I looked down at the outfit that I had tried on. I was standing in the New Look changing rooms, too scared to leave my cubicle for fear of catching a glimpse of my body in the daunting full-length mirror. I was wearing jeans and a crop top, an ensemble that had been picked out by my best friend. My stomach seemed to be spilling over and out of the flimsy button that held all of the fat in, and the top that I was wearing showed my bingo wings for the world to see. My thighs wobbled even when I wasn’t moving. “You ready, Liv?” She asked, knocking on the door. She had been waiting for me for about ten minutes. “Um, I don’t think this one’s right for me.” I said, quickly stripping down, throwing on my baggy jumper and loose-fitting skirt and opening the cubicle door. She was wearing a gorgeous black bodysuit with a black skirt, something I couldn’t wear. “Buy it!” I said over-enthusiastically.
We were getting ready for our first real party, and my nerves were through the roof. I had organised for the whole family to leave us alone until 1AM, and had invited what I thought was half the world; really, it was only about forty people. I had been to get the alcohol the day before, not with an older friend, but with my dad. With beers and wine coolers aligned perfectly on the table in our living room and expensive artwork moved into the garage, I was ready. Well, I was definitely ready to pop my party cherry, but my newly minted boyfriend was coming to London for the occasion, and I needed to impress. After all, if I couldn’t get validation of my beauty, was I even beautiful at all?
I settled on a black peplum top with black leggings. As my friends and I anxiously waited, I readjusted my outfit for the third time. I felt huge. I had quickly emptied my stomach of the five meagre almonds that I had eaten that day, only minutes before the trickles of friends became a gush of unwanted guests, and the drink hit my empty stomach minutes after I had ingested my first shot. Before long, the party was in full swing. I was happy. Everyone was complimenting me on my body, and I could feel the stares from all sides. I was loving it, basking in the attention like I was Pharaoh bathing in the River Nile. The party was a success! The next day, I even found that my ‘goal’ jeans were too big on me, and I had a celebratory piece of chocolate, before spitting it out and making myself sick for the third time that morning. I kept telling myself that I was in control, that I could stop whenever I liked. I had been Bulimic for a month.
The next two months were hell on earth. I would purge five times a day, after only consuming around 200 calories per day. My throat hurt all the time, and I was constantly tired and dizzy. I couldn’t focus. I was putting on an act, a mask, pretending that my happy exterior was reflecting my interior. Although I was getting unhealthily skinny, the compliments kept coming. Wherever I went, whatever I did. Even my teachers would look twice when I came down the corridor, and would remark in disbelief: “Wow, Olivia! You look amazing! How did you do it?” I would shrug and smile, knowing that these small remarks were only fuelling the fire, adding coal to the already blazing heat. Now that I look back, even a wolf whistle in the street would cause me to purge. I just wanted to be beautiful. I wanted to achieve what I saw as beautiful.
I kept telling myself that I was fine, that I was in control. I now see that Bulimia and Anorexia were controlling me.
One Friday Night, I retreated to the toilet, only to burst into tears. I think that I was so exhausted, so emotionally drained, so desperate to let go of the ‘golden girl act’ that I’d adopted over the past months. So I let my mum comfort me, and after what felt like hours of probing, I painfully admitted that I was making myself sick. My parents, however, laughed. I later found that they were worried that it was something worse, and believed me when I said that I had stopped. I didn’t. I pushed and pushed until someone found me, the small, broken sparrow that I was. I had lost a stone for every two weeks. My school found out, and told my parents. Only then was I taken seriously.
I was referred to CAMHs in December 2015, and started treatment in January 2016.
I could look at my experience with my ED as a time that I want to forget, as a memory that I want to erase forever. However, I’ve realised that my experience has shaped who I am, and how I view situations and my relationship with God. I know that He would not give me a challenge that I could not overcome, or a path that I could not cross. God was always the second pair of footprints in the sand, however, when I was experiencing the worst point in my life, his footprints were no longer there. I was angry, shocked that he could leave me at the time when I needed him the most. However, after reflecting, I realised that he was carrying me to the finish line. I am, slowly but surely, getting to the finish line, and I know that when I reach it, my friends and family will be there to welcome me.
Hold out, because you can do this. Believe in your own courage, because your inner strength will surprise you. I know mine has!
“If you can dream it, you can do it” ~ Walt Disney