"It really is worth it. Please make the decision to recover."
Everyone deserves help when they need it.
Emily began to notice her eating disorder developing in the lead up to her GCSE exams. It gradually got worse through the exam period and continued into her first year at sixth form college as a way for her to have a sense of control. When she realised how much her eating disorder had been limiting her, she decided to seek help and came to the Specialists at Schoen Clinic Chelsea to help her get into recovery and on track for the future. Emily shares her first hand experience here.
I was a little unsure of how to start this letter. I spent rather a long time thinking about how to begin, trying to make sure I wouldn’t say the wrong thing. But I came to the conclusion that the best option was simply to be honest. To be honest about why I came to Schoen Clinic Chelsea, to be honest about my experiences here, but also to be completely and utterly honest about how my life has changed in the past 2 years.
I joined Schoen Clinic Chelsea as an outpatient a little under two years ago. When my treatment first began, the only thing I remember is feeling as if I didn’t deserve or need help. I kept telling myself that I was ‘fine’, and that by receiving help I was taking an opportunity away from someone else who truly deserved treatment. It was a toxic mindset, and if any of this sounds familiar, then I just want to emphasise to you, that you do deserve support. Mental illness does not discriminate. You deserve to live a life that doesn’t revolve around food. I never truly recognised how limiting having an eating disorder was, until I finally began to break away from it.
I’m not going to go into detail, but I began to struggle with my mental health just before by GCSEs began. Initially, my relationship with food was a way to deal with my anxiety and stress in the run up to exams. I was a perfectionist, I felt the insatiable need to control every miniscule detail and ultimately, I couldn’t do that with the exams. I couldn’t control what was in the papers, but I could control my food. It carried on throughout the exam season, through the summer and into my next academic year when I began sixth form. Despite being overjoyed with the grades I had achieved in my GCSEs, my relationship with food spiralled until I ended up at the Schoen clinic.
I didn’t want to receive help. Yes, there was that thought that other people were much sicker than me, but I was also terrified of what recovery would mean. I not only didn’t see the issue with how I was living my life, but I was completely desperate for it not to change. No matter how miserable my eating disorder made me, I felt that it had become a part of me – I thought it was my entire personality.
It is only now that I realise my eating disorder was not truly who I was. My eating disorder destroyed my self-confidence, it alienated me from my friendships and embedded a deep sense of guilt and shame within me. I was so desperate to keep that pretence of me being ‘fine’ at school that the moment I came home, I simply wasn’t a very nice person. Through starving myself I was unable to rationalise, I became aggressive, intolerant and someone who just didn’t want to carry on anymore.
Everybody’s experiences leading up to, and during treatment is different. For me, it wasn’t just learning to perceive food in a different way, but I needed to confront my obsessive perfectionism and the overwhelming anxiety I suffered with. Through working with dieticians who helped dispel my incorrect beliefs surrounding food; also an occupational therapist where I learnt techniques using RODBT (Radically Open Dialectical Behaviour Therapy - it sounds a lot scarier than it really is!), I began to make steady progress. I also joined the ‘Good Enough Group’ at the clinic where I began to confront and challenge the perfectionist control methods that had become embedded into my daily routines.
But I was frustrated that I wasn’t recovering as quickly as I had hoped. At that moment, I don’t think I quite realised that recovery wasn’t going to happen overnight. It isn’t a steady or an easy process. I had days, and still do have days, where I struggle.
I made a decision on my 17th Birthday that I couldn’t continue with the way I was going. This is by no means the same process as others go through, but I do believe that at some point you have to consciously fight to get better. With the immense support of my family and everyone at Schoen, I began to challenge myself more and more every day.
It does take time, you continually have to work at it, you continually have to put the techniques and advice that you will receive into practice. But I promise you, it is 100% worth it. Before I joined Schoen Clinic, I was ready to not go back to school. I was prepared to throw away everything I had worked for. But I am so happy I didn’t. When you’re in that toxic mindset, recovery or even just enjoying food again seems impossible. It seems like a very long and very dark tunnel from which you never quite reach the end. But I am proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have been able to slowly but surely break free from the restrictions that food imposed on me and every little battle I fought, even when every now and then I would lose a battle, I knew I was making progress. I knew that each time I challenged myself, I was taking a step closer to finally feeling, and being liberated from the prison that my eating disorder was.
In one of my last sessions with my wonderful therapist, we spoke about some of the changes I had made in the last couple of years. Although a lot is different (most of it only possible because of the amazing work of those at Schoen Clinic) the most important change for me was that I had regained my smile.
As I write this, I am about to finish my final year at school. I am taking a gap year where I will go explore the world before I come back home to study International Relations at university. All those statements are things that two years ago I was ready to give up on, that I was sure I would no longer be able to achieve.
I urge you every day to fight for your recovery. I know this little overview may just be words on a page. Whatever you’re thinking right now, whatever emotions are dominating you, I want you to know that I was sitting in an incredibly similar position not so long ago. And now, although I still have my bad days, I am happy and content. I never thought I would be able to reclaim my life in the way I have.
Just give it your best shot. Do everything you can to beat this. You might feel like you can’t, or maybe you don’t want to start the recovery process. But please try. It is the best decision I have ever made. And one that I choose to make again and again every single day. It really is worth it. Please make the decision to recover.
With all the best of luck in the world.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, contact our caring team at Schoen Clinic Chelsea today on 0203 146 2300. Learn more about our Treatment Programmes for eating disorders today.