"An Ear to Hear" Series #2: Just Keep Swimming (An Early Recovery Story)

It gives me such pleasure to introduce this blog from Daisy, who, in the face of her diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, took the courageous step of traveling all the way to Cape Town to receive the treatment that would ultimately save her life. Now she is able to look back with clarity, providing insight into her “addiction.” Whilst she knows she has progress yet to make, by her own accord, she just keeps swimming. 

Enjoy, and thank you Daisy. 

-- x Hannah

Just Keep Swimming unsplash-logo Kiwihug

 

Hello, my name is Daisy.

Before I start, I want to make it known that I’m not "cured." I’m still in very early recovery. I am just speaking from my experience with mental health.

A year ago, while at university, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. It wasn’t a shock; I had been suffering with food-related anxiety and disordered eating for about four to five years prior. My anorexia just presented itself and took control of me more once I was at university. It got to the point that, just before my first year at university was over, I had to suspend my studies, as my brain was 90% anorexia and only 10% Daisy. It was tough. I went to the local eating disorder unit and got the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN). Part of me wasn’t expecting a diagnosis of AN, instead expecting a diagnosis of a subtype eating disorder, as I didn’t believe that I was "bad enough" for an AN diagnosis. (Not that a subtype diagnosis isn’t serious, because it is. This was just the way my mind was working at the time.)

After receiving a diagnosis, I was put on a waiting list for some help; however, I was told to expect a six-month wait. Almost immediately after my diagnosis, I deteriorated as my behaviours got worse, trying to conform to the diagnosis. I was "acting out" all the time, lying to people about how much food had taken control, and how I was very sick. I didn’t realise it, though. After waiting for months for treatment, I started to realise that I didn’t want to be controlled by anorexia; I wanted my old life back. So, I started to look for other treatment options in the U.K. Unfortunately, because my body mass index  was not below a certain number (I’m not going to mention weights or numbers to stop this blog entry being too triggering), I was not eligible for treatment on the National Health Service. I kept going back to my GP with a lower weight every time, crying out for help, but I got no help at all. Because of this, my family and I decided to look at our other options. My father organised for me to see a private psych to get his opinion, and straight away he thought that I needed some intense treatment, and suggested looking abroad. I looked for centres across the world that would be suitable for me, and eventually found a treatment centre in Cape Town. I got in contact with them, and started the process of getting the help that I really needed.

Woman on flight
unsplash-logo Antoine Schibler

In January 2018, I flew out to Cape Town to start my recovery journey. On the way there, I was understandably very nervous and used alcohol to suppress my anxious feelings. It seemed like a clever idea at the time, but arriving to the treatment centre hung over was not great (aha). I remember arriving and looking around, being so overwhelmed, expecting the other clients there to be "crazy," and worrying about not fitting in. I was terrified that I would be the "fattest" there and that they would think of me as a "fraud."

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, helping me out with unpacking and helping to settle my nerves. I was reassured that if I put the effort in, my life could improve massively during my time there.

My first day there felt quite hectic for me, especially at meal times. I didn’t think that I’d have to eat everything on my plate for some strange reason, so I was in shock and terrified that I had to eat everything. I remember one of the recovery assistants (RAs) pulling me aside and telling me, “Daisy, this is an eating disorder centre. You do realise you have to eat everything that is put in front of you?” Everything felt so surreal. I felt like nobody trusted me. I was on a kitchen ban and had to be accompanied to the toilet for the first few weeks. I hated being accompanied to the toilet; I felt so embarrassed and stupid. The bathroom supervision was put in place to stop clients from purging, exercising, and body checking. In my case, I was on it for four weeks, but it was different for every client. I understand how necessary this was now, as the eating disorder is very sneaky and will take any opportunity to come out!

Days in the centre were full of group activities, therapies, and meals. We got up at around 6:30 a.m., to start the "therapeutic day" at 7:00, and finished the "therapeutic day" at around 4:00 p.m.. The structure of the day generally went: breakfast, meditation, group therapy, morning snack, group therapy, lunch, group therapy, afternoon snack, group therapy. The therapy groups would always be different with different RAs leading them. Throughout the week we got up to two individual sessions as well. These were a chance to get down to the deep, dark places that you didn’t feel comfortable going to in group therapy. Each client was assigned their own councillor that they stuck with for the duration of their stay--in my case, three months. By the end of the day I found myself exhausted, both emotionally and physically. I found it hard to let out any emotion in groups, and this was picked up on by other clients and brought up as a "concern" or "hindrance to my recovery." I wanted to be able to open up, but I found it difficult, so it took a few weeks. Once I got the hang of letting go (and in a lot of cases, allowing myself to cry), the entire process felt a lot more beneficial!

Conversation over coffee unsplash-logo Joshua Ness


The thing I learnt most while in treatment is that "It’s not about the food." Before I went into treatment, I was looking to blame someone or something specific for my eating disorder, but I quickly learnt that eating disorders are a coping mechanism to suppress emotions that you don’t want to feel, and these suppressed emotions come from many life events, not just one. As soon as I started opening up more and being honest, the food anxieties lessened. Eating disorders are an addiction. Some people suppress their emotions with alcohol, drugs, smoking, etc., but in my case, I suppressed them with food/lack of food. 

For me treatment was really beneficial. I learnt a lot about myself and about how to manage my eating disorder. I realise that I’m never going to be "fixed" or "cured" from my eating disorder; however, I’m now able to manage it in a healthier way. I’m able to differentiate between the anorexia and Daisy, whereas before I found that difficult.

Everyday life now is much more enjoyable as I have coping strategies in place. I now know that if a food-related or body dysmorphic-anxiety comes up, there is usually something behind it--an emotion that I’m trying to avoid. I’m a lot more social and enjoy going out for meals on the most part now, which is crazy, as eight months ago the thought of a meal out riddled me with anxiety! I regularly attend online support "meetings," which help a lot as if I do feel a bit wobbly, I can tell other people who really understand, and seek advice from them. Since coming back from treatment, I’m being a lot more open and honest about my feelings with close friends and family, allowing them to support me when I’m having a "bad day." Bad days do still happen, but I’m talking about it. The saying "a problem shared is a problem halved" really is accurate, and I suggest that if you have something on your mind, that you do share it--even if it seems insignificant or silly!

Eating disorders can be fatal, and if you believe yourself or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, please get some support or help. Below I’ll post some useful links to resources that have helped me!

  • National Eating Disorders Association website USA)
  • Beat website (UK)
  • Mind website (UK)
  • The Mindfulness App
  • NHS webpage on eating disorders
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    Thank you for reading, and remember to “Just Keep Swimming.”

    Love,
    Daisy

    About Daisy:

    Daisy NewmanDaisy is a 20-year-old student nurse in recovery from anorexia nervosa. Her interests are musical theatre, soppy movies, and alpacas. In the future Daisy hopes to be dual-trained as a children's nurse as well as mental health nurse in order to help support children with mental health needs who come into her care. Follow Daisy on Instagram: @daisyyymayyy 

    About Hannah Brown & An Ear to Hear:

    Hannah Brown, founder of An Ear to Hear
    As a blogger and campaigner on mental health issues, Hannah has used her experience of suffering from anorexia to help support others through the founding of An Ear to Hear, a volunteer-run peer support service based in the UK. Now, working closely with National Health Service providers and other professionals in the field, schools, corporations, and Members of Parliament, Hannah continues to help others by increasing the dialogue around eating disorders to encourage others to speak out and reach out for the help she knows they not only need, but most importantly, deserve. Follow Hannah and An Ear to Hear on Instagram: @anearto_hear

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