22 July 2011

Anorexia: overcoming challenges on the road to recovery

'There are good days and bad and there are days where I feel like I'm going in circles trying to fight the anorexia.' Jenny Spencer shares her story about recovering from anorexia.


"There are good days and bad, and there are days where I feel like I'm going in circles trying to fight the anorexia." Jenny Spencer shares her story about the many challenges that she faces on her road to recovery from anorexia nervosa.

My battle with anorexia began in my teens where I seemed to have overcome the disease without seeking treatment but little did I know that 10 years later I would be fighting the disease yet again.

This time it came back with a vengeance and a few months ago I was in a space where I succumbed to anorexia. I lost my fighting spirit and I wanted to completely give in but somewhere deep inside I knew that as long as I were alive, there was hope. I was already in therapy but I knew that I had to do whatever I could to try and fight this disease. When you are malnourished, you lose your ability to reason and this is where I feel so many sufferers feel trapped.

What I think people need to understand is that anorexia is a disease. It's an illness. When you are engulfed by the daily battle of slowly starving your body, you are unable to make sense of what is really going on. I felt ashamed, lonely and guilty. I felt that this was my fault and that if I had to admit that I had anorexia, people would think: Why doesn't she just eat? Anorexia is not about food. Intellectually I understood this but it wasn't until I began on the road to recovery that I realised there is so much more to this disease.

'Heading for disaster'

I began speaking openly to my psychologist about the anorexia and she saw how it started to creep up on me and take control of my life. Unfortunately I blocked this out and before I knew it, I actually wasn't choosing the behaviour anymore - it was choosing me. This is when I realised that things were serious. I was on a downward spiral heading for disaster and it scared me because I couldn't control it.

I then decided that I would expend every resource possible to get the help that I needed. I consulted my GP who did blood tests, prescribed anti-depressants to help me sleep at night and who advised I see a dietician. I went to the dietician who was in constant contact with my psychologist. I worked really hard at getting better and followed the meal plan. I stopped weighing myself because I knew that it would sabotage my efforts and my key goal was to be healthy.

I expected to have recovered as soon as I started eating and a few weeks after beginning the meal plan, I began to feel anxious. I realised that although I was eating, there was still the emotional and psychological side of me that needed to be healed. This is where the real work actually begins.

Raw, painful emotions

I was advised to see a psychiatrist and as scary as it sounded to me, I knew I needed to accept all the help I could get - even if it meant going onto medication. I went for tests and I was told to stay on anti-depressants. It's been a scary process but I know that I need to trust the professionals involved. I am still waiting to see what the verdict is regarding my diagnosis and any additional medication I might need. I am not concerned about the stigmas attached to this because it's more important for me to be healthy and to be able to cope than to slowly commit suicide.

I'm certainly a long way from being recovered and the recovery process is not easy at all. There are good days and bad and there are days where I feel like I'm going in circles trying to fight the anorexia. There are raw, painful emotions that surface but there is also a part of me that feels humbled by my experience. I've been forced to look deep within myself.

I've learned so much about myself and I've learned to face some of my demons. I'm slowly coming to realise that anorexia is a disease that needs to be managed. I also decided that rather than trying to fight the disease, I would "make friends" with it - with that part of me that I'm trying to disown but that keeps on coming back to haunt me. I've come to accept that I will have to live with this disease for a long time to come but I do not have to give it power.

'I have a right to live'

I no longer need the anorexia to help me cope. I've forgiven the anorexic part of me for what it has done to me. I'm also grateful that the anorexic part of me was trying to protect me. I've made peace with it. I'm now ready to tell the anorexia that I no longer need protecting in a way that is actually self-destructive. I need to live my life and to learn to cope in healthy ways. I need to experience feelings - good and bad.

The anorexia prevented me from connecting to people (including myself) to protect me from possible pain and sorrow but this actually prevented me from experiencing happiness and love. I've realised that because I am a human being, I have a right to live. The world is not perfect and I will never be perfect but that is no reason to turn away a potential life of joy and happiness - something that I deserve and something that I have a right to.

I wonder how many sufferers would read this article and think: I wish I could be there. There's no use even trying. I'll never be able to beat this. There is no hope for me. She's just one of the lucky ones? But guess what? I thought that too. The only thing that I know for certain is that as long as you are alive, there is always hope.

(written by Jenny Spencer)

Do you need help? Do you have a friend or family member who needs help? Visit the website of RecoverySpace, a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting recovery from eating disorders in South Africa. Find out more about anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and other eating disorders, as well as treatment options and tips on recovery.

- (Health24, July 2011)

Read more:

The telltale signs of anorexia
'All I want is to be slim'
How to help anorexics and bulimics

Any questions? Send them in to Health24's Eating Disorder Expert


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