Hope Virgo suffered from anorexia for more than four years, before she was admitted to a mental health hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year, fighting one of the hardest battles of her life. Since being discharged, she has fought to stay well. She now wants to use her experiences with mental health difficulties to champion the rights of others, inspire them to get well, and help break the stigma.
When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror what is the first thing you think about? Are you happy with what you see? Do you look at yourself and feel disgusted? How do you feel as the day progresses, better or worse about your appearance? Or if you hate what you see so much, do you give up on the day, write it off and go back to bed?
I have days when I look in the mirror and feel okay, while on other days I try on my entire wardrobe before work and simply feel huge. But I know I’ve already come along way.
When I was 13 Anorexia befriended me. She sucked me in, taught me how to diet, and showed me what I need to do to feel better.
Some days I felt so disgusted with myself that I would crawl back in to bed, pull the duvet over me and wish I didn’t exist, or put on the biggest, baggiest hoody and tracksuit to hide my body.
I remember going in to school and feeling frumpy next to all my school friends. Social activities on the weekend with my friends were often a strain, as I felt ugly and fat, compared to all of the other girls.
I felt fat and like a failure on most days and nothing looked right. My mind was overloaded with negative thoughts, telling me I was fat and I struggled a lot with my body image.
All Anorexia did was amplify my feelings of failure with the odd praise. The short term feelings of satisfaction she gave me did nothing to make me feel better in the long run. But I still listened to her. Yet I was never quite good enough for Anorexia, most of the time. I wasn’t losing weight fast enough. I wasn’t exercising enough or missing meals enough. I was trapped in a vicious cycle. Stuck. I was tired of it all and I thought it would never end. But it did.
Life nearly ended for me on a Tuesday afternoon in 2007. I was told that my heart was about to stop and I was going to be admitted to a mental health hospital.
After an intensive year of recovery, both physically and mentally, I was discharged from the hospital, but I knew that the fight wasn’t over. I knew that Anorexia would be there, waiting to pounce. She would be lingering behind the curtain, or in the shops behind super skinny mannequins. She would be ready to tell me that I was fat, tell me I should be skinnier, and tell me I need to sort this out or I would be a failure.
But NO! I chose to not let her manipulate me, and here are a few ways that help me manage to stay well:
- Eat healthy: I have three meals every day with snacks throughout making sure I have all the nutrients I need and a good balanced diet. I am careful to not cut out carbs and limit other foods as I am aware that that would be a trigger for me. I try to not focus on the daily meals but look at a wider picture making sure I am able to enjoy it all
- Exercise to feel good: I know that exercise could be a trigger for me and can quickly turn into an obsession, so knowing that it’s a trigger I have to manage it carefully to avoid slipping back into old habits.
- Avoid unrealistic body images: I avoid magazines promoting unhealthy body types and I definitely avoid all diet tips.
I remind myself every day that what I see isn't always right. Some days it is harder than others, but I reason with myself and I talk to others. It’s the people that I have round me who build me up and make me feel good.
I put on some weight this year and I struggled a bit with it, but I realised that actually, I didn't look fat and I had to be open with people to help me through my doubts.
I know I’m not the only one struggling with body dysmorphia and it frustrates me that we live in a world where unhealthy body image is promoted everywhere.
Just the other night, I was scrolling thought the anorexia hashtags on Twitter and I felt so sad seeing all these posts from people thinking they are fat, while in reality they were skinny.
It’s important that we are mindful when looking at images of models, or even when we walk in to a shop and see the mannequins. Most of them are not a healthy weight and it is not normal or an ideal to aspire to.
Of course, from time to time, these images still make me feel like a failure and that I am not what the world wants me to be. But I know that in reality these body shapes are not real and I must not let them or Anorexia tell me otherwise.
Follow Hope on social media to keep up wiht her work on mental health
Instagram - @HopeVirgo