Ashleigh Stamper is a Legal Assistant and Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion for Liverpool City Council. In this blog, she opens up to share the impact of her eating disorder and how acknowledging her mental illness enabled her to seek help and recovery.
“My mental health is something I’ve struggled with since I was around 18 when I was diagnosed with body dysmorphia and anorexia.
Eating disorders are tricky because for the sufferer, they are sneaky and never really make themselves known until it’s too late.As someone who feels like they’ve recovered, it is easy to look back and realise that eating disorders are a control issue in that ‘I can’t control a, b and c in my life so I’ll turn to food which is the one thing I have 100% control over.’
It’s hardly ever about wanting to be thin and attractive which is the way eating disorders are portrayed in the media.I remember once how I took a jacket off in a lecture and others in the room went silent when they saw how small my body was. I took their genuine concern as a compliment, because I thought what I was doing was working.
Although I am not at this point now and I would consider myself in recovery, I still have to work on my mindset, because eating disorders constantly change as you change.
A coping mechanism that has worked for the past six months could suddenly stop working and then you feel as though you’re back to square one. Even sometimes if I have an argument with my partner or something happens that is out of my control, my first thought is either something to do with cutting out the next meal or even sometimes the temptation to vomit. It’s exhausting but I’m miles away from where I was when I was 18 and I am confident in saying my eating disorder doesn’t control who I am anymore.
The realisation and acknowledging I had an issue was the most important thing to happen. You cannot begin to recover until you acknowledge your issue. This can be extremely difficult. But if I didn’t acknowledge what I was doing to myself, I wouldn’t have gone on to have therapy and got back on track.
“It’s been in my head since I was in secondary school, it never really took hold until I was at university and out of my comfort zone, away from friends and family and in quite a volatile relationship.”
I’m also so grateful to my friends and family who were honest with me about how I looked and sat down to ask me if I was OK .I found being able to discuss things with my friends and family made me get the thoughts out of my head where my eating disorder could control my reaction and get them out into the open air where I could hear rational responses from loved ones.
It was also really important to be able to access therapy and have an impartial view on my experience. My therapist taught me to keep food diaries. This was a big eye opener for me as only recounting what I ate in my head was a chance for my eating disorder to completely exaggerate what I’d eaten and convince myself to punish myself for ‘overeating.’
As soon as I wrote down what I was eating every day, I started to realise I was hardly eating anything. Some days I was having cereal for breakfast, nothing for lunch and crisps for tea but convincing myself in my head that was the equivalent of three roast dinners in a day. Being alone made me feel worse.
Although sometimes it feels like a comfort to not be around people, it is so beneficial to be around those who are not suffering, it really helps you to see how in your own head who you are and how your thoughts are not helping you. I remember cutting myself off a lot when I was unwell and those were my darkest moments because I gave my eating disorder full reign of my head and thoughts – I couldn’t escape it when I was on my own in silence with it. Contact with family helps me to keep going if I come up against a difficult situation. My mum and dad would call and text me a lot. This really helped.
As I said earlier, having people check in on you and show you that you matter really does mean a lot. Even if you don’t feel the person is appreciating it in the moment, I promise it makes a difference and they will be so grateful.
I have made the decision to move back home to be around my family more and this has definitely spurred me on. Looking back retrospectively, I wish I hadn’t had let myself be alone as much.
My eating disorder ruined my university experience because I spent a lot of time on my own in my room, too anxious to mix with others. I now know being around others definitely would have aided my recovery quicker as it would have boosted my confidence.”