Except for one thing; there was a chance that more than one of them would have a history of an eating disorder.
I haven’t really met very many people who have also recovered from eating disorders; in fact before SRSH I had only known one person who had suffered a good 10-15 years ago. Now there was the chance of being in a room with a group of recovered individuals!
Naturally I was nervous.
I know the SRSH policies and I know for a fact that Nicola wouldn’t let anybody attend a meeting if she didn’t think it was a good idea, so there was no chance of it turning into one of those horrible situations where people are looking each other up and down comparing how thin they are to them, comparing who has really worked at starving themselves this week. I did this when I suffered from anorexia and met other anorexics in my therapist’s waiting room; it was a horrible thing to do and I hated myself for doing it, plus it was triggering and often made my body image even worse.
That definitely wasn’t going to happen so I crossed that concern out of my mind before I even left for Oxford. But seriously though, what would it be like in a room full of people where half of them had been through an eating disorder and come out the other side like me. Most of them would probably have been to support groups and met other recovered individuals through their work with organizations such as body gossip. They had joined in with the ‘recovery club’; spoken to people, shared their experiences, laughed and cried about it all. I had only ever written about my experiences, anonymously so I felt like a bit of a newbie.
The meeting was progressing really well; people’s juices were really flowing and the suggestions were just pouring out of people’s mouths. Soon the question became relevant and Nicola asked it, “I can’t really do this in another way, unless I take you all out the room one by one and ask you personally, but who here has a history of an eating disorder and is happy/willing to talk about it; I understand if not.”
I felt tense, not as tense as I had been telling my friends about my eating disorder-that had been intensely emotional. In fact, I heard a little voice inside my head saying, “It’ll be ok, in fact, if there is a time to tell people about your past, this is probably it; they’ll understand.” I looked away from everyone whilst I slowly let my hand slither up into the air.
When I looked up after what felt like ages to me, there were 3, 4, 5 hands up around me. People. Recovered. Not ashamed. Smiling. Real smiles, not awkward smiles or false, superficial smiles. The room changed; something was in the air; it had slipped in through the door; positivity and hope, circling the air, embracing us in a sense of peacefulness. We had made it through, so could so many others out there. After all the torment, here we were, trying to make others’ lives better.
I suddenly felt as if I was surrounded by a group of undeniably strong, brave and inspirational people. It was uplifting.
One person in the room was admittedly still struggling but nonetheless raises her hand up; willing to share her experiences. She is being braver than I ever was. The message is clear; even in the midst of anorexia, there is still hope and determination to make a difference.
We carried on, the agenda firing away; it is probably one of the most productive meetings I have attended and I’ve been to a few recently! New projects are discussed and confirmed, collaboration with major organizations to raise awareness of eating disorders is placed on the cards, and further expansion of SRSH media and committee members is firmly established.
A thought pops into my head about half way through: “If I was still clinically anorexic, how would I would be able to concentrate long enough to follow this meeting? Would I have to leave because it was too painful to sit in the seat for long periods of time?”
I wondered if anybody else was thinking exactly the same thing.
Diagnosed with anorexia at 14, showing signs of problems at 12, I was very used to keeping very close tabs on who I told about my eating disorder; I had to really, really trust somebody before I shared that with them: I still have close school friends, an ex-boyfriend and lots of uni mates I haven’t plucked up the courage to tell yet.
But when you are surrounded by other people who have also recovered, and who share the same vision that eating disorders be overcome, you start to feel a bit differently; the past seems further behind you and you can share their motivation to go forwards and support others still trapped in the isolated labyrinth of an eating disorder.