Hope Virgo Standing Tall

I met anorexia when I was 13 years old. She was amazing. She taught me everything I needed to know. She taught me how to live, who I should be friends with and where I should go to for support. She was my everything at a time in my life when I felt so alone and so empty. A time when I wanted to distance myself from all emotions she showed me the best way to do it. And it was fantastic. We were best friends for four years. Yes, we argued at times when I wasn’t doing exactly what she told but she always won. Anorexia always knew best. 

I didn’t think anyone knew about my best friend. I thought it was a complete secret and I liked it that way. But the reality was people were becoming suspicious of my best friend. They didn’t understand the unique bond we had and that anorexia was there for me. They didn’t understand that she was the one person in life that I could completely rely on. She was my soul mate, and I trusted that she knew best. All up until my heart nearly stopped. 

On 27 November I was out with my brother in town. We were pottering around the shops and my mum frantically phoned. I couldn’t tell on the phone if she was angry or sad but we went home immediately to find out my ECG results had come back and my heart was in a critical position. I don’t even remember feeling scared that I was going to die. I constantly thought people were trying to make me fat and I thought this was yet another ploy to do just that. But little did I know as I walked home with my brother that the next day I would be admitted to live in a mental health hospital for a year.

As I stood there in the entrance to the hospital, the anger rushed away from me and I was filled with emotions. Emotions that I had bottled up for months, maybe even years. I was absolutely terrified. I begged my Mum to let me come home but she wouldn’t let me. I promised her I would eat and that I would do what she wanted but she wouldn’t let me. I had arrived at 10.30am and that was straight up snack time. 300 calories crammed into a small pot of milky protein. I struggled my way through a few sips of it, the cold sweat dripping down my back. I was then sent to bed for bed rest until lunch time. As I lay in bed wishing I was working out I thought back to the last few months. They had been a complete muddle and a mess.

I would get up in the morning, sneak off to the gym or for a run before school. Not eat anything all day. Sneak out of school to work out as early as I could. My mind was elsewhere thinking about calories, exercise, how I could avoid the next meal, or where I could hide food to pretend I had eaten it. I was unengaged with school and my friends but I didn’t seem bothered. My evenings would be spent working out, a family row to avoid eating or a meal that I had to eat followed by hours of vomiting in the bathroom. I would crawl into bed in the early hours of the morning smelling of vomit and sweat wishing my life was over. Wishing I would never wake up. The week before I had shouted at my Dad for making me eat and stood there stuffing dry bread into my mouth. My Dad’s eyes were whirling with tears but I didn’t care. Anorexia had turned me into a nasty selfish person. I thought it was okay to eat the bread as I would be able to make myself sick but as I dashed up the stairs all the bathrooms were taken. How was this possible? So I had no choice… I went into my bedroom, turned off the light to pretend I was going to sleep and I vomited in my pillowcase.

A year of treatment in hospital was hard work, intense but it helped. I learned the importance of eating. I learned why I wanted to stay well and I taught myself the power of talking about how I feel. Yes, the talking is something that I still find hard. But I know when I do it that it does actually help.

When you have anorexia you don’t always realize. You are often in denial and I get that. But if you are worried about someone you know, or you are feeling trapped in a cycle of calories, exercise or vomiting please do speak out. I know, from my own experience, that sometimes you feel guilty for seeking that help but you shouldn’t. Anorexia will lie to you, tell you that you aren’t sick, tell you that you will only get value from anorexia but this is a lie. Anorexia is a serious mental illness and will eventually kill you if you don’t seek help. It doesn’t matter what your weight is, or if you look at your friends who are struggling and you think they can’t be thin enough. Anorexia isn’t about weight and someone doesn’t have to be really under-weight to be unwell. Please don’t think you are not good enough at having anorexia to seek help! Seeking help is the strong thing to do!

My top tips for speaking to someone you are worried about:

  1. Be direct: give yourself time and a safe space and be direct. I know that this is hard but I think this is so important. Too many lives are lost to anorexia and we need to make sure people know it is okay to talk.
  2. Avoid any conversations around weight: Whatever you say has the potential to cause distress to the person.
  3. Earn their trust: they don’t want to think all you are doing is trying to make them fat. Give them a safe space to speak and share how they feel.
  4. Organise activities that are away from food so that you can still hang out and have fun.
  5. When someone starts to recover keep reminding them that you know they are not 100% okay but that you are proud of them for working.
  6. Remind them that they are more than the eating disorder and that recovery is possible.
  7. Never say they look healthy as for someone with anorexia this normally means FAT!  
  8. Never say you are ruining your future and your life. The reality is that person won’t care!
  9. Don’t try and pretend you understand but let the person know you are there to speak to.

I have been there. I was stuck in the depths of anorexia – lost, alone and so afraid, but I have done it. You think life is amazing with anorexia and you think you are amazing but the reality is you are limiting your life. You are stopping yourself from doing so much. The battle is hard work, and you will have hard days throughout your recovery but hanging in there and fighting is 100% the way to do things. Please never give up! Recovery is possible!

About the Author 

Hope Virgo suffered from anorexia for 4 years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year and since being discharged, has fought to stay well. Hope has just published her first book; “Stand Tall Little Girl”; and now lives and works in London, runs marathons, has a keen interest in exercise and maintaining good mental health. She has recently launched her own website – please do check it out www.hopevirgo.com