My journey from anorexia to mental health campaigner.
Victoria speaks out about growing up with anorexia and reflects on how important it is to be able to speak about mental health in 2019
13th May 2019, 12.00pm | Written by Victoria
Even as a small a child I didn’t feel enough, anxiety and low self-esteem plagued my childhood. I had dyspraxia, was a middle child and acutely sensitive.
But when adolescence loomed, I struggled even more with my identity.
After a holiday to France, where I enjoyed all the amazing culinary delights that French cuisine offers, comments about my fuller face and chunky legs were passed by family friends. I recoiled from their remarks. I had never suffered with weight problems. Being a small, slim, slight child. I had watched my mother with her emotional rollercoaster ride of a journey with her weight. The lows, dominating her existence of self-loathing and her difficult relationship with food. Yet when she was winning the battle of the bulge, she became elated. I soon equated gaining weight with sadness and losing weight with joy.
So, the diet began and at last I found something I was good at and I could pour all my energy into. Anorexia became my best friend. After feeling horribly out of control in all parts of my life. This became my whole focus.
I enjoyed the hit of dopamine when the scales dipped lower. I appreciated the concern from family. After a childhood of saying yes, being the passive good girl, I was able to assert myself and say no.
Before commencing my place at Exeter University, my mother desperate for help sought advice from our family doctor. Yet his advice was, “She will grow out of it”.
Sadly he was wrong, the eating disorder plagued me until my late twenties. Then generalised anxiety disorder took its place rearing its ugly head whenever I reached a crisis point in my life.I recovered in my forties through a toolkit of mindfulness, exercise, diet and positive psychology.
"It is fantastic to be a ‘Time to Change Champion’ and be given the voice to help others conquer their demons."
But as I write in 2019 as a mental health campaigner, I believe I was the lucky one, growing up in that era.
I did not have to cope with the turmoil of social media, with a society obsessed with image and likes. I wasn’t given the pressure of the plethora of options, to change my body to fit into the desired type.
I didn’t have to post selfies, encounter bullies on my home screen or on my phone. I didn’t have to whiten my teeth, fake tan my body, be impossibly fit.
I didn’t have to grow up with endless exams, pay tuition fees, worry about consistent job insecurity.
People lament about there being a weak “snowflake” generation. I feel that could not be further from the truth. For young people today are faced with unprecedented pressures and little light relief.
This generation with its obsession with body image, is a natural reaction to the pressures from mass media to conform to an unrealistic ideal.
Yes, I suffered in the late 80’s and 90’s, but when I reflect, I know that today more than ever before, our obsession with body image has become far more pervasive and is causing the epidemic of mental ill health amongst our younger generation.
But all is not lost, with the advent of neuroscience, we can now see how the brain works and introduce strategies which reduce anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Mindfulness is an incredible tool which has been proven to be wonderful for helping people to understand the driving forces behind their eating disorder. It helps calm the mind, promotes relaxation.
Positive psychology strategies also help, such as gratitude journaling which boosts our mood by looking for the good in life. Exercise has been to be an amazing anti-depressant and there are a great variety of healthy foods available now which can boost our mood and meet our nutritional needs.
In 2019 we can also talk candidly about our mental health and there is a plethora of information and assistance out there.
It is fantastic to be a ‘Time to Change Champion’ and be given the voice to help others conquer their demons. To reduce stigma and demonstrate that, one can recover and lead a healthy happy life after an eating disorder. It useful to remember that eating disorders have very little to do with food and so much to do with low self-esteem. Luckily in 2019, we can be empowered with many tools, to remedy these issues.
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