couldn’t ask her to. What would happen if she did?
One night, in the depths of darkness, I awoke from my dream about custard and started to wonder how and why everything had gotten so bleak. What was there to live for? Ana…She was all that sprung to mind. Life, for various reasons, was rapidly becoming fatal, but then so was she. In my core I knew that if Ana had been a physical entity, she’d have been put on trial for kidnap and attempted murder. I didn’t want to be her victim.
I’d had the epiphany, but I was clueless as to what needed to happen next. The first thing, as the therapists said, was to acknowledge I had a problem. I wrote a letter detailing all everything Ana had taken from me; my social life, my education, my ever-dwindling personality, and my future. This confession stayed hidden for months. Ana had convinced me that if I let her go, even for a second, then my cover would be blown. Everyone would see I wasn’t the perfectly in control. I’d be nothing more than a fake without a chance of surviving my hectic existence.
Sharing the letter was the biggest step in my recovery. Without wanting to sound cliché, once I had decided to open up about the struggle I had with Ana, her grip automatically loosened. From that moment, I was better than I used to be. I’m not saying it was an instant cure - in my mind, there isn’t one, she’ll always be with me in some capacity. However, putting her cards on the table meant that I took back the power. That’s all I can ask for.