When I was first told how much I’d need to gain to be deemed ‘healthy’, I remember thinking that they were the insane ones. Today, I sit, over 20 kilos heavier than the waif that sat crying over every morsel of food, whose heart beat dangerously slow, who was fragile as a China doll. I am not always comfortable with where I am, I am not always kind to my body, but recently, as I agonised over parts of my body my brain still likes to abuse me over, a friend simply said to me “Stop-you’re better than that”. He’s right. I am. Everyone deserves more than self hatred and mental abuse. Everyone deserves to nourish their bodies and feed their souls. So, here are 20 things I gained, that weren’t just the kilos, because ‘I’m better than that’:
1. Empathy- I refused to admit this at the time, I claimed I was just the same, still able to be there for my friends. I was better than many sufferers of anorexia in the sense that I still considered my friends and how they felt, but I was so starved and preoccupied with the body that I saw as too big, I was unable to truly be a friend. To understand others struggles. Now I take pride in the fact my friends can rely on me and that it’s back to being a 2 way thing.
2. Laughter-No longer hollow, sometimes so fierce my stomach aches, it comes often and is something no one should take for granted. A few nights ago I sat with my girls and laughed so hard that I felt i'd done an intense ab workout, all whilst sitting at the table eating pancakes. A far cry from the girl who hid potatoes in her pockets and cried if I had to eat sweetcorn instead of green beans...
3. Career- For quite a while, I think there was some fear this would be it. I would be a professional anorexic, constantly in and out of hospital. Now, I have a career I love.
4. Ambition-I plan to succeed, anorexia will not hold me back, I work hard and I get the results. My friends joke that I never do things by halves, if I was gonna get thin, id get really thin. Same goes for my career and life, I am determined to be successful…like, really successful.
5. Heart- Start with an obvious one, I don’t just mean love or all that a heart symbolises, I also mean the physical gain. Anorexia physically shrunk my heart and feeding my body helped it get stronger. I used to lie in bed and feel it beating beneath the cage of bones that was slowly dwindling, now it is strong and healthy.
6. Friendships- I constantly say it, but I have some of the best friends I know. I have changed indescribably over the past few years. I am no longer willing to let negative energies bring me down. I am proud of my friends and I try to tell them often.
7. Energy-The girl who once ran on starvation and self loathing now has the energy to achieve far more important things.
8. Clarity- I see things differently, I know how I expect to be treated, I know what I look for in friends.
9. Fun- Nights out, dinners, cosy nights with a movie, the list goes on. Anorexia gave me none of this, I hollowed not just my stomach, but also my life.
10. Adventures-Being locked up in hospital with your only focus food and weight is not fun. Going on holiday and having everyone manically planning how and what you will eat prior to departure is not fun. Booking a trip to Bali, exploring the Cornish countryside on a whim, planning an adventure to Morocco, that is fun.
11. Responsibility- I’m not gonna go into this one, other than to say a few days ago my mother sent me a message that said “I’m so glad I have such a strong woman as a daughter to help us all at times like this”.
12. Freedom- There is no freedom in the midst of anorexia, you are trapped in a cage that people think is of your making. With every kilo, I gained an escape route.
13. Perspective- I see things differently. Life, to me, is about trying to enjoy it. Working towards goals. I appreciate the small moments, as for a while I thought I’d had my last.
14. Assertiveness- This is a big one and something I really had to learn. I’m still not there fully (I remember that fun assertiveness scale), but I am so much closer. I will say when something’s ‘not okay’ and I will stand up for myself.
15. Risk- This is one that I actually don’t think I would have the same sense of if it weren’t for getting sick. Prior to anorexia I felt very much like my life had to follow a trajectory-school, uni, good job, marriage, kids. I still feel these pressures, however, I also know what I want from my life and what a good job looks like to me. Running away to Barcelona (NOT TO BE ADVISED) was the best thing I ever did for me, it showed I was still in there and still had my fight. If something isn’t working (as things so rarely do), I back myself to get things going again.
16. Sass- I have one man to thank for this, Sam Burnard (known to me as sasquatch). He is the best friend who inadvertently taught me to once again be grumpy, angry and ‘sassy’ when necessary. He encourages it all and wont allow me to feel guilty for not being ‘angelic’.
17. Fitness-I am the strongest and fittest I have ever been. I am learning to fuel my body like an athlete. I am learning what I need. I am proud of my ability to run, lift, box, surf. I am proud of all of this and proud of the amazing, strong, body positive people I meet along the way.
18. Curves- It is ironic, people think we starve ourselves for beauty or to appear ‘sexy’, they thought I wanted to look like a Victoria’s Secret Model. I didn’t look like a Victoria’s secret model then, and I don’t now. I have curves, curves which I don’t always love, but which some days, I am okay with. Curves which people tell me are beautiful. My body is mine, not anorexia’s, and that alone is something to celebrate.
19. Strength- I am proud to call myself a strong woman. I do not regret what happened to me or how unwell I got. I believe it was my way of resetting and giving myself a second chance. I had to learn to find a voice and a way to tell people ‘that’s not okay’ that wasn’t starving myself or hating my body. I’m still learning and building myself, with a lot of help from those around me, but one thing I know is that if I had the strength to eat all the food it took me to get to where I am, the strength to step on all those scales and the strength to fight for my life for all I’m worth, then I am a strong woman. And I’m happy to say that. Anorexia taught me many things, and leaving it behind was the best thing I could have done.
20. Identity- When you get diagnosed with anorexia, people refer to you as ‘anorexic’, they make it your identity. When my mother got breast cancer, I didn’t refer to her as ‘canceric’. Everything I did had a link to my eating disorder, I was Maya, the anorexic one. My friends fought hard to help me keep individual identity, still talking to me about things they knew I’d be interested in, the truth is, in the grips of severe anorexia, I was engulfed. The obsession with shrinking into nothingness was so strong that it did become my identity. Now, I am Maya who is an actor, fitness freak, annoyance, sister, aunt, daughter, panicker, kind, model, Instagram-wanker, cook, blogger and recovery warrior. Along with MANY other titles and facets, and I’m okay with that. I am no longer one of a pair, I have my moments of self doubt, they happen a lot in fact, I have moments when I look in the mirror and hate what I see, times when I feel my body and want to cry, but I also have moments filled with so much more. If you are clinging on to anorexia and think you can lead a normal life, I’m sorry honey, you are wrong. You can’t have both. Anorexia numbs it all, the good and the bad. And without both, life wouldn’t be the wonderful mess that it is. Stop measuring yourself in kilos and pounds and start counting the things that really matter.