The keyword for this week is without a doubt awareness; raising awareness of Eating Disorders - the mental illness that takes lives; destroying them and reducing them to rubble. To be slowly pieced back together, day by day.
Awareness by definition encourages dialogue and conversation. Hope and I are so incredibly proud to have been invited to write these blogs. We hope to give insight by telling parts of our stories that are totally the same but yet so different. The diagnosis was anorexia but the pages of our story are very unlike; our struggles are individual and bespoke.
We recognise that to recover, we have to be the authors of our own future, we hold the pen, we turn the pages and conclude each chapter - our books will never be the same, each page bounded differently. There isn't a one size fits all approach to recovery, there simply cannot be. It is this complexity, this multi-faceted illness that makes the understanding of it so complicated and overwhelming; not only for those struggling but for professionals and loved ones trying desperately to support.
To help explain this complexity, I want to draw upon an analogy that I think eloquently demonstrates the process of recovery... Consider for a moment, a derelict house. Imagine how it stands, weak in structure and foundation; it is weathered and exhausted. A skeleton of a former home, a home that was once filled with warmth and love. For anyone stumbling across it, they may snigger at its weakness, shy away from the effort that it would take to restore it. Others may try to help and will give some thought to restoring it, they might even make some enquires but will eventually become exasperated by the size of the project ahead. However, when the right person comes along and sees the potential that this house has, when they can imagine the structural integrity to be captured and the strength of the foundations; they dream of crimson walls and roaring fireplaces, rooms filled with happiness and family. To get to this point they need to plan, consider and collaborate. From inspections, architects, builders, labourers, interior designers and decorators - it will take a team to fully restore the house, to restore it to a home, to restore it to a point of glory.
Restored, it can stand proud.
Now consider a person who suffers from an eating disorder and also remember that each person will be affected differently. My Anorexia left me ravaged and exhausted both mentally and physically. There were no lights behind my eyes, my smile was forced and weak whilst my mind was distorted and racing. To even consider the journey back to health, I had to find the right people that I knew would help me the most. The right counsellor and therapist, the friends that would lend their patience and kindness. The right treatment path wasn't straightforward, and it took many, many people to help me; but they were my team. They wanted to be part of my renovation, revitalisation; my restoration.
We all know how easy it is to make a flippant remark at the expense of someone else and we seldom pause to think about the effect that it might have on that person. Imagine we think that finished home looks ugly, a sight for sore eyes - we may remark “I can’t believe they've put a thatched roof on that - it looks so ugly”. By such remarks, we don’t mean any harm, we haven’t really thought about the effort that it has taken to construct the roof, the time and labour that has been put into it. No one, and I mean no one, will understand the turmoil that one goes through as part of their mental illness unless they have been through it themselves. As a consequence, it’s inevitable that comments made will hurt, trigger and seem to destroy.
Phrases or comments to avoid are the ones that you may think would actually cause minimal offense. Any focus on body image, food consumed or to be consumed can have a huge impact.
Comment on how well I’ve done at a meal and I’ll feel greedy, comment on my “well body” and I’ll translate that to being fat. Tell me I need to gain weight and I’ll be thrilled that I’m still sick enough, tell me I haven’t eaten enough and I’ll feel a strange sense of accomplishment. You can’t win. The best thing you can do is simply encourage, tell me I am worth it and keep your faith.
We already know that to restore the home, we’ll need to ask for help - unless you are really quite the handyman; in which case can I have your number? Acknowledging that I needed help was one of the most terrifying experiences I could have imagined. I was mortified that I could be perceived as weak... How could I, Hannah Brown go from being “Miss in love with life” to crying over… well, food? I realised that I wasn't crying over food, I was desperately unwell, my mental health had deteriorated and I was struggling to cope; everything was falling apart around me. Both my control and my comfort at that time was found through food. Finding the courage to talk about it meant that I was able to acknowledge my problem, addressing the areas of my life that had become so derelict and empty. I asked for people to help put me back together; I created my team.
In continuing to talk about it, even to this day, I hope that eventually, no-one else will feel the guilt, shame or embarrassment that I did. Eating disorders are not a choice, they don’t happen to one type of person, they don’t have an off switch and they are not a sign of weakness.
If it were a choice to be unwell, I wouldn't have chosen it, but now, by speaking out, by being honest, by baring my soul in such candid mediums, I not only faced the mountain that lay before me; I also hope to help a few others to take the first steps on their own climb.
The restoration of a house is beautiful, humbling and worthwhile. Restoring my body, my soul and everything that I was is still very much a work in progress and I’m still using my team. I like to think that now, I’m at the fun part - the decorating, the designing and the discovery of Hannah, Version 2.0.