It’s all well and good talking about the different routes that can be taken when starting recovery, I mean there are so many! Before exploring those routes, however, you have to commit to the change. I remember reaching a point in my illness where I knew that I couldn’t carry on the way that I was going – my periods had stopped, my body had lost its natural curviness, and my family were sick with worry. When I was told that my body was literally shutting down, to me there were only two outcomes:
- Ignore everyone and carry on as I was – that option would have been so easy; you have to understand, that illness was my security blanket. I had complete control over my body, and to give that control over to someone else was completely terrifying.
- Try recovery.
Neither of those were easy choices, no matter what I picked I felt as though I’d be letting myself down. Was I going to choose anorexia, that made me miserable and weak, but also gave me a (warped) sense of protection, or was I going to choose the chance of having children one day and living a life that’s as full as possible? Here’s where Giant Little Steps came in!
It’s quite difficult to make recovery ‘the goal’, when to recover would require me to eat more. If I ate more, then I’d gain weight. If I gained weight, well… that was my biggest fear. Do you see how this was going to be a problem? I wanted to put an end to the sleepless nights, the hair loss, the isolation, and the inability to focus – the desire for change was there, but my dedication to keeping below a certain weight was far too strong. I had no choice but to take those first giant little steps.
The first person that I confided in outside of my family and friendship groups for advice, was a professor at university. She was extremely supportive and understanding, I remember that she amazingly wrote a letter-which I still have- giving words of encouragement and advice on how to proceed in getting professional help.
This is a daunting prospect for anyone. On top of the anxiety I had for making a change, the idea of sharing my struggles with a complete stranger was mortifying. I’m going to add in here that just because you have been assigned a specific counsellor, it doesn’t mean that you have to stick with them – I definitely didn’t.
I made myself an appointment with the GP, who took my blood pressure, arranged blood tests (which eventually I’d have to have every three months), and finally – weighed me. If you are anything like me, and the idea of seeing your weight makes you anxious, you can always request to not be told or shown. After a conversation with her I was told that my referral could take a couple of weeks to come through, which was pretty disheartening for me, especially as it took a lot of courage to go there in the first place. I was worried that I would back out while waiting for an appointment. This of course comes down to the very limited resources and staff that the mental health care have – the waiting lists are long, meaning the help cannot be so easily given.
My first session was a complete nightmare, and quite honestly nearly put me off the whole idea of going through with recovery. I had to fill out a questionnaire that was full of smiley faces, or sad faces- the idea being that one can summarise their problems on such a limited spectrum. I hate those charts. What if I was feeling ‘super smiley’ on the day of my assessment? It seemed to lessen the severity of the condition, and pushed you further towards the back of the line for help.
I was then met by a councillor, who quite frankly sucked. I’m not sure if she was new to the job or just in the wrong field, but she made me leave the room feeling small and bad about myself. What disappointed me most of all was the ‘just eat more’ attitude – this kind of comment is never helpful- if it were that easy, I would have eaten! Something to remember after a bad experience with a councillor – you can always change them. I found that I had to go through three councillors until I found one that I loved. After spending session after pointless session filling out questionnaires and mood scales, instead of actually talking about how I was feeling that week, I was nearing the end of my patience. Alongside the anorexia, I was diagnosed with body dysmorphia – we barely even touched on it in the sessions, which were spread across a limited number of weeks. They felt rushed and unhelpful – a quick flick through my food diary and a check of my graph seemed to be enough, apparently.
Then I was finally put into contact with a man who turned out to be the best help I could have hoped for. For a start he didn’t patronize me, I never felt as though I was wasting his time, or that I wasn’t ‘sick enough’. I remember he spent our first session just getting to know me; he asked questions about my living situation, when my issue with food began, personal relationships, what my end goal was. He made me think about things that I hadn’t even considered before, specific triggers that I needed to be made aware of in order to make any kind of progress.
By the time I had found this therapist, I wasn’t dealing with just anorexia nervosa, but something called ‘Anorexia Nervosa – Binge/Purge Subtype’. A lot of people put this into a category known as ‘EDNOS’ (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified); it tends to take elements of different eating disorders and merge them into a disorder of its own –I’ll go into that more in another post.
Recovery is a difficult path to take, it’s not easy; some days you’ll feel as though you’ll never be free of your disorder. As someone who has taken those steps, I can tell you that it is so worth it. You’ll find strength in yourself that you didn’t even know you had, you’ll cherish the things and people that you are recovering for- they are what will keep you pushing forward. You won’t always be lucky enough to be paired with a councillor that completely understands you, and who knows what will work in making you better – it does get better though.
One final thing I’d like to add is that recovery starts at home, that means making your family and friends aware of the problem – people you trust- and to let them know that this is the route you’re taking. Surround yourself with positivity, because that’s the key to your strength. As cliché as it sounds, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem – don’t rush your progress after that. As long as the will is there, the rest will follow.