1. No one chooses to become anorexic.
Before I became anorexic I thought it was basically just an extreme diet that people who wanted to be supermodels or celebrities decided to go on, but I learnt first-hand that anorexia is not a diet or a lifestyle choice.
Anorexia was never my decision. It's not always easy to remember this, and there are times when I feel incredibly shallow and stupid and crazy. But I didn't choose anorexia and it's not my fault.
2. It's hard to know which part of your brain to listen to.
When I'm in the grips of anorexia, it feels like a goblin sitting on my shoulder whispering destructive and irrational things into my ear:
If you get fat, no one will love you and you'll die alone and be eaten by cats who will then also become obese.
If I heard someone say these things to another person I would be able to tell you it's bullying. The problem is that it's in your head and it sounds like your own voice. Anorexia feeds off your insecurities and what you think the world expects from you.
It also appeals to bits of your personality. I like to feel in control of myself, and restricting my weight gave me power at a time of uncertainty. This makes that goblin's voice appealing to listen to and difficult to challenge.
3. Every single time you eat is challenging.
Learning how to differentiate between the goblin's voice and your own is one of the toughest parts of recovery. Think about an average day: How many times does eating come up?
Every single moment, so tiny to other people, produces a massive dilemma in my head. A colleague offers me a biscuit. I'm in a restaurant looking at a menu. I'm at a friend's house for dinner and they're serving one of my forbidden foods.
Do I join in but risk the internal spiral into guilt and shame, or do I decline and dodge the anxiety but feel left out and rude?
Even as I'm laughing and chatting, a massive row is raging inside my head between the goblin and the part of me that wants to recover and join in with an anorexia-free life.
4. Recovery means learning how to shout back.
Eventually, as I became stronger I realised that these thoughts are not a terrible built-in part of my personality that I just have to deal with (like my secret love of terrible rom-coms or the fact I pick my nose when no one is looking).
Anorexia is a machine powered by stress and insecurity and the need for control in an imperfect world. I see it as a bullying scientist hiding behind the giant face of the Great Wizard of Oz.
Understanding that the machine is what's causing your behaviour doesn't mean you can take a sledgehammer to it straightaway, but it makes it easier to fight back when that little voice starts up.
5. It's not a case of "just eat more".
When someone you love looks so frail, your instinct is to sit them down with a massive plate of delicious home-cooked food and make sure they finish every wholesome bite. This is a lovely, caring thought, but it ignores the fact that anorexia is run by the mind.
The brain of someone without anorexia thinks "I'm hungry", which leads to "I need to eat." My anorexia interrupts these two thoughts to say: Hunger is good.
After months or years of painstakingly counting every single calorie you're consuming, recovery can be a massive adjustment. You don't just jump out of that anorexic mindset.
6. Telling people is hard but it gets easier.
Admitting that you have this problem is scary. I thought people would have all these preconceptions about anorexia. I was worried my friends would think that I'm judging them for what they eat or look like, that I'm actually just this very shallow person, that I'm lying when I tell them I like certain foods, that I can't possibly be happy while this is going on.
Once you start telling people and seeing that they respond with love and support, you realise that you won't be shunned and sent to live in the woods.
Sure, friends won't always know what to say and sometimes their actions inadvertently make me uncomfortable, but I realise that anorexia is a hard thing to understand and if they're willing to work with me through all my fuckups, I have to make the effort to understand theirs.
7. You can't do this for me.
I know that watching someone you love getting so ill must be painful. I know it's awful for my loved ones to hear me hate bits of my body when they love me just the way I am. They probably have an urge to grab me and say, "It's OK, I will do this for you."
Sadly, they can't. But they are still important to me.
Having people listen to me talk about my anxieties about my body and eating, and then, as I started recovery, the struggle to accept the way I'm changing, gave me the opportunity to voice thoughts that would otherwise just rumble around my head, increase the stress, and make me not want to bother with it at all.
Those people are my team. The Samwise to my Frodo, the Scoobies to my Buffy, the Ron and Hermione to my Harry. They can't take the ring to Mordor or kill the Master or fight Voldemort for me. But their support and love and reassurances that I'm actually not that bad a human being give me the ammunition I need when I go up against it every day.
8. Recovery is tough and strange but also wonderful.
Accepting that you need to give up control, even if you can't begin to do that for a while, feels scary and impossible but also amazing. It's like being taken up to a cliff and told to jump because: "Hey, don't worry, once you're out this clever thing called a glider will make sure you won't crash – you'll soar, and it will be awesome!"
The rules you put in place to appease the anorexic thoughts telling you to stay thin seem like an anchor you have to cast off. Counting calories was a simple equation. Choosing to give up these rules and find out what happens is to throw off the anchor that holds you steady (but limited) to one spot. You will find out what it's like to fall – but also what it's like to fly.
9. Learning to look after your body again is a revelation.
I've had people say to me that it must be fun to recover from anorexia, because I'm suddenly allowed to eat however much I want and no one is going to be calling me greedy.
However, it takes a while to adapt your mindset to fit in with seeing food as fuel, not the enemy. Sometimes I feel weak for giving in to something I've denied myself. I had to learn that choosing to fight this is the opposite of weakness.
As a smart wizard once said: "It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends" – let alone yourself. Take that leap, trust your psychologist, trust your supporters, and you will discover not only what you are made of mentally but the amazing things your body can do for you.
10. Little things make a big difference.
Restoring your weight is a necessary part of recovery, but it can be stressful, especially when your brain has been telling you that this is the Worst Possible Scenario. However, your body also gives you a few unexpected surprises.
Racing after a bus one day, I felt this weird jiggling that I dimly remembered from somewhere. Oh hello, boobs. Welcome back! I've never been so grateful for that bounce when I'm running up stairs or getting out of bed in the morning.
I will never take for granted the ability to stand up from the floor without the room spinning. After watching my hair thin down to fine strands, you better believe I love my rejuvenated curls in all their frizzy, tangled glory.
And the birthday cake I ate with my family tasted all the better because it wasn't served with a side of crushing guilt but with a triumphant feeling of sweet normality.
Yes, I still stand in front of the mirror and dislike what I see. Yes, I still have days where the guilty voice in my head is turned up to 11. But these small things, these tiny details, are pinpricks of perfect song breaking through that static and reminding me that I have the control and it's time to change the tune.
11. I'm more than just someone with anorexia.
I've travelled, had my heart broken, made friends, moved flat, got a new job, and fallen in love while I've had this disease. Not necessarily in that order.
I don't walk around thinking I am an anorexic and so I must act in a certain way any more than anyone walks around thinking I am a vegetarian. The worries about food are constantly there, but often function as background noise rather than my loudest and most pressing thought.
I was getting to a point where I saw the illness was going to stop me from doing the things I loved, and that was a big motivation for me to put the brakes on. But even if I'd kept going, I would always want to be known as more than "The Anorexic". I'm a daughter, a friend, a sister, a flatmate, a girlfriend, a colleague. Tease me, laugh at me, love me. I'm not a victim, I'm a human, and I will have good days, bad days, and ugly days, but I will not give in.