Hope is an MQ ambassador and mental health advocate. Here she explores her own experience of living with anorexia and asks what research might be able to do to prevent the development of eating disorders.
Being one of five siblings, people often ask me why I developed anorexia? Why was it me out of my sisters and brothers who used anorexia as a coping mechanism? Was it something in my brain, part of my genetics or was it the way I was brought up?
When I was 12 years old I met this friend, a friend so amazing, so good to me that she knew me better than I knew myself. My friend was called Anorexia. Over the next few years our friendship developed further. My friend gave me purpose, self-worth and value. I could rely completely on her and she would never ever let me down. When my family would argue I would let my mind would wander to calories, when I felt upset thoughts of exercise would take over . It was amazing.
Over the next few years I managed to hide my anorexia, becoming ever more devious, finding new tricks and ways to hide what I was doing. I thought everything was going swimmingly all up until aged 17, my heart nearly stopped and I was admitted to a mental health hospital where I spent the next year of my life battling to get well.
Throughout my time at the Child Adolescent Mental Health Services and my year in hospital, the finger of blame was often pointed. At my initial appointment my dad was unable to come and his picture was painted quite badly, so he felt the need to justify himself at the following appointment. Family therapy would turn into arguments about who was to blame. It frustrated me at the time. All I wanted was to be well and to learn how I could stop this happening again but I didn’t know how.
That year in hospital saved my life and helped me to feel equipped for the future.
When I heard about the research MQ are doing on eating disorders, I was thrilled. If we could find a way to understand the genes that may make us predisposed to develop an eating disorder that would be amazing. This study isn’t about pointing fingers or blaming the environment we are brought up in. It goes so much deeper than that.
We know that a child’s appetite is influenced by both their genetics and their parents approach to feeding them. The truth is the way we are all brought up can impact our future and our relationships with food. Dr Clare Llewellyn’s project has huge potential to inform parents on healthy eating practises so that we can make sure people who are predisposed to eating disorders may get extra support when they are growing up.
Imagine if we could change one tiny bit of behaviour or if we could offer parenting tips on ways to stop someone developing an eating disorder. This project has the potential to do just that!
Eating disorders affect over 1.6 million people a year and can limit the lives of those living with a condition. It is great to see MQ leading the way in researching eating disorders and the hugely positive impact that this will have on society.
Looking back, I often question what made me ill. Was it the sexual abuse? The family arguments? The way meal times were conducted? Comments people said? Or was I predisposed to it?
There is no definitive research stating that mental health issues are the result of nature or nurture. The one thing I do know is that my anorexia has made me who I am today. It has made me determined, and maybe even slightly stubborn. But it has also made me driven and ambitious. It has changed me for the better, and whilst I still ask why it chose me, I don’t think it really matters. It isn’t anybody’s fault. What’s important now is that I take my opportunity to fight it and turn a bad situation in to something good.
So at those times when I wake in the morning, take one look in the mirror and hate the girl staring back at me, I try to remember that these thoughts are in in my mind. They are definitely not my reality. And if my mind wanders to exercise, calories and skipping a meal, I know that I am stronger, more stubborn and better equipped to resist. That doesn’t mean it’s plain sailing. I don’t suppose it will ever be easy. I have read stories of people being miraculously cured of their anorexia, but I know that I am not cured. I still have to work hard at staying well, and I have to be realistic. That is the only way to keep her at bay. On bad days, I still go back to my eating disorder recovery box and remind myself what a fighter I was. What a fighter I still am.
Last updated: 16 May 2019