It is estimated 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.
According to eating disorder charity Beat, ‘anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder’ whether that be medical complications resulting from the condition itself as well as suicide.
Research also suggests around 46 per cent of anorexia patients fully recover with 33 per cent improving and 20 per cent remaining chronically ill.
— Beat (@beatED) July 23, 2018
Recovery can be a tough and exhausting battle as one young woman explained when she shared her story with UNILAD.
27-year-old Holly Griffiths from London has struggled with anorexia since she was eight years old, although she admits she ‘can’t really remember a time where [her] body image wasn’t impacted by perfectionism and competitiveness in some way’.
Dangerously thin, Holly weighed, at her heaviest, seven stone eight pounds and admits even then she ‘felt fat’.
This was also due to her body dysmorphia, a mental health condition which sees a person spend a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance, which Holly says comes hand in hand with anorexia.
While this mostly caused Holly to ‘really hate [her] body’, during a relapse it became especially dangerous as she couldn’t see that she was unwell seeing, instead, ‘at best a person of average size’.
This meant Holly didn’t realise she needed to seek help and soon her illness began to affect other aspects of her life.
Opening up to UNILAD, Holly spoke about how her eating disorder impacted on her relationships and family as her mental health deteriorated.
Like with other eating disorders, anorexia is often linked to depression and low self-esteem which can cause those affected by the illness to be more withdrawn.
Which is what happened to Holly as she explained:
In all aspects of my life I needed acceptance. It caused me to develop crippling anxiety and attachment issues, which in turn made it hard to judge what was really happening within relationships because I felt like no one liked me.
I became a people pleaser which essentially made me miserable and at times got me into situations where I got hurt.
My home life started to fall apart and after four or so years of plodding along in the grey area between health and relapse I just broke. I didn’t have any coping mechanisms other than anorexia so I fell into a really dark relapse.
Although Holly had been through severe relapses before, this time she had hit ‘rock bottom’ as she knew her two young children were relying on her.
Sadly though, at the same time Holly felt they ‘would be better off without her’ which further damaged her mental health.
I think this was rock bottom opposed to other relapses because of my children. I spent all of my time thinking they would be better off without me and consumed with guilt but completely paralysed by grief and anorexia.
I felt completely unable to do anything. Not to mention that the knowledge that I couldn’t afford to go into treatment without the very real possibility that we would lose our home.
I felt trapped. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I was just pushing myself to look after the children, clean the house and walk the dogs and then when they were asleep and I had nothing else to do, I would cry.
Desperate to get out of this situation, at this point Holly reached out for help and was seen by the local community mental health team.
However, with a lack of spaces Holly was unable to see a counsellor instead being reviewed once a month to make sure she was ‘still alive and still ready to engage once a space opened up’.
But as Holly’s BMI dropped further, she was suddenly discharged with the team stating there ‘was a risk of treating [her] in the community’.
Receiving the letter saying she had been discharged one day in the post, Holly was shocked she wasn’t referred to any other eating disorder service.
When nothing came of complaining to the patient liaison office Holly felt at a loss as she now knew she had ‘to live’.
As she told UNILAD, being discharged actually set her on the path to recovery forcing her to take matters into her own hands:
My discharge lit a fire within me. I finally knew that my children wouldn’t be better off without me. And then I discovered that I had no one to help me. I had to do it myself. And so I did.
It’s been just over two years now and almost everything has had to change. I think the only thing that is the same is that I still look after my children.
I’ve had to eat more, I’ve had to face all of my fears and take control of my life and my triggers. I’ve had to find new ways to cope, find new friends and reach out to some old ones.
The biggest thing though is having self worth. I refuse to let people walk all over me or dictate who or what I should be. Finding self worth has stopped me from needing acceptance and that has stopped me feeling so vulnerable all the time.
Today Holly is now not only healthier physically, but mentally. She now can’t stop smiling:
Although Holly did recover, she revealed to UNILAD the journey was tough, especially during the first year.
Hating her ‘body and eating’, Holly admitted she ‘cried every day’ and struggled with the online recovery community as ‘everyone there told [her she] was being negative’.
She confessed to UNILAD, the first year can only be described as ‘hell’:
I had an anorexic mind trapped in a body that was steadily gaining weight and becoming healthier. And while things absolutely did get better that doesn’t invalidate how horrendous the first year was.
I think a lot of people like to make recovery out as something great and fulfilling and linear and it’s absolutely not, at least not until you’re quite far in.
In the past that expectation always caused me to relapse, I believed because I found it so difficult that I was almost doomed to a life of anorexia and misery.
This time around I just liked to shout about how sh*t it all was and say that I was doing it my own way and it felt horrible. That made a lot of people uncomfortable which left me frustrated at them. But overall I think it helped.
Today, two years after she began recovery, Holly happily says she no longer has any struggles being aware of her triggers but also how she can counteract them.
Reflecting on her journey, Holly does conclude she finds it hard that at ’27 years old [she] feels like life is only just taking shape and looking up’ but then reminds herself everyone was certain she ‘would be dead by 25’.
Holly knows she is ‘incredibly lucky to have been able to come through to the other side’ realising that others don’t.
Acknowledging more can be done for others who struggle with eating disorders, Holly now works in mental health hoping she can help those who are in the same position she once was.
Stating ‘there needs to be more funding in mental health care’, Holly feels ‘people slip through the gaps in the system’, like she did, due to a lack of services and support.
The sooner someone is treated for an eating disorder the better their chance is of making a full recovery, and this is a real issue that needs solving.
If you have been affected by the content in this article and want support with eating disorders, you can call the BEAT helpline on 0808 801 0677.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.