The decision I made when I left for university in September 2009 was that nobody at college would ever find out I suffered from an eating disorder. I didn’t want to be marked as ‘different’ and I was sick of labels. But I found myself pulled in by the rush of Uni life, and away from all the bad memories and with new-found independence I chose to pull myself out of relapse for the last time and went into full recovery; weight gain and everything this time.
But anorexia had left a bitter taste in my mouth; it had silenced me for years and I knew there were so many out there, recovered individuals, and those still suffering, whose stories we might never hear. I know what’s it like to read an honest, inspirational recovery story; it’s empowering ,offers hope to sufferers and adds to the knowledge of caregivers and health professionals. Eating disorders are rife amongst university students; and I wanted to give them a voice. So I started drafting my first article for our student newspaper outlining my own experiences. I didn’t let anybody see it until it went into print and the day before it was published I was in a nervous daze. Scared I might be treated differently and with old feelings of guilt about my past behaviours surfacing I decided to text my friends and ask them not to judge me harshly.
That text didn’t need to be sent. The feedback was incredible; my housemates said they were ‘so proud’ of me, and one of my friends suggested I should be a journalist! But my biggest surprise came when I logged on online and saw that an anonymous sufferer had left a comment thanking me for my ‘inspirational story’ which offered’ hope to other sufferers still struggling’. This comment meant so much to me; I had achieved managed to reach out to somebody with my story, the way that so many stories had reached out to me and offered me hope. That feeling is amazing; it provides a greater sense of achievement and recognition than one could ever derive from anorexia.
My first online article was also how I got involved with SRSH; one of the founders left a comment and an email address asking me to get in touch. Considering how nervous I was about this first article; it had completely changed my life and opened so many doors of opportunity. I had changed direction entirely; from anorexic and ashamed of it to a recovered voluntary member of a self-help group for people with eating disorders. ‘Speaking out’ won’t just alter your life though; it alters the lives of others around you too. For the better.
‘Speaking out’ was a captivating experience and once I noticed how many misconceptions there were about eating disorders amongst students I decided to publish my second article ‘The truth about eating disorders’. It can be very upsetting for a sufferer to hear that eating disorders ‘are all about vanity’ or that we are trying to copy the models etc. I’ve left many heated discussions for this reason and it was time to get the truth out there. Again, I received excellent feedback from my peers, but once more the biggest surprise came when I went online was when I discovered my article, or links to it had been published, on eating disorder-related websites all over the world. I was ecstatic! Not that people thought my writing was good enough to link to their own websites/organisation websites, but that THE TRUTH about eating disorders was getting out there!
It was perhaps this success that led to me being brave enough to phone up BBC radio 1 and speak live on air to Vanessa Feltz about my anorexia. They were having a feature on eating disorders on the radio and were discussing the old ‘it’s because of all these thin ideals’ explanation and whilst I agree media image may play a small role in some sufferers’ experience of eating disorders it is certainly not the full story . My dad encouraged me to pick up the phone and make a call to the show. I did it.
I was put on hold for what felt like an eternity and my nerves grew and grew. Finally I was on air. I discussed my own eating disorder and was asked some very personal questions; I was asked to reveal my lowest weight, something I had never discussed with anybody outside my immediate family. But my biggest challenge came towards the start of my conversation; one of Vanessa’s first questions was ‘What is your name?’ Up until now, every single article I had written had been published anonymously .I didn’t want to be identified because I was still ashamed of my eating disordered past and had apprehensions about being labelled again. Even online I had maintained anonymity and her question left me slightly shocked. Plucking up all the courage I had, I answered her; ‘It’s Rachel’.
Speaking out about my anorexia has proved to be a very fulfilling experience; I have had the chance to influence so many people’s views on anorexia; through my articles, and on a major UK radio station. Luckily for me, I have had excellent feedback each time (BBC radio 1 later phoned back and asked me to be a correspondent for them on the subject of eating disorders). However, the initial comment from the sufferer online is still in my eyes; my biggest achievement.
If you want to speak out about your experience with an eating disorder; or you have a point you want to make I would encourage you to go for it. Perhaps you mind not end up with your articles being published online all over the world and you may not yet feel ready to go live on air on BBC radio 1(then again, perhaps you might!), but I know one thing for sure-your story will help someone out there. And in the famous words of Ralph Waldo Emerson “ To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded”.