Hello! I’m back and bringing you another instalment of my guest posts about mental health. This post has been written by the courageous, formidable and gorgeous Daisy Newman. You may remember Daisy from my promotion of her blog: Breaking Up With Ana on this post. I approached Daisy for this blog series because I knew I could count on her for a hard-hitting but inspiring account of her struggles with mental illness. Unfortunately, there is a consequence of getting her personal story: there are certain aspects of her post that could trigger readers that are still struggling. Please, please, please do not read any further if you feel at risk of being triggered by content about food, disordered eating, disordered eating behaviours, or any other eating disorder triggers. Lovely readers, Miss Daisy…
Before I start, I want to be clear that I’m not ‘cured’, I’m still in very early recovery, but I wanted to share my experience with mental health.
A year ago, whilst at university, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. This wasn’t a shock to me as I had been suffering with food-related anxiety and disordered eating for about 4-5 years prior. My anorexia surfaced and took control of me more once I was at university. It got so bad that, just before my first year at university was over, I had to suspend my studies, as my brain was 90% anorexia, and only 10% Daisy. It was tough. I went to the local eating disorder unit, and got the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (AN). Part of me wasn’t expecting a diagnosis of AN, and was expecting to get a diagnosis of a sub-type eating disorder, as I didn’t believe that I was “bad enough” for an AN diagnosis. (disclaimer: if you think you have an eating disorder of any kind, sub-type or not, please seek professional help).
After receiving a diagnosis, I was put on a waiting list to get help, however I was told to expect a six month wait. Almost immediately after my diagnosis, I began to deteriorate; my behaviours got worse, trying to conform to the diagnosis. I was ‘acting out’ all the time, lying to people about how much food had taken control, and I was very sick. I didn’t realise it though. After waiting for months for treatment, I started to realise that I didn’t want to be controlled by anorexia and I wanted my old life back. So, I started to look for other treatment options in the UK. Unfortunately, because my BMI was not below a certain number (I’m not going to mention weights or numbers in attempt to keep the triggering content to a minimum), I was not eligible for treatment on the NHS. I kept going back to my GP, with a lower weight every time, crying out for help, but I got no help at all. My family and I decided to look at our other options. My father organised for me to see a private psychologist to get his opinion, and straight away he thought that I needed some intense treatment, and suggested looking abroad. I looked for centres across the world that would be suitable for me, and eventually I found a treatment centre in Cape Town. I got in contact with them, and started the process of getting the help that I really needed.
So, in January 2018, I flew out to Cape Town to start my recovery journey. On the way there, I was understandably very nervous, and used alcohol to suppress my anxious feelings, it seemed like a clever idea at the time, but arriving to the treatment centre hungover was not great. I remember arriving and looking around being so overwhelmed, expecting the other clients there to be “crazy”, and worrying about not fitting in. I was terrified that I would be the fattest there and that they would think of me as a fraud. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, helping me out with unpacking and helping to settle my nerves. I was reassured that if I put the effort in, my life could improve massively during my time there.
My first day there felt quite hectic for me, especially at meal times. I didn’t think that I’d have to eat everything on my plate, so I was in shock and terrified at the thought. I remember one of the recovery assistants (RA’s) pulling me aside and telling me “Daisy, this is an eating disorder centre, you do realise you have to eat everything that is put in front of you?”. Everything felt so surreal, I felt like nobody trusted me. I was on a kitchen ban (I wasn’t allowed in the kitchen at all) and had to be accompanied to the toilet for the first few weeks. I hated being accompanied to the toilet, I felt so embarrassed and stupid. The bathroom supervision was put in place to stop clients from: purging, exercising and body checking. In my case, I was on it for four weeks, but it was different for every client. I understand how necessary this was now, as the eating disorder is very sneaky and it’s so easy to slip into negative behaviours!
Days in the centre were full of group activities, therapies, and meals. We got up at around 6:30am, to start the ‘therapeutic day’ at 7am, and finished the ‘therapeutic day’ at around 4pm. The structure of the day generally went: breakfast, meditation, group therapy, morning snack, group therapy, lunch, group therapy, afternoon snack, group therapy. The therapy groups would always be different, and have different RA’s leading them. Throughout the week you got 1-2 individual sessions as well; these were a chance to get down to the deep, dark places that you didn’t feel comfortable going to in group therapy. Each client was assigned their own councillor for the duration of their stay; in my case, three months. By the end of the day, I found myself exhausted, both emotionally and physically. I found it hard to let out any emotion in groups, and this was picked up on by other clients and brought up as a ‘concern’ or ‘hindrance to my recovery’. I wanted to be able to open up, but it took a few weeks. Once I got the hang of letting go, and in a lot of cases, allowing myself to cry, the entire process felt a lot more beneficial.
The thing I learnt most while in treatment is that ‘it’s not about the food’. Before I went into treatment, I was looking to blame someone or something for my eating disorder. I quickly learnt that eating disorders are a coping mechanism to get control over some part of your life, to suppress emotions that you don’t want to feel, and these suppressed emotions come from many life events, not just one. As soon as I started opening up more and being honest, the food anxieties lessened. Eating disorders are an addiction. Some people suppress their emotions with alcohol, drugs, smoking etc., but in my case, I suppressed them with control over my food.
For me, treatment was really beneficial, I learnt a lot about myself and about how to manage my eating disorder. I realise that I’m never going to be “fixed”, or “cured” from my eating disorder, however I’m now able to manage it in a healthier way. It’s easier for me to differentiate between the ‘anorexia’ and ‘Daisy’ now. Everyday life now is much more enjoyable, as I have coping strategies in place, and now know that if a food related anxiety comes up, or a body dysmorphic related anxiety comes up, that there is usually something behind it – an emotion that I’m trying to avoid. I’m a lot more social, and I enjoy going out for meals for the most part now, which is crazy as eight months ago the thought of a meal out riddled me with anxiety! I regularly attend online ‘support meetings’, which help a lot when I do feel a bit wobbly because I can tell other people who really understand, and seek advice from them.
Since coming back from treatment, I’m being a lot more open and honest about my feelings with close friends and family, allowing them to support me when I’m having a bad day. Bad days do still happen, in fact the past week, writing this, has been a bit of a struggle, but I’m talking about it. The saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, really is accurate, and I really suggest that if you have something on your mind, that you do share it, even if it seems insignificant or silly to you!
Eating Disorders can be fatal, and if you believe yourself or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, please get some support or help. Below I’ll post some useful links to places/ things that have helped me:
Thank you for reading, and remember recovery is worth it.