What Anorexia Taught Me: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

What Anorexia Taught Me:
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Words by Hope Virgo

Content warning: Eating disorders and sexual abuse

Eleven years ago, I was standing in a hospital doorway, my hair thinning, my skin a yellowish colour. I was wearing a short denim skirt and a pink jumper that drowned me. Tears were welling in my eyes as my mum signed me in. I begged her to let me come home, begged her for one more chance. I promised her I would begin to eat. But mum said no. She couldn’t take it anymore: the lies and the deceit. I hated her then, and everyone around me. I couldn’t understand why they were interfering in my life. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. I had lost a bit of weight, yes, but I wasn’t that skinny. I was nowhere near thin enough to die …” 

– (Stand Tall Little Girl, Trigger Publishing, 2018 )

I had always found growing up quite difficult. I hated feeling emotions, particularly the painful things. When I was 13 years old 

Artwork by Ida Henrich

my family life got harder and I was sexually abused. These things took those painful feelings to a whole other level. A level of uncertainty and distress; a level where I just knew I didn’t want to feel things anymore.Instead of trying to talk about things I needed to find other coping mechanisms. 

That was when I met her. In the dead of the night she spoke to me. She suggested that one way to switch off my emotions was to focus on something else, and that something else was food. She gave me the space to switch off from the reality of life and I loved that. I loved the fact that any time my family had an argument I could distract myself by thinking about food, calories and exercise. I thrived off everything she gave me. She gave me this value and sense of purpose that I hadn’t been able to find before. 

What I didn’t know at the time was how dangerous living my life like this was. I thought letting Anorexia having complete control over me was the way to do things. I thought she was my best friend, my everything… 

Fast forward four years and I have managed to keep this secret from everyone around me. No one knew that I had this secret best friend; this love affair that made me so happy. 

Or did it? Over the last few months, aged 16, I don’t know why but something wasn’t feeling quite right. I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t missing enough meals, running enough and whenever I looked in the mirror I felt this complete and utter criticism falling over me. 

But it was okay, I knew what I needed to do to keep her happy. To stay on track with it. I just needed time. 

That was when it all went a bit funny and my family got involved. I felt sheer frustration when they started to interfere, it lead to GP appointments and then finally going to the Child Adolescent Mental Health Services. I didn’t understand why people were so interested in trying to make me eat. I hated it. No one got it. No one understood this friendship I had developed and how important it was to me. 

In my second appointment they diagnosed me with anorexia. But at this point I was in complete and utter denial about it. 

I didn’t think there was anything the matter with me and definitely not anorexia. I just had this best friend in my head and I loved it. I convinced myself that everyone wanted to make me fat, that they were just jealous of what I had and wanted it but I wasn’t going to let them. Instead I was going to up my game. 

What followed was six months as an outpatient where I convinced myself, well anorexia convinced me, that I was super happy. But actually I wasn’t. There were times when I hated that voice in my head. Times when I wouldn’t have the energy to even stand up in the shower, sitting there the water pouring over me my brain battling it out. 

Then in November 2007 my heart nearly stopped and I was admitted to a mental health hospital. My story could have been over then, my death certificate would have read an age of 17.

But it wasn’t… Instead I began a year in hospital and the hardest battle to recover.  

Recovering from anorexia was really hard work and without being in hospital I don’t know if I ever would have managed it but the fact is we can move forward with recovery and cope with life.  

If you are deciding whether to speak to someone you’re concerned for about their mental health, take this as a sign to do it! Too many people suffer in silence and don’t know where to go to. They feel alone and isolated and we can change this.

If you are supporting someone with an eating disorder, however hard it feels right now, however emotionally exhausted you are, stick with it. Recovery is possible! 

If you have an eating disorder, maybe you are in denial, maybe you are just starting out or maybe you are working out whether you want help. Please know that eating disorder is not your best friend. It is the opposite.

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