Claire Dickinson

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa 3 years ago and it turned my life upside down. I’d come home for Christmas after finishing my first term away at Lancaster university.

On the outside, everything looked great. On the inside, I was in hell.

I’d been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was struggling, but I was managing.

What was to happen next wasn’t expected by any of us. I hadn’t noticed that any of my behaviours were unusual. I hadn’t realised that living inside my critical head wasn’t normal. I thought I’d found a way to cope. When I went back my life was taken over with doctors’ appointments, meal plans and the threat of suspension and hospital.

I lost all my friendships as they were getting in the way of my goal. I isolated myself and was only concerned about food. I was still living 3 hours away from home.

I thought university was a focus, in reality it was an escape.

My mum and dad visited me multiple times a week, stayed nearby and tried their best to make me eat. One of my lowest points was seeing my mum’s face as I stepped off the train – she didn’t recognise me.

I was spiralling out of control, and I was pushing everyone who tried to help me away.

In the end, I had to come home and it saved my life. I was enrolled in a community treatment programme close to home in Nottingham, my mum took leave from work to look after me and slowly but surely, I entered into my journey of recovery.

The following months were the hardest I’ve ever experienced. The once calm and collected girl I was turned into a monster. I screamed and shouted at people, ran away, ignored people, cancelled appointments, refused to engage. The illness had taken over.

I couldn’t separate myself from my illness, but luckily those around me could, and they never gave up. My best friend cried when she saw me, but she’s been there for me every step of the way. We often joke about our costa dates throughout my recovery.

In the early days, I’d only be able to manage a green tea, but over the years we’ve worked up and now I’ll happily go in and enjoy a hot chocolate with all the extras!

I took a year off everything to focus on my recovery. When I couldn’t fight for myself, my mum fought twice as hard. She held the light for me when I couldn’t even see a way forward. There were times when I was too scared to even go into my own back garden, when seeing people was too overwhelming.

I would frequently cancel and make excuses not to attend my community treatment, but I was the only person who ever gave up on myself.

I never thought I’d be where I am today; a place where I can honestly say I’m happy. I’m closer to my family than I ever have been, I have an amazing boyfriend who’s there for me through everything, the most wonderful dog who’s helped me massively.

I am half way through my second year at university close to home and I am loving it.

I’ve made real friendships that I’m involved in, I can go out for meals and drinks and I can enjoy myself.

Yes, my ED voice is still there sometimes but I am in a place where I can fight it. I can separate myself and tell it to shut up and go away.

My ED used to consume me, now it just pays fleeting visits where I can control it and use it as a reminder of how far I’ve come. It really does get better, and it really is worth it.

Recovery is hard but it can bring so much joy and real happiness.

First Steps is such a fantastic service and helped me to realise that I’m not alone. I’m not the only student suffering with an Eating Disorder and there is help out there if you want to take advantage – if you can get the support whilst on campus at university then go for it.

Recovery has opened up so many doors for me. It’s made me the person I am today. I am strong, resilient and able to put myself first. I dread to think where I’d be otherwise, but I know that no matter where I was, without recovery I wouldn’t be able to live.

I might survive, but I’d never have been able to thrive.

I wouldn’t have been able to smile with my eyes, I’d never have met the amazing people I know today, I’d never have got my best friends back and I would never have been able to love my dog.

With recovery, I can take him on walks, I can talk to strangers and play with their dogs. I can go on holiday and enjoy myself. I can go out for meals, I can go for drinks, I can be spontaneous and most importantly I can do what I want, and I can do it for me.

I can fight my fears. It isn’t easy, it’s still a challenge, but it’s a battle that I’m winning and one that I refuse to lose.

Eating Disorder in Student Services

Sign up for our newsletter

If you would like to receive updates from First Steps Derbyshire about the services we provide for people affected by eating disorders, please sign up here. You can find out more about how we handle your data here.