From a very young age, I felt the need to be perfect. I had to be the perfect sister, student, friend … the list is endless. If I made a mistake, I would beat myself up about it. When I didn’t achieve 100% in my schoolwork (and let’s be realistic, I never got 100%), I felt a sense of disappointment and guilt. If I let a friend down, I deemed myself the worst friend in the world. I honestly thought that striving to be perfect was a great thing, but truth be told, I was NEVER happy with who I was or the things I had achieved.
Only when I look back do I realise that all of these feelings of guilt and inadequacy built up and, when I wasn’t being the ‘perfect friend’ or achieving the grades I wanted, the only thing left was to create the ‘perfect body’. To start with, I began exercising and paying more attention to what I ate. After losing a bit of weight, people started to positively comment on how I looked, so I carried on striving for the ‘perfect body’. However, that soon became the platform for Anorexia to enter into my life.
The truth is, I had no idea of what the ‘perfect body’ looked like and no matter what results I had, nothing was good enough. After a few months of restricting my intake of food, the positive comments had faded, but I found myself unable to stop. Anorexia had taken over and I felt trapped. At this point, I thought I was a total failure. To me, being a good sister meant being a good role model and I didn’t think I was a good role model if I had a mental illness. I had also upset my parents, so I was therefore a terrible daughter and I didn’t even want to mention my disastrous A-level results.
But there was one little glimpse of hope, or so I thought. Anorexia told me that if I strictly followed her rules, she would help me to be perfect. The rules weren’t all about food though. I had to hide my weight loss and food restriction and if anyone suggested that I was struggling, I was to deny all knowledge of Anorexia. I kept on following these rules, but I did not feel fulfilled at all, in fact I felt lonely, exhausted and miserable. However, I forced myself to ignore these feelings, thinking that soon Anorexia would keep her promise and I would be and feel perfect.
As you can probably guess, those feelings never came. More and more people started asking me if I was ok as they had noticed I wasn’t my usual chirpy and cheerful self. I tried as hard as I could to put on a brave face but eventually, I cracked. I broke Anorexia’s number one rule and told someone about her. Anorexia was not happy at all. She just kept on screaming at me, saying I was worthless.
I had screwed up my last chance at being perfect. I had to admit defeat, admit that I was struggling and accept help. I felt so unworthy at the time, but looking back, accepting help was the best thing I could ever have done, as it allowed me to get the support I so desperately needed. Therapy helped me to see how deceitful Anorexia truly was because, as difficult as it is to think about, winning and being perfect in Anorexia’s eyes would have meant losing my life to this awful illness.
Nowadays, I can happily admit that I am not perfect and I never will be. However, that does not mean I am not worthy. I have achieved so much in my life, it just took me a long time to realise this. I’m proud of my achievements and also accept that things won’t always go as planned, but that’s ok. I am not a failure or a bad role model just because I’ve had a mental illness – I didn’t chose for Anorexia to enter my life, I just happened to come across her at a time when I was vulnerable.
However, I DID chose recovery. It hasn’t always been easy and there have been many times when Anorexia has tried to come back into my life. Unluckily for her though, I refuse to allow her back in, because I no longer want or need to be perfect. Making mistakes is the best way for me to learn and improve in every aspect of my life. Recovery has taught me to accept myself along with my imperfections. After all, imperfection really did save my life and it could save yours too.