The mirror of feelings


This week is mental health awareness week, and the focus this year is on body image. I’ve never really talked about my issues with body image before, and I think the reason for that is mainly because I felt ashamed.  I was worried that people would think I was vain, or that I was just attention seeking. But now, I’m ready to talk, to open up about what it really feels like to have body dysmorphia. Obviously everyone’s experience is different,  but I’m going to explain what it was like for me. So to do this, here are two versions of exactly the same story…

Version 1:

I woke up one morning and carried out my usual routine of getting up, getting dressed, and then going downstairs for breakfast. But on my way down, I refused to look at the figure in the mirror at the bottom of the stairs.  I couldn’t face it on that occasion. I was scared of what I would see. So I had breakfast and set off to school. While I was walking past a shop window, I caught a glimpse of a figure. I recognised it instantly. Hideous, ugly. Yep, that was me. I didn’t want to carry on with my journey. I didn’t want other people to see me. Every window I walked past, I saw the same figure.  Hour after hour, all I could think about was what other people were thinking when they saw me. I didn’t blame them if they didn’t want to come and talk to me – who would? When evening came, I was glad to be back in my house and out of sight. I was relieved that nobody had to see me, and I was relieved when it was time to close my eyes and go to sleep. The next day, I woke up  and again, carried out my usual routine. This time though, I did look in the mirror at the bottom of the stairs. Actually, I looked ‘ok’. It looked completely different to the figure I had previously seen. I had breakfast, and walked out of the door, my head a little higher than the day before. On my way to school, I saw the reflection in the shop windows but today, I didn’t see an ugly, hideous figure. Today, it was just ‘ok’. I still wondered what people thought when they saw me, but I didn’t hold the same fear as I had previously done. When I got home, I was relieved that I still looked ‘ok’, but apprehensive of how my body would look the next day.

Version 2:

I woke up one morning and carried out my usual routine of getting up, getting dressed and then going downstairs for breakfast.  I wasn’t feeling great that day. I was upset because I hadn’t done very well on one of my exams, and I was really missing someone close to me who I had lost a few years before. But I had breakfast, and set off to school. All the way, I  still had these feelings of failure, of grief, and of pain. I was anxious to go to school in case someone asked me about my grade. I didn’t feel like speaking to anyone that day, and I just wanted to go home. So when evening came, I went to my room  and had a little cry. I was relieved when it was time to close my eyes and go to sleep. The next day, I woke up to a lovely message from one of my friends. As I got dressed, I remembered that today I had 2 hours of my favourite subject at school. I also remembered that It was a Thursday, which meant going to my favourite orchestra after school. I was feeling better about the day and was looking forward to what was ahead. At times, I was still a little anxious, but I was feeling mostly positive. When I got home, I was relieved to still be feeling happy and relaxed, but also apprehensive about what would happen the next after.

Written down, it seems so obvious. Somehow, on days where I felt more stressed, my perception of my body was so much more distorted. It was as if I was looking into the mirror of feelings. But for a long time,  I didn’t actually realise that these two things were linked. I genuinely believed that one day, I could look ugly and hideous, and the next, I could actually look ‘ok’. Nowadays, there are still times when I look in the mirror and I don’t like what I see. But instead of panicking, instead of doing my hardest to not be seen, I ask myself how I’m really feeling,  and what it is that’s going on in my life that I may be stressed or worried about. Equally, if I look in the mirror and I’m happy with what I see, I ask what things are going on in my life that are making me feel happy, settled and positive. Who would have thought that body image actually allows me to understand my feelings more? It does seem strange, but the way I feel about my body really does seem to reflect my emotions at the time! 



Imperfection saved my life

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.

Unique is beautiful

This is the time of year when many people have just received their A-level results and have got a place at university. It might not be their first choice, but nevertheless they are excited to move to uni, even if a little apprehensive.

This time two years ago however, the excitement of going to university had been overridden by feelings of inadequacy because of my mental health problems. For a while, I had been battling anxiety and anorexia and was told by my doctors that I wasn’t well enough to go to university that year. I had been so determined to get the grades I needed, that I had forgotten to put myself and my health first. I was really upset not to be going to university and worried that being a year older would make me stand out. But I began to realise that there wasn’t actually any rush to get to uni and in fact, I stood a better chance of staying well and having a more fun experience if I took some time to tend to my needs and focus on recovery. I then decided to contact my university and defer my place.

Despite it sometimes being difficult seeing all of my friends having a great time at their universities and feeling as if I was ‘doing nothing compared to them’, taking a year out was the best thing I could have done. I learnt more about myself in that year alone than all of the previous years of my life put together. Receiving therapy also helped me to find ways of coping with both my mental illness and everyday life. I felt so much more equipped when I did eventually go to university and my fears of being different were soon left behind when I realised that university is a place of diversity, full of people of all different ages and backgrounds.

A crucial part of my recovery has been learning to love and accept myself for who I am and to not compare my life to other people’s. It is certainly easier said than done, but to help, I started writing a list of achievements and things I am proud of in my life, no matter how big or small I thought they were. I also learnt that things don’t always plan out as we had hoped and that can be really disappointing, but by accepting my situation, I was able to overcome the feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction and be proud of everything I HAD achieved.

It might be that you, too, need to take some time out for health reasons, or maybe you’ve decided that university just isn’t for you. But that’s OK. I know so many people who haven’t gone to university, but are doing really well and, most importantly, are happy. We all have our own individual stories to tell and just because yours is different to someone else’s, it doesn’t make it any less valid or impressive! So next time you start comparing yourself to others, please remember that every single one of you is unique and UNIQUE IS BEAUTIFUL!  💕

Onwards and upwards,

Rose Anne xx

A Letter of Encouragement During Difficult Times

I wrote this letter to help me to look back and reflect on how much my life has changed for the better since I started my journey to recovery. It is aimed at my younger self as an encouragement to keep going when I was really struggling to fight against my eating disorder.

I hope this can also help you to see that there is hope and you can overcome this. So this letter is also for you:

Dear friend,

Firstly, I want you to know that you will get the help you need and things will get better!! Please don’t give up, because this illness isn’t going to take over your whole life. It’s also important that you know this isn’t your fault and you do deserve to be free!!

I know you’re struggling at the moment, even though you won’t personally admit it, but just remember that so many people out there care about you and the only person you’re being dishonest with is yourself. Don’t allow the illness to torture you and then pretend everything is fine, because deep down you know that it isn’t.

This is going to be a tough journey, but you are strong enough to battle through it!! You’ll learn to allow yourself to feel the anxiety and to not avoid the situations which trigger such anxiety.

I know at this moment in time, you see no way out and it seems like your eating disorder is your only hope, but please realise that it is lying to you!! It will not make you happier, you won’t be satisfied with your next ‘target weight’ and it certainly won’t resolve your problems. You will also no longer have any control, because your eating disorder will have taken that from you as well.

So all I am going to say is that your sheer determination is what will help you in your recovery. It will take a long time to fully recover and you will have blips along the way, but one bad day does not mean that you are relapsing; it just means you’re living a normal life and although today isn’t great, tomorrow can be better.

Recovery is what you make it to be!! Although it would be great to have no intrusive thoughts (especially around body image and food), that may not necessarily be the case. However, learning to manage these thoughts is the key to living a happy and healthy life and living a life that you value.

So please don’t give up! You’re allowed to be kind to yourself and realise that once you’re on the road to recovery, you can do so much more! Everything just seems more fun and enjoyable and trust me, it’s worth all of the anxiety you have to endure in order to get your life back!

At times when you’re finding things difficult, please read this letter to assure you that you can and will get through this difficult time.

Onwards and upwards, R.A.E xx

Who am I?

Hi there,

I am a nineteen year old girl who loves singer-songwriting and playing clarinet. I use my music as a way of expressing my feelings and emotions as well as for enjoyment. I also love playing squash and going hiking with my friends. One of my main values is to be caring and helpful towards others and to be there for others when they need me the most.

That is the ‘real’ me, the person I am when I’m well. But what does ‘well’ really mean?

In my case, being ‘well’ doesn’t mean having a perfect life, nor does it mean living every day without any irrational thoughts, but to me, it is a time when my thoughts aren’t all consumed by my eating disorder; when every decision I make isn’t done as a result of feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Every day still brings challenges in terms of my eating disorder, but the thing that has changed is how I deal with those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.

As a brief summary, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in November 2014 (although I have experienced OCD tendencies from childhood) and in my last sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), my therapist became aware that I was having difficulties around food and body image. This led to a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (and Autism) in April 2015 and by July 2015, I was admitted to a specialist eating disorder unit, where I spent the next eight months. Although my time as an inpatient was challenging, it allowed me to gain invaluable skills which have played such an important role in my recovery.

I have made this blog with the intention to provide support and guidance to anyone who is struggling with mental illness and in particular, eating disorders and hope that it can help others who are suffering.

Onwards and upwards,

R.A.E xx