Contributed by Jemma, Lived Experience Practitioner
Trigger warning: this post contains references to anorexia and struggling with eating disorder conditions. Please ask for support if you need it from your GP or by visiting Beat’s website for information and resources.
When I started trying to write this blog, I found it difficult to order my thoughts and articulate what I wanted to say. Plagued by my usual self-criticism, I complained to my partner about how useless I am and how I have never achieved anything. He looked at me incredulously and said, with tears in his eyes, that my survival is – and probably always will be – my biggest achievement. I was completely taken aback. No one had ever congratulated me on being alive before. I didn’t see my existence as something to be proud of. In fact, I felt ashamed that sometimes ‘all’ I seemed to do was survive from one day to the next.
Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to survive. Within eating disorder treatment and recovery, we are encouraged and supported to move from ‘surviving to thriving’. Surviving is seen as doing the bare minimum necessary to exist. It implies a lack of motivation and an unwillingness or inability to change. Thriving, in stark contrast, is living life to the full by embracing change and continuous growth. Although it is undoubtedly not the intention of those who have supported me in recovery, I realise that I have been judging my survival as ‘not good enough’. If I was ‘better’ at recovery, I should be ‘thriving’ by now.
Eating disorders stifle hopes and dreams, destroy relationships and wreck lives. Developing a richer life outside of the narrow prison of an eating disorder is key to recovery. However, to imply that survival is a state of passive acceptance completely downplays the enormous effort it takes to sustain it. To my partner, it is obvious that my survival is not something passive. He sees it as a prize that I doggedly fight to retain every day of my life.
My eating disorder remained undiagnosed for around a decade, by which time it was so thoroughly entrenched that I did not even acknowledge its existence. I missed out on the benefits of early intervention and treatment. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric diseases. And yet, here I am, my eating disorder has not ended my life and I want to reclaim survival as an achievement I can be proud of.
This does not mean I am fully satisfied with my life, but neither am I ashamed of it. There is nothing passive about living with an eating disorder. I am actively, tenaciously, proudly surviving.
Contributed by Jemma, Lived Experience Practitioner with Healthy London Partnership’s Adult Eating Disorders programme.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, speak to your GP or visit Beat’s website for further support and resources.
You can find more resources on our dedicated webpage for Eating Disorders 2022 Awareness Week.