‘At 12, the psychiatrist gave an ultimatum. ‘If you don’t gain 0.2 pounds by Monday, I’m sticking a tube down your throat and admitting you to the psych ward.’: Anorexia survivor says ‘recovery is a choice I make every day’

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“I have never been ‘normal.’ Even as a child, I would stare around at the other children in my class and see their moods varied, but they didn’t seem fall into black holes and have to learn how to claw their way out on their own as I did. They could just go about their days, not turning a graze on their knee into a metaphor about how life constantly brings pain. Like I said, not exactly normal musings for a nine-year-old.

I was ten years old the first time I remember feeling suicidal. It came on quickly. I was sitting in class, doing an English lesson on a story about a duckling, and I suddenly felt the black hole start to pull me in. I started to cry and was taken out of the classroom, but I couldn’t say anything when people asked me what was wrong. The words just wouldn’t come out. Even then, I knew that saying I was tired of life, of mundane repetition, of feeling like life was devoid of meaning, would not be taken seriously. What ten-year-old knows enough of life to decide they are tired of it already? After all, I wasn’t going to do anything to end feeling the way I felt. I was too young yet to even know that was something people did. God, do I wish I could have stayed that way forever.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

A year later, I moved on up to high school and into a new era of life, one I would barely escape from alive. That sounds melodramatic I know, but my story wasn’t one of regular teenage angst, quarrels about boys, and worries about homework – although there was plenty of that as well. I was around eleven years old when I started struggling with what I would later learn was Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. My head was suddenly filled with thoughts that didn’t feel like they were my own. ‘But they must be,’ I would think. After all, it was my own brain that was thinking these things, wasn’t it?

It was my brain, but the thoughts were not organically mine. They were a product of a disorder, a malevolent demon constantly bombarding me with horrible, graphic, disturbing thoughts, thoughts of the people I love being harmed in every grotesque way it could come up with. If you don’t know already, this is a side effect of OCD called ‘intrusive thoughts.’ Some thoughts I still haven’t been able to talk about to this day, even though I know now their existence was not my fault.

For two years, I would wake up practically every morning and cry, knowing I would have to live 24/7 with these horrible thoughts I blamed on myself and having to do all of the rituals and obsessive behaviors my head told me I had to do to get rid of thoughts. Of course, this only provided temporary reprieve before they returned stronger than ever, but I needed that temporary relief to not completely fall apart.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

I remember the day exactly. I was 12 or 13 and I had forgotten to bring my packed lunch to school. I was sat in the library with my friends and I felt my stomach rumbling. Instead of feeling like hunger was a negative feeling, I felt empty, a feeling I was well accustomed to. This time, it was different. This was an emptiness I could control, and suddenly I felt powerful, electric. From that day, I never brought lunch to school again. If I did, to avoid arousing parental suspicion, I would let my friends eat it or throw it in the trash. Maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so out of control if by not eating, the OCD hadn’t been forced to take a back seat. But it was, and so my pursuit of controlling my life slowly became no longer under my control.

I lost weight quickly. I had always been thin and lanky anyway so it wasn’t long before it became dangerous. I couldn’t see how thin I was, nor did I think the amount I was eating (or, more accurately, not eating) was problematic. It took a while but, eventually, my family noticed and after numerous breakdowns and panicked conversations, my mom took me to the doctor, who immediately referred me to the child mental health team.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

From there, things only got worse. I started therapy once a week and was diagnosed with anorexia and OCD. After a few months, things weren’t improving. They were still spiraling downwards. I had a meeting with a psychiatrist who gave me an ultimatum – if I didn’t gain even 0.1 of a kilogram by our appointment on Monday, then I would be admitted to the hospital. I didn’t believe him. I was huge, I thought. I didn’t have an eating disorder. I didn’t know (or refused to admit) I was experiencing body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

I didn’t change anything. I stayed eating the same number of calories that were causing me to lose weight, despite seeing it wracking my parents with worry. On Monday, I packed my school bag, as usual, sure I would be going straight back after my appointment, not believing for a second I would end up where I did: in room three on the adolescent ward. I was told if I didn’t stick to a meal plan, I would have to have a nasogastric tube passed so they could make sure I was eating that way.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

I was thirteen years old; I was still a child. I should have been making mistakes like staying out past curfew and forgetting my homework, not missing one too many meals and having a tube forced down my throat.

Every day, I grew slightly more bitter, slightly harder, but I was determined to go back home. I’ve always been terrified of change. Going from a loving home to a harsh clinical hospital ward, kept awake by the beeping of the blood pressure cuff and a nurse coming in every four hours to check my blood sugar level was a large one, to say the least. I made the decision, if I could just pretend to get better then I would be allowed to go home. I followed the plan. I ate, I drank, and I gained some weight. Not a lot, but enough to convince my doctor I could carry on doing it at home. I was discharged after two weeks in the hospital, the day before my fourteenth birthday.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

I really believed the hard part was over. I was confident I could just go back to the way I was and be fine, everything would be fine. That feeling lasted about twelve hours. My mom took me to the supermarket so I could get a birthday cake for when my friends came over later. I stood in the cake aisle and I started to panic. I couldn’t buy a cake, what was I thinking? I was so consumed by the disorder, even looking at the cakes felt like a sin, like something I’d have to punish myself for. I started to cry, knowing I’d been naïve to think everything would be fine now. We left the store without a cake and without any hope things were going to be okay.

I lasted three months at home before, at my weekly weigh-in, my dietitian informed me my weight was so low it was longer on the BMI chart. She had no choice but to take me up to the ward again. I thought I could do the same as last time, just pretend for a while, but it didn’t work out that way. I was so unwell, I couldn’t even pretend anymore. The disorder had completely taken over and I was the only one who couldn’t see it. I ended up having the NG tube passed on what was one of the worst days of my life so far. The eating disorder was cunning and manipulative, and it still found ways around everything. Despite it all, I still managed to lose weight. After thoroughly baffling and infuriating the doctors and nurses for a couple of months, I was transferred to a specialist eating disorder unit where I was to stay for a further six months before being transferred twice more to other mental health hospitals.

During this time, my eating disorder would fade in importance in my mind but other, more immediately dangerous things would take hold. I was depressed, manic, irrational. I would try and harm myself in all ways imaginable. I would mark my body with scars and events would happen that would mark my brain with much more permanent ones than those on my body. I fell apart and put myself back together countless times. I gained many more diagnoses, collections of letters written on labels hanging off my brain that still linger to this day.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

Overall, I spent almost three years in total in various hospitals, alternating between trying to end my life and trying to do everything possible to salvage it. I made lifelong friends and I also met people who were supposed to be helping me to put myself back together but instead tore me apart and then got angry I was in pieces.

It took a long time, and the memories still haunt me, but I am here, nearing my twentieth birthday, living a life that every day feels like a miracle. I never thought I would (or thought that I wanted to) reach even my fifteenth birthday. Here I am, five years later.

Recovery is a process, especially when you have so many things to recover from. I don’t see it as an end goal I will one day reach. I see it as a choice I make every day when I wake up and don’t decide to spend the day destroying myself. It is a choice I make every day when I eat breakfast, then lunch, and then dinner. It is a choice I make every day when I open my laptop to study psychology so I can one day help make sure no one feels as terrible as I have.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe
Courtesy of Anna Zoe

I would never have chosen to go through all of these years of near-constant suffering, but they happened, and I intend to spend the rest of my life making up for the lost time, finding joy wherever it is possible for it to be found, and helping others to do the same.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

When I was 14, I started my first blog to do just that, a blog that would eventually morph into my Instagram page, where I raise awareness for mental health issues and other issues I’m passionate about like autism, issues facing the LGBTQ+ community – of which I am a proud member – intersectional feminism, and body acceptance. Every day I get messages from people saying my words have reached out through their screen and found a home in their heart. I’m making a difference in a way I would never have had the knowledge or capacity to do, had I not grown into the person I am today because of all of my experiences. I am not grateful for those experiences necessarily. I didn’t deserve to struggle in the way I have (and sometimes still do) but I am grateful for the person I am today, who is tougher, harder, angrier, but also stronger, softer, wiser, and a little kinder both to themselves and the world.

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

The world is never as small or as grey as it seems when you are struggling. It seems permanent but, eventually, the color returns and you remember there is beauty to be found in this crazy world if you believe it is there and you only open your eyes. Sometimes you need help to do that, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. It is always better to get the help you deserve than to struggle alone when you are anything but alone. There is always someone who understands, I promise. Put on your own oxygen mask first, your own rose-tinted glasses — the world will wait. And then who knows? Maybe one day, you will be that person for someone else too, writing about a time you thought you could never possibly survive and marveling at how the human spirit is both put out and reignited far too easily.”

Courtesy of Anna Zoe

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Anna Zoe. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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