Today – 6th March 2023 – represents 15 years since I fully committed to my own Eating Disorder recovery. If you’d told me then that I’d find complete and total recovery from Anorexia (note: after being clearly told by a Psychiatrist that I was ‘beyond help’), that I’d gain far more important things than pounds on the scale and that I’d be sat here having achieved all the things I have, I would have thought you were… well, delusional. Yet here I am!
When I first started to be committed to my own Eating Disorder recovery and into the first few years, I shared my recovery journey far and wide. My story having been told at many a conference, event, guest blog and similar, I became passionate about sharing the message that recovery is possible – and being honest about what that might look like. However, I quickly learnt that my passion was to find a bigger way to use my experience for good and I chose to train as a Counsellor/Therapist (I’d been teaching at an FE college prior). If we’re being honest, at that time, I got the distinct impression that my lived experience made some within the field that I was trying to enter view me as vulnerable and somehow less capable. I wanted to be taken seriously as a professional – I (might I add wrongly) thought that was more important than being valued for my lived experience contributions.
As anyone who has attended any of my 1 or 2 day Eating Disorder CPD workshops will know, I began to share my lived experience in spaces only AFTER establishing that I have a wealth of ‘actual’ knowledge (academic knowledge that is) and professional skills. I didn’t realise at the time that this was a quiet proclamation of shame I’d had placed on me as someone who struggled (and in non-ED ways at times still can struggle) with their mental health. I thought that, to be respected as a professional, I often needed to hold my lived experience back.
Thankfully the field is moving on. Lived experience is becoming more and more recognised for being just as valuable (if not more so!) than book learning or qualifications obtained. Folks in services, academia and research are starting to claim their space as having both lived experience and professional or academic abilities. Some of the brightest lights I get the honour to work with on projects have both. So, I am trying more and more to allow myself to inhabit that space too – so much so that last year, I joined forces with some other wonderful triple threat (lived, academic and professionally experienced) folks to form the Lived Experiences of Eating Disorders Research Collective and (all going well) our first piece of research together will soon be published.
I would never be where I am today had I not spent those miserable years in the grips of Anorexia. Struggling, recovery and maintaining recovery have taught me so many lessons. I am clearly continuing to learn too. I want to work to feel more comfortable with owning the different parts of the journey up to here without feeling my professional capability will come into question – because that’s a stigma I don’t want to perpetuate by continuing to be only a quiet sharer. The reality is my lived experiences inform a lot of what I do.
Take ‘The Eating Disorder Recovery Companion’ as an example. (Just in case you are unaware, this is an online recovery resources subscription I have developed) that has required me to bring together my own personal learning, my learning from others and their lived experiences as well as my teaching ability and my counselling and mental health knowledge. It has been a labour-intensive project, to which I have given my time freely (actually, literally given my time for free, the service has received no funding) because I know that back when I chose to pursue my own recovery, I wanted more access to clear resources than I was available – especially when waiting for services (which is now a much, much longer wait) and at times when I didn’t meet referral criteria and fell between the cracks. Frankly, I was passed from pillar to post far more than I should have been and I know that this is an issue that, despite the decade and a half that has passed, still persists.
The fruit of my labour isn’t in money – it is in a brief twitter DM thanking me for listening to the need for such a service, the feedback from my beta testers and seeing the first bunch of subscribers reporting improvements on their journey thanks to the service. To see that from learning I took from the depths of my own pain, I can reach others in their pain – any time of day or night (even if I’m asleep, on my lunch break, or hanging with friends) – offering tools, hope and a little motivation.
I will continue to learn and grow because that is just a fact of human nature – but, from this point forward, I plan to stand more firmly in my identity as someone who is recovered and has their own story, as well as someone who is trained to help, educate and research. I believe the more we embrace those who want to occupy this same kind of space the more our learning and capacity to help people effectively will grow.
Might I also add that despite being recovered from Anorexia, I am still in therapy because life is hard and my mental wellness is important to me.
So, here is to an entire 15 years of my recovery to date and in the hope of 15 years more.
If you want to hear more blogs (or videos over on my YouTube channel) about my experience don’t hesitate to ask. If you want to support me, subscribe to my blog, my YouTube channel, share the link to The Eating Disorder Recovery Companion, join me at future events and share your ideas.
As always – be kind, be curious, be yourself (all the parts of yourself).