is how long it’s been since I was sectioned.
When, in the back of an ambulance, I genuinely didn’t know how I would get through 24 hours
(let alone 43,800)…
Lunch time, coming home from sixth form, walking through my back door to be met with my psychiatrist and nurse, and a group of people I hadn’t met before, sitting in my living room-
mental health act assessment to determine if I was of sound mind to refuse treatment.
(turns out, I wasn’t).
Standing in my garden, begging my mum to let me run away while, inside, my psychiatrist called for an ambulance,
detained under section 3 of the mental health act,
my dad, as the oldest parent, was given a document to sign, a document that meant he had to, essentially, ‘give up’ his rights as a parent.
Going back inside to say my goodbyes,
to my family,
before being taken away to a place of complete unknowns…
Anorexia Nervosa- an illness characterised by a need for control.
I went from that, to having no control-
no say over what would happen to me,
no say over my body,
no say over my life.
Doctors waking me in the early hours with needles, sticking cannulas in my arm, hooking me up to drips, taking blood, sticking pads to my chest- emergency ECGs.
Machines constantly beeping.
Fortisips, threats of being tube fed-
mind constantly whizzing,
eyes constantly watching, in case I tried to leave.
I was on strict bed rest in general hospital for 3 weeks, until my heart rate was stable and then, a week before my 17th birthday, I was transferred by ambulance to a specialist eating disorders hospital-
Riverdale Grange in Sheffield where…
Everything revolved around eating-
3 meals, 3 snacks a day,
30 minute ‘sit down’ after snacks, 1 hour ‘sit-down’ after meals.
I was just ‘eating to get out’ at first, pretending that everything was fine, that I had no reason to be in hospital. My logic? As a very ‘black and white’, ‘all or nothing’ thinker, I knew that I had to gain X amount of weight to be discharged, and so, in my mind, the quicker I gained the weight, the quicker I could go home and get my life back- my life of running and ‘healthy’ eating…
Obviously, that’s not how it went though. I did have Anorexia, no matter how much I denied it- it’s what I was sectioned with, what had been ruling my life for the previous 2/3 years. And so, as was always going to happen, because eating disorders are mental illnesses- you can be weight restored and, as I have found out, remain stuck in the same disordered mindset- I relapsed.
3 months into my admission, section having finally been lifted, I felt so lost. No longer receiving treatment by force, it was my choice to get better. Did I really want to get better, though? Did I really need to get better? Was I ill enough? I could decide to walk out at any moment and, they would try to talk me out of it, of course, but, they couldn’t stop me, because I was a voluntary patient, in there of my own accord.
Knowing that I was no longer deemed to be a risk to myself, in a messed up way, actually made me feel worse. It’s common with eating disorders, this mindset… It’s common that, as you recover, gradually ‘letting go’ of your eating disorder, your feelings of discomfort do intensify. But, as the saying goes, ‘things often get worse before they get better.’ And, it’s true. I hit rock-bottom, but, from there, there was only one way to go- up. And, things did get better, over time. Not just with my eating, but with my mental health, my life, in general…
I’ve always found it so much easier to talk to people who are older than me (it’s the Autism, I think, making me feel too “different”), so for the first few months of my admission, I really struggled to connect with the other patients. But, when you’re living with people who completely ‘get’ what you’re going through- all the pain and anguish- because they’re going through it too, you obviously form very strong connections.
By the time I finally did leave, 4 months after my section was lifted, everyone wrote, in their goodbye letters, how ‘confident’ I was, so there was definitely a shift in my sense of self in those 7 months. The shift? One of actually feeling “good enough”, for what felt like the first time in my life…
It was the 1st February 2019 when I was finally discharged. When, after 7 long months, it was finally time for me to go home, finally time for me to work on sustaining my recovery in the ‘real’ world… And, ‘work’ it has certainly been…
Whereas I spent my whole adolescence- between the ages of 14 and 17- clinging on to my eating disorder, using it as a sort of ‘safety blanket’, something which I turned to when life felt ‘too much’ and I needed to numb the pain with something, I now spend my adulthood tackling all of that pain head on.
No longer do I have the ‘safety blanket’ of Anorexia, for, I am in recovery now, the very nature of which is full of unknowns…
Chaotic sometimes, confusing most of the time, a far cry from anything remotely resembling “safety”, recovery is something that I have to choose, every day, every meal, every time that disordered voice tries to creep back in (which, if I’m being honest, is more often than I’d like to admit)…
You see, I never wake up without feeling uncomfortable in myself/in my body, because, in many ways, I hate it (my body) now…
When I was admitted to hospital, I was very underweight. Whilst I had specific areas that caused me to feel discomfort, my body image actually wasn’t too bad. I didn’t think I was fat, I just didn’t realise how thin I was. I would body check in mirrors, lifting up my shirt to check my abs were still there, not because I believed that my stomach was too big, but because I feared my stomach getting too big. It’s why I sustained Anorexia for as long as I did, because I was more scared of ‘losing’ my toned body, than I was of dying…
To such an extent that, I genuinely think that if someone had given me the ultimatum, when I was in hospital, of;
‘You can either keep running which will maintain your thigh gap and your abs but will kill you because, your body can’t keep going’,
‘You can stop running and stay alive, but your thighs will touch and your stomach won’t be completely flat anymore. There will be rolls when you sit down and it will feel uncomfortable but you will be alive, not dead’,
then I’d have chosen the former. Not out of ‘vanity’ (the biggest misconception of eating disorders), but out of a deep rooted need for control, the idea of letting go of it (the control I’d been so tightly gripping onto with regards to my body)- torturous, too much for my head to even think about, let alone action. It’s why I had to be sectioned. Because I couldn’t bear to not run anymore, to gain weight, even though those were the two things which I so desperately needed to do. I needed to stop running. I needed to gain weight.
I’m hopeful though that, one day, I will be able to find peace with my body, to like it, even, but, for now, remaining in recovery is enough. Waking up, getting up, despite the feelings I have about myself, is enough.
So yes, recovery is scary and uncomfortable and full of unknowns, but, it’s also exciting…
In many ways, I don’t recognise who I was 5 years ago. In some ways, I feel like nothing has changed.
But, it has…
It’s only when I stop and really reflect on that fact, as I am doing now, in writing this blog post, that I realise just how much has changed in those five years…
the whole course of my life…
I used to think that I would run forever, my ambition was to get to the Olympics, my coach held the hope that I would be the first athlete of his to go- Paris 2024/LA 2028. But, now I don’t run at all… I started back training and competing when I was discharged from hospital, but it never felt the same. To go from running sub 20 minute 5Ks, competing in the European trials, and placing in the top 50 women in the UK in national races, to finishing near the back in local cross country races, it was so hard. To watch the records that I had spent the previous 3 years breaking be broken by other people, that was also so hard. It was doing more harm for my mental health than good, and so I had to stop, for the sake of my freedom, because, I feared that if I carried on running, then I would end up in the position that I was in before- addicted– I would say, unable to stop, slowly killing myself…
And, it wasn’t just the act of running itself that I was ‘addicted’ to, I was consumed by every aspect of it. My room was covered in race numbers, photos of athletes pinned to my walls, medals hanging up, trophies lining my shelves, books about running and ‘healthy’ eating, athletics weekly and runners world magazines taking over my bookcase, workout gear taking over my wardrobe, trainers, spikes, racing flats taking over my cupboards- my whole identity was centered around running. I was ‘Lisa the Runner’ (with an eating disorder). No personality, but at least I could run 5km in 19 minutes :)) Never mind the fact that I was losing friends, ruining relationships with my family, destroying myself, I was, finally, winning races…
(A disclaimer before I move onto the next ‘change’:
Running itself isn’t to blame for my eating disorder. Running didn’t cause me to develop Anorexia. If I had never started running, then it would’ve been something else. If I had never developed Anorexia, then it would’ve been something else, because, I needed something else- I needed a coping mechanism/a way of coping with an extremely difficult home situation which I had no control over, and so, I looked to gain it (control) from elsewhere…
The perfect storm, Anorexia allowed me to cope with an extremely difficult time. If I didn’t have that sense of control, then I’m not sure how, or even, if, I’d have gotten through certain things. Which is why I would never say that I ‘regret’ having spent so many years battling an eating disorder, because, it has, ultimately, shaped me into who I am. Without having gone through such experiences, I would never have built this blog. It’s given me a different way of viewing the world. I am more grateful for the little things- being able to go to the toilet without having someone standing outside the open door, being able to go on my phone whenever I want to, being able to go outside whenever I want to, to exercise whenever I want to, to eat whatever I want, whenever I want it- to be able to have freedom over my life, something which I didn’t have this time 5 years ago)…
I did my GCSEs when I was in the depth of Anorexia, my A-levels from the ‘school room’ in Riverdale, used my 1 hour allocated phone time a day to apply for university, graduated in October last year with a 2:1. How I did it, I have no idea, but, I did, and I’m proud of myself for that…
Grieving for someone for the first time-my Grandad- who passed away in January of this year. He always used to say, when we were young, that all he wanted in life was to ‘see all his grandchildren grow up’. Recovery gave him that. He got to see me, his youngest grandchild, graduate from university in October, a few months before he passed away. He got to see me getting well again.
Running my own business, albeit one I no longer run (unlike Anorexia, the indecisiveness is incurable, as I’ve found out :)) And, investing money. Building up my savings for the future I want to create for myself.
And, writing this blog!! I started it a few weeks before I was discharged from hospital in 2018, and I’ve carried it on since. It blows my mind when I see all the countries it reaches, warms my heart when I read the comments. I hope that, through sharing my experiences, I can help people to realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel, always.
Being invited back to Riverdale to speak to the parents/carers of current patients, helping out at their summer fayre, being filmed reading my poetry, an opportunity to go back to the place that I, quite literally, owe my life to, to thank all of the incredible people who helped get me here- cathartic.
Coming to terms with why I am the way I am/why I think the way I think. I view the world differently, and that’s okay. I do still struggle with depression and the eating disorder thoughts haven’t just disappeared, but the difference is that now I am able to go against those thoughts, realising that they’re just thoughts, not fact. They come, and they go- fleeting. I don’t have to let them have any power over me. I don’t have to let them influence my behaviour. I don’t have to listen.
– Relationship with Food
5 years on, I can now acknowledge that; food is just food- it’s a necessity that we all need to survive- whilst also appreciating that; food is enjoyable, it connects people and it actually tastes so good. I don’t need to deny myself of that. Friday night fish and chips, post hike sandwiches and cakes in the peak district with my Dad, Saturday night pizza, time spent with my family where I can actually be present with them (because I’m not starving and miserable).
Above all though, the biggest change, five years on, is simply that I am here– healthy, alive. Because, if I had kept doing what I was doing, then I wouldn’t be here. I have no doubt about that. The heart is a muscle and my heart was failing, it couldn’t keep going indefinitely, something had to give, and, that ‘something’? If I hadn’t been forced to get better? It would’ve been my life. I’d be dead.
So yes, a lot has changed in five years. I might not be ‘there yet’, and, I might never get ‘there’ (where even is ‘there?’) but, if someone had told 16 year old Lisa, when she was alone in that room, her first night in hospital, chest heavy, sectioned, what she’d be doing at 21 (nearly 22!)/that she’d still be here, alive, then I don’t think she’d have believed them.
And, that excites me. Because, in another 5 years from now, I’ll be (almost) 27.
It also terrifies me, slightly, because, when I was younger, I used to think that 18 was ‘well old’, an “actual” adult… But when I got to 18, there was no sudden shift. I didn’t go to bed on the 10th August feeling like a child and wake up on the 11th August feeling like an adult. That ‘shift’ never came, and, I don’t think it ever will come, if I’m being honest. 19, 20, 21, and soon to be 22, the years passing me by, quicker than I’d like them to, but they’re all just numbers. They don’t mean anything.
So yes, I have some fear towards the future-for all the unknowns- but, I have a greater degree of excitement towards it, towards the prospect of…
What will I be doing then? Will I be saying the same things at 27 as I’m saying now?
‘If 22 year old Lisa could see what she’d be doing at 27, she wouldn’t believe that it was possible..’
When/if, (you can’t take anything for granted in life), I reach 27, my only hope is that I will be more affirmed in my identity, happier with myself and who I am as a person-
still making it my life’s purpose to destroy the thing that tried to destroy me-
and, still writing rubbish poems and silly blog posts,
still, despite the ups and downs (my head is still very messy and full and I still don’t really know what I’m doing here) holding onto the hope that;
I do have a bright future,
it is possible for me to find happiness.
One day at a time.
I will get there
and it will be so worth it when I do.
~ 5 years.