I lived with anorexia for more than half my life. Every day was a constant battle and a miserable existence. I had shut myself off from everyone around me and felt incredibly lonely. I was trapped in a cycle of self-punishment and hatred, and was ashamed of the person I had become.
Five years ago, I was incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to spend six months in a US treatment centre, where I finally found a way to heal myself. I was given the tools to rebuild my relationship with myself and with others. When I returned from America I decided to use my voice to reach out, and connect with others who may still be struggling.
I used to be incredibly secretive about my eating disorder. I believed I would be judged, and that people would think I was ‘crazy’ and leave me. It was something that I just never spoke about. The ironic thing is, everyone knew anyway, and were talking about me – just not to my face. Having since asked many of my friends and family why they never approached me, they said “We wondered if it would make you worse and we didn’t know how you would react.”
Today I am not ashamed of my eating disorder. The more I have shared my experience, the more I have gained. I have not had one person be negative towards me, in fact I’ve found the reverse to be true. Last year at work, I took part in a campaign called Open Up, where I was filmed talking about the importance of reaching out in the workplace. After the video was published internally, I had a great deal of colleagues get in touch to say they had also suffered with an eating disorder, and that they now felt more able to reach out and talk about theirs.
So today is a wonderful opportunity to help someone else feel a little less alone. By sharing your story, you will inspire and encourage another to do the same. Building connections has been the biggest part of my healing and the greatest tool I have learnt. It is the foundation of my recovery, and the primary reason I created Jiggsy.
The more people who talk about their mental health issue, the more we can normalise it. Everyone needs to take care of their mental health as much as their physical health. The two are not exclusive to each other. If you are struggling with a mental health issue, don’t struggle alone. You deserve to have support, so take the leap and reach out. If you know someone who is suffering, then don’t be afraid to ask them how they are, or to give them a hug. It may be the greatest gift they have received in a long time.
By Laura Hearn
Founder of Jiggsy, a community connecting everyone affected by an eating disorder and mental health issue, through support services and via its global social platform, ‘The Jiggsaw.’