I will apologise from the off because this post may come across as gloomy and sombre, but there is a light at the end of it, just like there is with life (in both the metaphorical and literal sense.)
To slap a heavy preface on this post, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder (also referred to as AN and OCD) and depression in October 2007. I had been suffering from the OCD for about two years prior and the AN about six months before my hospitalisation and subsequent diagnosis.
Being an eating disordered inpatient was not an easy ride. I will spare you the details as my dealings with the NHS mental health service is not the focus of this post. But it was a gruelling chapter of my life, both physically and psychologically. Seven and a half weeks after being admitted into hospital I became clinically “well” enough to be discharged.
But my struggle did not end there.
Between 2007 and now I have lost count of the amount of relapses I have had, but I would hazard a guess at approximately seventeen or maybe eighteen. The relapse I am currently battling is, by far, one of the worst.
I am a perfectionist and, as such, I set myself unrealistically high expectations of what I should be. Not just in appearance but from a psychological stance too. (AN isn’t all about how you look. #Shock horror!) I don’t like the way I look, think or live. Any measly attempt at having an ounce of self confidence would usually end up thwarted by my constant feeling of not being enough. Am I smart enough? Am I funny enough? Am I thin enough? Am I beautiful enough? Am I kind enough? Am I proactive enough? Am I good enough? I know it gets me nowhere to estimate my worth and to compare myself to other people and their success and I wish I didn’t do it.
But I am trying to make changes. I am making things change. It’s painful and I have already had more wobbles than I care to admit, but I need to change if I am to live. I need to change if I am to make peace with myself. If I carried on the way I thought I was destined to then I would be dead by now. I have denied myself everything I can gain pleasure from for far too long as a form of punishment for the feeling that I wasn’t a good enough friend, daughter, girlfriend, sister, colleague – a good enough person.
I am yet to fully understand why I feel so brutally disgusted and upset about myself. From an objective point of view, I know I am an intelligent young woman with a lot going for me. I landed my dream job at the age eighteen. How many people can say that? I am also surrounded by loving friends and family who may not necessarily understand my thought processes, but are there to support me any who. I know that I’m not ugly and that some people find me beautiful, both inside and out. I used to feel (and still do to an extent) guilty about my negative self-perception because I can see I have a future. But I can’t seem to overcome the overwhelming torrent of thoughts my mind throws at me for not achieving my own unrealistic expectations.
So I am holding out a friendly hand to myself. These unrealistic expectations are frankly absurd. Instead of berating myself for thinking in an off-kilter manner, I am learning that it’s okay to feel bad and it’s also okay to feel good. After all, I am human and I feel. Instead of wallowing in my thoughts and delving further into the never ending pit of self hatred, I am learning how to isolate my thoughts. I am finding out why I feel like I do.
Life is full of chaos, ambiguity and uncertainty and you must ride those waves. It is only now that I can learn to accept that in every sea there is a harsh surf, and that it’s perfectly okay if you get knocked down . You are your own successes; not your failures. What matters is finding that inner strength to pull yourself back onto the board. Yes, you could get hit by a gust of wind and fall off again, but you may also settle with your feet planted firmly onto the board, reaching the point where you can stand tall and proud and just ride the wave without fear.
If any of this is sounding familiar then I urge you please to seek help. Talk to a friend, a partner, a colleague, a relative or anyone you trust. This is hell and I wouldn’t wish how I feel upon anyone. Talking to a stranger who is trained to offer counsel on specific mental health issues certainly helped me see everything in a different light.
Beat (Beat Eating Disorders)
Adult Helpline: 0845 634 1414
Over 18 youth helpline: 0845 634 7650
Helpline: 0845 120 3778
Helpline: 0300 123 3393
Written by Emma Perry
Edited by amaneatingpie.co.uk