My Life with an Eating Disorder and Coping with Change

I didn’t believe I had an eating disorder until I was in recovery. That is a sweeping statement to make, but looking back now, it is the complete truth. I was so unaware and uneducated about something that had controlled my life for so long that I didn’t even have a name for it. To most people, the term ‘eating disorder’ has so many negative connotations. But for me, it bought some comfort, because for the first time I was able to define what was happening to me and I finally realised that I didn’t have something ‘wrong’ with me. This ‘thing’ that had ruled my life was like a monster always looming in the background. But as soon as I gave it a label, it wasn’t so scary or confusing anymore. It gave me clarity. A chance to accept. The term ‘eating disorder’ started my recovery.

I feel like we should start at the beginning, in order for me to show how much First Steps have changed my life and what my experiences of recovery have been like, I have to start by telling you my story.

I couldn’t wait to start my university journey; the pressures of the high school environment was something I couldn’t wait to leave behind. My first few weeks of university were completely exhilarating, everything was new and exciting, the whole uni experience was living up to all my expectations. But what no one ever told me was that the feeling doesn’t last forever. Eventually I became exhausted, I couldn’t keep up with everyone and everything anymore. I couldn’t cope. I missed my home, my family, my friends… essentially, I felt like I was mourning my old life.

I had always struggled with my body image and trying to accept the way I look, and this only became more and more difficult to cope with when I started uni. My eating disorder became my coping mechanism. Any bad thought or unhappy moment could be solved through the little ED voice in my head. It was so hard to ignore because it became so familiar, it was like a comfort blanket for when things got hard, and I had no intention of letting go of the only comfort I felt.

Then a few months later, my dog, Alfie, died. This was a turning point for me, my whole world felt like it was falling apart. For a lot of people, their dogs are just a pet. But mine was one of the most important things in my life. During the start of my eating disorder, Alfie was my breath of fresh air, he gave me a purpose, he allowed me to forget what the hidden side of my life was like. Losing him broke me, and my eating disorder took full advantage of this. In moments when I was overwhelmed with emotions and coping seemed impossible, my eating disorder was always ready to take over. There were very few people who knew about what I was going through, their support and love meant everything, but no one could tell me seek help, I had to be ready to seek it for myself. Finally, I reached that point. I couldn’t do this alone anymore.

The biggest and first step on my journey to recovery was to reach out to the people closest to me. This was a terrifying thing for me to do, not because I feared the response, but because I felt ashamed that this was the way I coped with things. I am so incredibly lucky in the fact that my family showed me nothing but love and support. I will forever be grateful for their determination to understand eating disorders and help me recover.

I was introduced to First Steps after a doctor’s consultation- this changed my life.

The idea of talking about my feelings and trying to understand this ‘thing’ was absolutely terrifying. But now, I realise that this was best step I could ever have taken.

First Steps helped me to understand my ED on a whole different level, and one of my strongest triggers was change. Over the past year, I had experienced two of the biggest changes in my life- the move to uni and the loss of my dog. It was time to learn how to cope with change and not supress or ignore the emotions I was experiencing.

I have learnt to create new and positive coping mechanisms, for me one of these is to write. Whenever I start to become overwhelmed, I pause and reflect, I do this through writing. It gives me a chance to sort through my thoughts logically and process the way I’m feeling instead of ignoring or covering it up. Over my recovery journey, my notebooks have become full of writings, quotes, doodles all related to my emotions.

Change is hard. And I think it always will be. For me, it’s about learning different ways to cope with it. Whether this be through writing, blasting my music or challenging my thoughts with realism. My end goal is to always silence the eating disorder voice. Change makes the voice loud, so learning new coping mechanisms helps me to take back control and experience change in a positive way.

Writing this has been a huge step for me, I spent so long being embarrassed and completely overwhelmed by everything I was going through. My recovery process taught me so many things, but the main message I want people to hear is that- recovery isn’t just a straight line, there will be good days but there will also be bad, and that is okay. Never feel like one dip will take you right back to the start, be kind to yourself and take it all day by day. I am here to show that recovery is possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The most important thing is that I can finally say I am starting to be happy again.

Thank you for listening to my story!

Contributed by Sophie