"Anorexia is not only about weight management" - Victoria's story
Victoria has lived with anorexia for 25 years, and has noticed in that time that the media’s portrayal of her condition doesn’t even come close to what it is really like. Her anorexia impacts her life in lots of different ways, every day. But, after a quarter of a century, she has developed numerous techniques that help her to cope with her diagnosis. Here’s her story.
For the last 25 years I have lived with severe, restrictive, anorexia nervosa.
It doesn’t define who I am, but this serious mental illness has impacted and continues to have a bearing on every single aspect of my daily life and long-term aspirations. From daily tasks, practicing sports I love, to family planning and personal relationships, to social life and, to a lesser extent perhaps, my professional life.
So whilst it is not defining me, it is part and parcel of my experience as a human being and, most certainly, of how people perceive me. Let’s take social life: going to a restaurant is the obvious one people think about. You end up not or hardly eating whilst at the same time spending a large part of the meal thinking about the food you have or haven’t eaten and what people think, feeling guilty for having eaten and guilty for not having eaten enough, over and over again.
You end up not or hardly eating whilst at the same time spending a large part of the meal thinking about the food you have or haven’t eaten and what people think...
There is indeed a need to rethink mental illness drastically. Anorexia is nowhere near as simple as the media often depict. It is neither a whim nor only about your Body Mass Index (BMI). Obviously the latter plays a key role where comorbidities (two or more diseases or medical conditions) are concerned - including but not restricted to, bone, kidney, gastro and skin health and your immune system - but anorexia is not only about weight management. Because of anorexia, my bones are now so fragile I can’t carry my two-year-old nephew or put him to bed; any fall is likely to result in fractured bones and increase my level of dependency.
Scientists are still perplexed by the causes of anorexia. A new study has examined the genomes of tens of thousands of people and identified eight chromosome locations that may increase vulnerability to the illness.
What matters is not so much that I have anorexia but the associated challenges I have faced and am still facing, my thinking patterns, my belief system and behaviours perhaps resonate with other people including low self-esteem, anxiety, and the vicious circle of perfectionism, over-valued attention to what others think.
Because of anorexia, my bones are now so fragile I can’t carry my two-year-old nephew or put him to bed; any fall is likely to result in fractured bones and increase my level of dependency.
What are my coping mechanisms? Keeping active – walking for several hours every day – is essential for my physical and emotional wellbeing. I actually think straighter whilst on the move! All in all though, without a shadow of a doubt: people, the people I love and the people I meet and who nurture me. Other than that, I’ve read a lot, participated in clinical studies/trials and relatively recently, such approaches as mindfulness and self-compassion have begun resonating with me. The sea, music and contemporary arts have remained my Never-Never Land throughout the years.
I still believe mental health is not treated on a par with physical health which becomes even more complicated when, like me, your mental health condition has a significant physical impact.
Adopting a genuinely fresh perspective across mental health is a priority.
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