I am sat on a train and I just realised that it’s my SIX YEAR anniversary of recovery from anorexia!!! Yeah, baby!! In recognition of this, I want to tell you about the woman who changed it all.
My therapist is kind of my life idol. She was ACE. I met her when I was sixteen years old – broken, desperate, in complete despair with myself and my situation. Even then, I realised, here was a force to be reckoned with.
The first time I met her, I got on the scales and she looked at me and just said: “why have you done this?”
And for the first time, I realised, I didn’t really know.
She had this dyed orange-y, fire-y hair that was long and bright, and wore kind of boho-y clothes that looked liked they’d been snatched up at some market in an exciting, exotic country that she’d just finished visiting. She’d swish into her office with a mug of peppermint tea, or a bottle of Lipton’s ice tea, and say “right! Let’s get this over with!” and point to the scale for my weekly weigh-in (I never looked at the numbers). Some days she’d scowl at the number, and grimly mark the chart with a red pen, and some days she’d be pleased, and congratulate me on what I can only presume was my increasing weight.
A vegetarian for twenty years, she said she’d given it up recently in order to save her health, as she had an autoimmune disease and trying to stay healthy on all fronts was just a bit too much. But, as she said, she’d done her bit, which is more than most people do in a lifetime. That was seriously refreshing to hear. A chilled-out attitude to food, to life in general. No pressure to be, or to live a certain way. Just to be yourself.
Some days I’d fade pale-ly into her office and just sit there, staring at my hands, feeling numb, nothing, nada. I’d get on the scales and they’d reflect how I was feeling – empty. Sometimes she’d sigh and chastise me, on the days when she thought I needed tough love, and some days she’d let me talk about something else, or show me pictures of her two cats, and I’d feel relieved that today I didn’t have to dredge up how lonely and lost I was feeling, how much I just wanted to vanish into nothing.
She was herself with me, not like I was a student and she was the teacher, more like she was my concerned older friend who knew exactly how I was feeling. She was funny and smart and kind to me, even when I was being completely unreasonable. She made it seem so simple. Like, how did I not understand that this wasn’t the answer?
For example, I’d say, “I do not want to eat because I’ll get fat.”
And she’d say: “why do you think eating will make you fat?”
“Because I’ll lose control and spiral”
“But if I weigh you every week, and you eat what’s on the meal plan, how will that happen?”
“It just will!” This was my petulant mantra.
We had this conversation All. The. Time. After a while, I realised how dumb I sounded. Of course I wouldn’t lose control. I was in her hands, and as long as I stuck to the plan my weight would go neither up nor down, for as long as I needed to get my head straight. It was safe. I was safe. But putting your trust in someone else is hard, and she understood that.
“Why do you want to be thin? Why does that matter?”
“Because it just does. Then I’ll be pretty, and people will like me.”
I remember her pulling an exasperated face in response to this, every time. “But”, she said, “I think I’m pretty, and I have friends, and I’m not thin.”
I didn’t really have an answer to that. Maybe it was just me that thought that was the way I needed to be, to achieve everything I had in mind.
I learnt pretty quickly that the problem really wasn’t the food, or even the eating of it. It was the other stuff, the issues that had caused my anorexia in the first place, that needed sorting more than anything. So sometimes, for weeks on end, food wasn’t mentioned at all, perhaps. Instead, we talked about school, my friends, my family, my genes, and tried to untangle my cerebral cortex, which had seemingly tied itself in a knot.
Like a kitten playing with a ball of string, we batted issues back and forth, played with them, chucked them around a bit. And slowly, like the playful kitten, I grew and learned and rationalised, and finally understood that my tangle of yarn was just a thread, that with patience and kindness, could be untangled.
The way I see my own situation, looking back, is that it was a divergent, twofold path. Down one road was the actual, literal disordered eating, and down the other, were the causal factors.
The disordered eating, to some extent, mattered less whilst we looked and understood the issues surrounding the subject. We put it on hold by agreeing a 4kg bandwith of average weight I could bounce about it, whilst following my meal plan. It kept my weight high enough to stop me being admitted to hospital, but low enough that I wasn’t freaked out. I came to trust this plan, and to cling to it tightly for almost two years following the start of my therapy.
(This is what it looked like:
AM: 2 slices of toast with butter and honey.
Snack: flapjack 150 cals. Smoothie 100 cals.
Lunch: Cheese sandwich. 2 slices of Soreen (malt loaf) with butter. One piece of fruit.
Snack: 200 cals (usually Belvita biscuits)
PM: 500 cals of dinner.
Snack: 200 cals of pudding, usually a slice of cake or a yoghurt.
By the way, I still kind of mindlessly stick to this routine. I think I did it for long enough that it’s sort of ingrained in me now! I like my #snacks tho)
Tackling food fears is easier than you might think. You just have to eat the damn food. And see that nothing bad happens when you do. Understand how much better you feel, how it helps you. Prove to yourself with every bite that this isn’t wrong, it’s something so simple you don’t even have to think about it. That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. Even now, I hate eating big meals in the middle of the day, as it throws me off for the rest of the afternoon. I don’t like crisps because they’re oily and salty, and therefore equated with “bad.” It’s a dance – one step forwards, two steps back. Maybe this week I realise that I have depression, and that’s why I starve myself, but with that realisation comes self-punishment, and I decide I won’t eat my morning snack any more. How is that rational? (Hint, it isn’t). Or maybe I manage to go out for a coffee, in public, but something at school hurts me badly.
I could never be an eating disorder therapist because damn, it’s hard to argue with someone that’s convinced that peanut butter is the end of the world and that because they ate a sandwich made of crust pieces on Tuesday (which are bigger than normal pieces and therefore more calorific), that they shouldn’t eat dinner on Saturday.
My therapist showed me how stupid the whole premise was. So what, something has happened at home that has made me upset, so I’m going to declare war on salad? That’s just crazy. Why not just sort the problem out instead, and carry on eating like normal?
Like dude, chill out. You did crappily on some homework aaaaand you’re dealing with it by doing sit-ups in the middle of the night? How on earth is that going to help? Talk to your teacher instead! Do it again! Take charge of your own happiness!
Okay, I’m nearly done. But here’s some of the things that I learned from her that I will never forget, that made me who I am today.
- Be SELFISH! Stop living for other people, at their mercy. It’s your goddamn life.
- Marks and Spencers do the best nibbles.
- At the end of the day, calories are just…calories? As long as you get ENOUGH of them, per day, it really doesn’t matter what form they’re in.
- If you like something, you can do it all the time… make it happen. For example, she religiously had a cold Lipton’s ice tea for breakfast, every day.
- Write your thoughts down. It’ll clear your head, and you can learn a lot about yourself from it.
- Exercise, who?
- Friends and food are two of the most important things in your life.
- There is ALWAYS, ALWAYS a solution.
- Cats are fab.
- If something sucks, or is toxic in your life, drop it like a hot potato. And then eat a hot potato to make yourself feel better.
One of her treatments for me actually included going out for lunch, so I could get used to eating in public (another big fear which we’ll tackle some other time). I think that’s hilarious, and kind of cool.
She went to Grey College, Durham, which is kind of why I picked it. I wanted to be as strong, as sassy, as rational as she was. She made me into this person full of life, who wanted to live, and I admired her so much for that, that I still try to emulate her, six years later.
So thank you, therapist, for sitting with me for hundreds of hours, for showing me true catharsis, and changing the path of my life forever.
(and thanks to my family for making me go in the first place!)
Would I have been able to be a vet if I was still sick? nOpE! ps this is my dog i love him