Baby Steps

I wrote this piece, again, as a possible personal reflection article for theVogue Talent Contest, and felt there may be some of you who would be interested. Hope you enjoy, and hope it gets you thinking.

There are defining moments in life. Those little events that change everything, be that for the better or for the worse. For some it could be exam results, for others a first kiss. For some people, though, defining moments in life become worthless, and instead they live a life overshadowed by their mind.

The taboo of mental illness is one that has plagued society for so long. It is their own fault, say unknowing cynics. Self indulgent, say others. These comments, cruel and narrow minded, just add to the softness of the topic. No one wants to talk about it, because it is difficult to understand until you have witnessed it first hand.

Anorexia is the mental illness with the highest death rate, yet so few people actually understand it as such. “Eat a pie!” they cry, as if buttery pastry will block out the vicious voice within. What we do not realise is that this crippling illness destroys the mind as much as it does the body. It tears apart families and scrunches up potential, all in the pursuit of warped beauty.

Nowadays there is a wealth of writing about eating disorders. It ranges from seemingly innocuous comments about skinny models, to full reports examining the effect of the media on body image, but rarely is this writing sympathetic to the emotional turmoil that a sufferer faces. We hear of the deaths, the dark physical effects of malnutrition, but we do not scratch the surface of this maddening condition.

I did not, until I slipped into an obsessive cycle of skipping meals and pushing my body to its limit. Substantial meals would immediately be expelled from my body to avoid the incessant guilt, and I would wear my protruding ribcage like a trophy as I deteriorated into a childlike state of fragility. So far, so standard, and with each pound that dropped off, I became increasingly unbearable.

This is not merely a record of how it felt to live each day ruled by hunger. This is not a sob story, or a generic attack on fashion magazines; this is an empathetic account of anorexia, just as I try to escape its clutches.

Breathlessly pounding the treadmill days before my leavers dance, I glanced in the mirror. The thinnest in the hall, pointed elbows and sinewy arms, I would finish these forty minutes and then it would not matter that I had eaten ten grams more cereal than usual. I would walk back from the gym, before writing a blog post and completing my hundred crunches. “It will stop in a few days,” I told myself, “just once prom is over.”

Hair done, and just an hour before the dance, I began my make-up. A mask of foundation to hide my blemished skin and swirls of blusher to add the colour that starvation drained, I then unsuccessfully attempted to apply my false eyelashes and broke down. I sobbed, useless and ugly, longing to scream. Too much pressure and stress, I presumed, avoiding the blatantly obvious fact that this frustration was nothing but hunger.

The elegant Max Azria dress was bought months in advance and it fit beautifully, softly shaping my waist. Minutes before leaving, I carefully zipped it up, thrilled as it gaped at my hollow chest. This disturbing thrill should have been enough to make me stop but, of course, anorexia was ingrained in my mind and anything resembling common sense was gone. At the leavers dance I just drank, and did not eat, before avoiding an after party and retiring to my bed.

It should have stopped there, simple as that, but it did not. I ate less and less before being admitted to a specialist doctor for psychotherapy. I sat on the torn sofas, waiting to say all the right things and trick them into thinking I was fine, and then I saw the patients. A girl, younger than myself, hobbled past, leaning on a walking stick. Her matchstick legs looked ready to collapse as the veins throbbed on her hands and feet. Her head down, her expression was of heart-breaking misery. I felt sick. Another passed, her leggings gaping, clumps of her hair missing as she shivered, clinging to a cup of black coffee. These women had become manifestations of the demons that ruled their life and I could not bear to live my life in the same vain.

An eating disorder is all pervading. Every day I count myself lucky that I am working towards recovery. These girls, fading away, are no longer themselves, they are defined by an illness with no cure. If they do not want to recover, they wont.  It is a poignant, heart-breaking thought, but there is more to anorexia than wanting to be skinny. 
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