Anorexia is my shadow. It’s been with me since I was twelve. It coerced me, engaged me, changed me but never left me.
I hated it. It made me feel ashamed and flawed. Why? Why me? How did this happen? How did a beautiful, intelligent, successful person live a dual life? No one knew. The duality remained hidden.
My career choice forced me into a normal weight range, light but acceptable. Physiotherapy is a physically demanding career: despite the ‘No Lift’ policy, I lifted. My father denied the chance to go to university, fostered my success. I did my part studying hard, graduating and becoming a health care professional.
It was important to my parents, so it became important to me. My career helped that part. But the question ‘why’ never went away. I spent years pretending I was okay.
Denial is a powerful misguided coping mechanism. In the 70’s Anorexia Nervosa though known was not yet accepted as a clinical entity. Nor was it seen as a serious mental illness. It seemed trivial.
Did I say, mental?
I received no intervention, so most of my recovery and learning was self-initiated. Deciding to write about my experience has been very difficult. I banged into the walls of my perspex bubble. My aim was to share my insights hoping to help someone else. To write it, I had to make sense of the experience and I had to own it.
‘I had anorexia,’ rolled of the tongue easily but then it became a mental illness… Suddenly, wild imaginings ran rampant in my mind. What if I lost credibility? What if people thought I was crazy? What if the truth of the dual life inside me affected my relationships?
As an adolescent, I didn’t understand that my inner voice differed from that of my friends. As a young career woman, I focused on that but inside the voice of criticism and ritualistic behaviour kept chatting. Newly married and in love, the honeymoon period of my relationship kept the voice small.
A mother of young children, my days ended at eight with me falling into bed shortly after my little brood. I thought I’d kicked it. My mother died. Although deeply affected, I held on busy, busy, busy (three children under the age of five).
When my dad died, things fell apart. An incident woke a seething malevolent anger in me and the same feelings I had as a teenager resurfaced. I was 44, an adult orphan, vulnerable and confused. I tried to keep the lid on it but couldn’t.
By then I’d done the New-Age hippy thing: crystals, healing, meditation… I spent a month, writing and burning: purging myself of the anger and lack of forgiveness inside. It did the trick. Finally, I’d beaten this thing.
At 55, a menopausal woman with boobs and a thickened waist, I weighed more than ever before in my adult life. An innocent request to document my waist measurement and body weight for a fitness certificate, took woke the sleeping dragon. Life threw a curved ball. This time however, I decided to sit with my feelings. I’d recovered once, physically; once, emotionally and now I had the mental surfaced.
I realised, I didn’t want to own it. I wanted anorexia and its baggage to go away. I’d denied it, I’d fought it… But the hurt, unlovable part of me needed to be accepted. It had taken me on the long road to self-love.
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