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Student reflection: dealing with anorexia and learning to put wellbeing first

To round out Trinity’s Wellbeing Week, student Eddie Jackson shares a personal tale of experiencing anorexia, and how looking after her wellbeing through journaling has now become an important part of her daily life.

Girl writing in journal

Wellbeing was an idea that I always heard about but never fully connected with.

It sounded good when people talked about it, but I had never felt particularly affected by stress, anxiety, self-doubt, or any other thing that I previously thought would require me to engage with wellbeing.

So, I somewhat excluded myself from the concept.

Then came along March of 2020, and COVID-19 hit. Similar to a lot of people at Trinity, I went home for a period of quarantine.

While this time was semi-novel, spent making banana cakes and reinstalling (then deleting again) Houseparty, it was also a great source of subconscious stress for me. I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life and my structured plan for the next couple of months had flown out the window. For me, this was utterly terrifying.

This chaos began to form a voice inside my head that would speak up when I was alone.

You are worthless. You are doing nothing. You are never going to succeed.

It sounds melodramatic when I write it now, but it is honestly what I was hearing every day.

Simultaneously, I was exercising more and more, leading me to lose a bit of weight. I had noticed this, and although I liked to think of myself as uninfluenced by body image, I liked it. I liked my jeans fitting a little looser.

My intense yearning for control, paired with my heightened awareness of body image soon began to develop into an eating disorder.

I started meticulously counting calories. I wouldn’t use olive oil when I cooked, and I became dairy free, as the idea of eating cheese made me see white.

A couple of months of this went by. I was losing weight, but I couldn’t see it. I would look in the mirror and see a body that could be skinnier.

The eating disorder became more intense. I would weigh my food before I ate it, so that I could calculate its exact calories. I would chew food and spit it out. I would vomit. When I watched movies all I would see was the food they were eating. I would cry most nights, wondering why I was so sad all the time. Or so angry all the time.

Writing this makes me feel so uncomfortable that I did this. But even more, it makes me feel so sad that I was so mean to myself. Even now, I wonder why I didn’t recognise my behaviour was having such a negative effect on my life, why I was being so tough on myself.

When I first went to a psychologist, I remember her saying, ‘you are separate from the voice of anorexia’. As soon as she explained this, I started to notice that this voice inside my head, the one that counted the calories and showed me a distorted view of myself in the mirror, wasn’t me.

Suddenly, I no longer felt the responsibility for being so mean to myself. I didn’t have to engage with this constant internal conflict, which told me I should love myself, but also wouldn’t allow me to eat more than ‘x’ number of calories a day.

Realising that I had a mental illness, not just inherently self-loathing thought processes, was the first step in me getting better.

It was accepting that, no, this is not normal.

This is not me – this is something separate to me and something I cannot control on my own. Something that I need help with.

The next step was to begin to fix it, which was difficult. One of the first stages in recovery from anorexia is commonly called the refeeding process, where you are supposed to eat as many calories as possible. Remembering that I couldn’t eat a piece of cheese without freaking out, this was really hard.

What made it harder was that I was so hungry. A lot of people with eating disorders experience something called reactive eating – basically, that once you get a little bit of food, your body (in a state of starvation) will do everything it can to convince you to eat more (to end starvation), making you feel intense hunger. After correlating eating with such chaos and negativity, feeling this overwhelming hunger tormented me.

Although it wasn’t linear, I began to recover. Throughout this process, the concept of wellbeing became really prevalent. Wellbeing became the reminder to check in on myself, and to listen to what was going on in my mind in a completely non-judgmental way.

One of the ways I did this was journaling. Every time I would feel chaotic, stressed, or try to count how many calories I had just eaten, I would write it all down. Most of it is incoherent. But it was simply the idea of expressing what I was feeling, and then being able to reflect on it, which helped me understand myself and my triggers so much more.

I began to realise how important fostering wellbeing within myself was. How important those moments of non-judgmental self-attention are, and how practicing an act as simple as writing in a journal creates such a difference for my mental health.

My journal is literally now always next to my bed. Some days I write about what clothes I want, or I doodle. Some days I write page-long rants and scream into my pillow. Either way, maintaining that space where I listen to myself is so important.

It helps me recognise that wellbeing is a constant necessity for everyone, not only for when we are experiencing tough times. At my happiest, writing in my journal is one of my favourite pastimes.

If I could urge anyone to learn anything from my experiences in the past year, it would be that wellbeing is so important to tend to, even if you are not experiencing a tough time. This is because, more than anything, maintaining a solid sense of wellbeing softens the blow when you do begin to feel stress or sadness, in allowing you that space where you can listen to and begin to deal with your situation.

In doing this, I think wellbeing also helps us to be more supportive of those around us, as we can strive to provide that same non-judgmental space to others, as well as ourselves. 


By Eddie Jackson

 

27/04/2021

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