Adele labelled "Hello" her "make-up record". She said: "I'm making up with myself. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did". At 21, I'm realising that maybe it's time to make up with myself.
At 21, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. I've lost years of my life to anorexia, depression and anxiety. I've lost friends in the whirl of academic commitments. Perfectionism has cost me time I'll never get back. And a painfully restrictive life, dedicated to control and shrinking, has cost me memories that were never made. I've invested my life in academia and last summer I graduated from the University of Exeter with an English degree. I had three truly wonderful years, however, I'm ready to admit that I've hidden behind grades for too long: there's nowhere left to hide. I've systematically attempted to execute a disappearing act, and I've juggled it with a degree. At 21, I'm done running. My two stabilities in life: academia and an eating disorder are spiralling hand in hand. I function, but functioning is not living, and so, I made what was simultaneously one of the hardest, but most necessary decisions of my life: I deferred my offer to do an MA in English Literary Studies. The perfectionist in me is still screaming, "failure", and anorexia is constantly hollering, "fraud", and the world is continually asking, "why?", but regardless, in September 2016, I deferred my MA on medical grounds. I'm not sure where I learnt to juggle, or how juggling became playing with fire, and resulted in me living a tightrope existence, but I do know, it is time to risk the jump before I fall. I'm a contortionist, who needs to learn to live.
I will be forever grateful for my time in Exeter. To all my wonderful friends, healthy-me knows we've got a lot more memories to make. I've had exceptional tutors, who have inspired, kindled and supported in ways I could only ever have imagined. I had an incredible GP, who, quite frankly, kept me alive - she fought for me when I was done fighting. However, I've, relatively silently, carried the weight - pardon the pun - of mental illness for too long. And yes, I've managed/coped/survived - call it what you will - but, carry anything for too long, and it begins to get heavy. I've made more excuses than I care to admit, have spent many nights curled up in bed, too tired, or cold, or scared of life, to move. I've never sampled Exeter's notoriously incredible array of cake shops. And my order is a herbal tea.
At 21, I guess I've realised that sometimes, through nobody's fault, life just happens. I didn't choose to be ill. I didn't sign up to the years of appointments and hospital trips. But, I refuse to be slave to these things; I refuse to be silent, because silence is the space in which these illnesses win. I've spent my life trying to disappear; it's time to make a little bit of space for me. I've been silenced by illness for too long, and my illness' greatest hold over me lies in its ability to silence. It's the space in which illness nestles so snuggly, yet through shaky words and desperate "I don't know"s, through talking, it's a space I am gradually reclaiming. In every "how are you?", and every "keep going", it's a space you're helping me reclaim. At 21, I'm realising, and admitting, that I could be anything, but I can't be everything, and I've spent far too long trying to be nothing.
There is no set path to "recovery". No amount of professional support will "make it all better". It's time for me to choose me, to believe in me, and say "one day, I'm going to be okay". Maybe I won't have followed 16 year-old-me's plans to the T, but hopefully I'll have lived, be living and have a whole lot of living ahead of me. Ask me what my dreams are...I'm so much more than my diagnosis - even confined by hospital walls. I'd like to work in London, but I'd like to be well enough to not pass out on the escalators (embarrassing and dangerous), and I'd like to wander into the nearest coffee shop and grab something without a second thought. I'd like to travel, but I'd like to eat weird and wonderful foods and be strong enough to live life to the full...in whatever form it takes. I'd like to have a successful career that favours words over numbers, and I think, one day, I will. At 21, I'm learning that sometimes, life means letting some things go, holding some things tighter and grasping new dreams. And at 21, on the day I was due to start my MA, I landed myself my latest in a long string of referrals to an eating disorder unit. As my friends returned to university to sit January exams, I found myself admitted to the stuffy ward of that eating disorder unit. As friends start jobs, or go off travelling, I'm curled up on the ward, all cried, and talked, out. "Fresh air time" is a luxury, and my Saturday breakfast follows anything but a lie in! This is my job, 24/7, and it's the biggest investment I'll ever make. This wasn't The Plan, but right now, it needs to be my plan.
Day in, day out, I question whether this was the "right decision", whatever that may mean. I don't know, that's the honest truth, but, I do know I'm probably not in the right mind set to necessarily make that decision for myself...and that's why, for the time being, the ins and outs of my life are controlled by nurses who are on my side...even, and especially, when I'm not sure I'm capable of fighting for myself. Fighting myself is second nature, fighting for myself is a whole different ball game! For what it's worth, my message to myself, and anyone else who knows the decision to "choose life", is not always as clean-cut as it should be, is this:
"Hello, it's me, I was wondering
If after all these years you'd like to meet to go over
They say that time's supposed to heal, yeah".
And for the first time in a very long time, I'm going to give myself the time. I'm going to let time heal me. Because, as they say, the degree, the dream job, the travelling can wait. My health cannot. It's time to talk, and the talking starts internally. I'm breaking my own silence...I'm breaking the silence that anorexia demanded, because my words hold more potential than the numbers ever did:
Dear me, "I'm sorry it took so long, but you know, life happened".