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April 18, 2023

Finding My Way Back: How I Regained My Life After Anorexia

Finding My Way Back: How I Regained My Life After Anorexia

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

By Mollie Twitchell

I hope this overview of my personal story can help others who are struggling – those who can’t see a way out. I want to give hope to them and their families and to inspire professionals in this field to continue fighting.

No matter how long you have been unwell or how many hospital admissions you have had, there is still hope that you can get better.

I was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 12 when I was first admitted to a private hospital in London. At that time, I didn’t understand what was going on and why I couldn’t go home with my family. It happened so quickly, and I couldn’t see how unwell I was. My whole life changed that day. My world got smaller and darker; I felt lost and scared. At that age and being in the very early days, we were told the prognosis was hopeful.

I have battled anorexia for 11 years. I have been in 10 inpatient hospitals from the age of 12 up until I was 21. I have been under section five times to receive care due to my health being in crisis and have been admitted twice to medical wards as I wasn’t well enough to be at home. Every year since the age of 12, I have been in hospital for a period of time, ranging from three to 16 months.

I had to do my studies and take my exams in hospital. I wanted to keep up with everything going on in my life outside of the situation I was in. Every year I was getting worse. I was losing myself even more and I didn’t recognize the girl looking at me in the mirror. The illness was turning me into a ghost; there was no life left in me. I wasn’t Mollie, and I was scared I would never get her back. I just wanted to be able to live a normal and happy life again where I didn’t feel scared every minute of the day and night.

Every time I came back home, I just wanted to ignore everything, push through and be like everyone else. I felt ashamed of everything I was going through and could never talk about. I went back to school and into environments I hadn’t been in for a long time and realized that everything had changed. People had moved on, and I didn’t know how to keep up. I never felt settled or that I belonged anywhere. I was constantly in and out of places, living from a suitcase. Even my home didn’t feel like home anymore.

Things were getting harder as I got older. My illness was becoming more severe and enduring. I felt myself giving up and losing hope that I could ever get better, and the people around me no longer knew what to do. The disordered patterns were getting harder to break, and I never thought it would end.

I was getting frustrated that I didn’t know how to get better. I didn’t know how to cope and doubted whether recovery was possible after ten years. I had no fight left in me. I was tired and constantly at war with myself, to the point where I just didn’t want to live anymore. I was scared of my mind, the person I was becoming, and how helpless I felt. I didn’t know how I would ever be okay.

I began to believe that recovery would never be an option for me.

The year that hit me, my family, and my treatment team the most was 2020, when the pandemic started. My health deteriorated very rapidly. It was too critical for me to stay at home – I needed to be under 24-hour care in a medical ward whilst I waited for a bed in treatment. At this point, the doctors told me that my medical state was life-threatening, and I had to be admitted that day. I didn’t believe what they were telling me, as I didn’t have an awareness of how critical my health was. I just thought I was fine and would manage. The cruel thing about this illness is that I couldn’t see how unwell I was every time. I was in denial and could never think rationally about anything to the point where it seemed as though it would cost me my life. The professionals could tell me the facts, but I just couldn’t understand and see that this was as serious as everyone was telling me.

My health was getting worse while waiting on a medical ward that was not equipped to treat eating disorders. This wait was painful, not knowing each day where I would end up. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move from the bed and was hooked up to machines. Someone sat outside my room, waking me up every hour at night to get monitored and tested. Due to COVID restrictions, I could only see one parent at set times in the day. I spent so much time scared and alone, not knowing what would happen next and whether I would make it through the night. I was so far at rock bottom that I couldn’t get myself out. I spent so much time isolated and angry that it got to this point, and I couldn’t understand how it happened again.

The lack of beds available was a real concern at this time in my life. It wasn’t my first time facing this issue. As a child, one of my admissions was five hours away from home.

After 6 weeks a local bed became available, and I got transferred for a further seven months. This was the time when England went into lockdown, and it resulted in not being able to see my family for the first four months whilst I was in the hospital. The excruciating pain and deep sadness rushing through my body from not knowing when I could physically see my family and just hug my mum again. Being separated when I so desperately needed them the most was beyond words. I didn’t know how I made it through that time. The level and severity of my distress were the worst I had ever felt. I didn’t know if I could ever come back from that low point. Somehow I did.

Now at the age of 23, two years after that painful time in the hospital, I am living life as a different person. I knew that something had to change when I came home and it had to come from me. I had to take the steps needed to do things differently. I allowed myself time, I slowed down, and I had to be patient with myself. This was very hard for me. The first six months in particular were difficult, filled with many low points, and I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to leave the house or see anyone. There were days when it was just so hard and I wanted to give up, but unlike my previous experiences, I pushed through those harder days.

This time around, I asked for help. I worked with people instead of against them and let others in instead of dealing with everything alone. I consistently used the support I had around me and took responsibility for my own recovery. I saw everyone around me moving on and doing things I also wanted to do – things I did not want to miss out on anymore. I needed a purpose and to focus on something else other than my eating disorder to keep me going. I had a lot more understanding and awareness of my eating disorder, and I gradually started to connect with myself in a healthier way. I now understood what support I needed and how to work through the barriers I was facing.

Rebuilding my life after the amount of time I lost was very difficult. It has been a slow process toward doing the things I am doing now and becoming the person I am today.

I am in the best place I have been, and I never thought I could ever be at this point – where I am truly living and building a healthy life.

I am working part-time, I am independent, my relationships with my family have grown, I am meeting friends, I am laughing and smiling more than I ever have, and I surround myself with positive things. I have also been able to go back to the hobbies I loved the most before I got unwell.

Once I started to feel more settled in my recovery, I returned to playing tennis for my local tennis club. Playing in competitions, being part of a team, and having a supportive community filled with lovely people have helped me so much in my recovery. I have built a network of people that support me, keep me accountable in my recovery, and allow me to just be myself.

It took me a year to build up my self-confidence to join a yoga studio. Taking myself to regular classes brings me so much happiness and has allowed me to improve my relationship with myself in many ways. I have been going on holidays with my family, booking trips, traveling to places on my own, going back to university – the list goes on.

I just had to be patient with myself and things started to fall into place. There were so many incremental things I did that helped me make the changes to get better and stay well. It was never one thing, but little things that all added up to get me to this point. Sometimes it hits me because I never thought this would be possible for me, compared to the life I was living. I now choose life above all.  I am continuing to grow, coming back home to the person I want to be, and working toward the future I want to have.

No one gave up on me when I thought they would. I am so grateful for my great family support system, along with the professionals who cared for me throughout the years. I am lucky to still be here today.

It has been a very hard journey to reach this point. Recovery has allowed me to live the life I want to live – to find myself for Mollie, and not be defined by the illness anymore. The journey is always ongoing. There are many more paths ahead of me to walk down and learn more about myself along the way – which is also exciting. The hard days will still happen, but they are easier to get through. I just keep going no matter what, as challenges to my recovery don’t affect me in the way that they used to. I now learn from those hard days and continue to move forward.

From my experience and getting to the other side, I know people can get better despite how long they have suffered or how many hospital admissions they have had. Because here I am today.  There is hope. Lives shouldn’t be lost, and an eating disorder shouldn’t be a life sentence. It is possible to have a normal, healthy, and happy life.

Get help. Find hope.