Written by Clementine Serrell
Aged 29 and standing in my parent’s kitchen carefully weighing out EXACTLY 100g of lettuce, ritual like. Followed by EXACTLY 100g of cucumber. It was a Saturday night, half my friends were out drinking, dancing, having fun. The other half were having nights in with their boy/girlfriends. I was at my parents, after moving back in with them, carefully weighing out every item of my salad, before adding all of those items into MyFitness Pal, pushing the hunger to one side, marvelling at how few calories I’d eaten that day.
This wasn’t how I’d planned to approach 30. Up until about 27 everything had been pretty fun. I’ve always been close to my parents, I had a great group of friends, I enjoyed work, and I loved my social life. Then a few things happened, nothing massive, just the standard- a breakup, the death of a grandparent, a couple of other none major things. At the time it all felt a bit crap, but it was manageable. Everyone goes through periods like that, no biggie. Then the manageable morphed into something, much worse, and before I knew it, the life I had just seemed to slide away from me.
I developed bulimia. While it wasn’t exactly a fun time, it was ‘OK’ if you like. I brushed it aside a little, I wouldn’t have an eating disorder, teenage girls get those, I’d never had one. I loved food, I loved cooking, I wouldn’t make myself sick after meals, that’s just weird! Then it became a bit more, I’d buy food to ‘binge’ on, and I’d purge after most meals. The worse I felt about my life, my lack of blossoming relationship or glittering career, the worse it got. On NYE 2011 I must have thrown up about 8 times. On New Years’ Day I vowed to change, ‘get a grip,’ stop being destructive. As I said, it wasn’t like I would suddenly develop an eating disorder, how silly!
I did stop, the sickness got less, however the feeling inside my head got a whole lot worse. Nothing seemed as I’d envisaged it when I was younger. Where was the gentle climb up the career ladder, where was the engagement to loving BF, and obviously, estate car and Jack Russell’s? I was a bit lost actually. I didn’t like myself. I didn’t like me as a person. I hated everything I was and longed to be everything I thought I wasn’t. I didn’t like how I looked. Maybe to bridge that gap between bulimia and recovery I should count calories?
The bulimia I once knew then seemed a distant memory. Very quickly I became sucked into an anorexic hell. I had to move back home. I weighed EVERYTHING- lettuce, cucumber, chicken, tomatoes, cornflakes, you name it, I weighed it! EVERYTHING went into MyFitnessPal- black coffee, squash, chewing gum. I declined most invites to go out. Most social things revolve around food or drink. There was NO WAY I’d eat out, and when you are so unbelievably hungry you certainly wont drink your calories either. The only thing I cared about was calories and exercise. I HAD to walk a certain distance. I vividly remember being in Wales and literally marching around a beach, up and down, past families watching, wondering what the hell I was doing, just so I could hit my kilometres. I became deceptive, not wanting to give people the whole truth but not wanting to lie. I was sucked in and I didn’t really know if I would ever get out.
I had a mental illness, which is something I didn’t want to admit, because ‘mentally ill’ people stayed in hospitals, and did crazy things! That wasn’t me. But I guess when you actually develop a mental illness yourself, your perception of that changes. Everyone you meet is going through a battle you know nothing about. Sometimes it’s mental, sometimes it’s physical. I guess we’re all guilty of it, but how can you judge someone if you don’t know them?
It’s now 2018. I’m weight restored, and have been for some time. I left my old job, re-trained to become a Personal Trainer and moved to London in 2016 to work at Virgin Active. While in London I did things I hadn’t done since the pre ED days. Sadly our Virgin closed in December, so I then trained clients in a private studio, and also got a part time job in a kitchen- an actual kitchen, where you have to sample the food, and you don’t get regular breaks to sit and eat. I could NEVER have done that when I first moved. I lived there for over 2 and years and am now back in my hometown of Worcester. Life is good, in that I actually have a life again.
Through an addictive illness you don’t live, you just exist.
You get pleasure from nothing, other than your addiction. I don’t think it ever, fully, 100% leaves you but you learn to control it.
The mental recovery process is huge. Of course the effects of anorexia are only seen physically but it’s the mental aspect that’s the little bitch. Like a Gollum/Smeagol battle going on in your head. It’s almost like a noise, a constant, fuzzy noise, intermittently telling you how rubbish you are, how much of a failure you are, how you will never have anything other than your addiction. With the help of a therapist, and also a nutritionist, I learnt to hush the noise. I learnt about my body, physically and mentally. I wanted to be strong, in body and mind. I wanted to have a healthy working body again. Training gave me a massive outlet. I saw a coach. I learned to lift weights properly. I ran a couple of half marathons. I was never sporty at school! I hated running but I liked the feeling fitness gave me.
Any recovery process is loooong and hard. There’s a boat load of things I’m still yet to do, and have to over come but I’m at a point that I never thought I’d get to.
I’ve also learned that life, and your own worth, aren’t defined by an amazing career or a husband, Audi A3 and 2 kids, and the Jack Russells of course.
I’ll still beat myself up over what I’m not doing but then I try and re-focus on all the things I have done. My mum, my biggest support, will always say ‘but are you happy though? Because if you are, then it doesn’t matter much about the other bits.’
The power of your mind is huge. I fed mine negative thoughts for a long time, and it takes a while to get back on track. The support you have counts for a lot. I’m very open and honest now, about things that have happened. It wasn’t always like that. I felt a huge amount of shame for so long over the eating disorders.
How weak to develop that, how weak to have to ask for help, how weak that your main achievement was eating 12 almonds not 11. Hearing other people’s stories, whether ED related or not, you realise none of that is weak. Through learning how to cope with certain things, certain situations.
I guess you actually develop your own ‘mettle.’ Everyone’s is different, but each of them are just as great.
Clementine Serrell is a qualified Personal Trainer with interests including bakery, antiques and art. She’s an avid petrol head and values her friends.