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Anorexia convinced me that I couldn’t be around other people

Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 takes place from 9th – 15th May. This year’s theme is ‘Loneliness’ and its effect on our mental health. To mark the week, Jodie Kirkman, Support Worker at Cygnet Hospital Bury, writes about her lived experience of loneliness and anorexia and shares her advice on how to manage lonely moments.

Throughout my journey with anorexia, it has fed into so many areas of my life. Loneliness was something I felt for a long time and still feel now.

It all began when I was in high school; all my friends were going on school trips, to parties, to our high school prom, and meeting new people. But as my anorexia started to take a further grip I began isolating myself.

It was never about not wanting to be around my friends or to experience going out for the first time, or having Christmas dinner with my family. I did. I wanted to have the ‘normal’ life. I wanted to be accepted, I wanted to fit in but I couldn’t manage that.

The anorexia had taken over me, it was who I was and it convinced me that I couldn’t be around other people, that I couldn’t do ‘normal’ things. My mind was so focused on losing weight and exercising that my life consisted of the four walls of the gym and no one was allowed in.

When my friends were going out, I used work or revising as an excuse. I didn’t want to be judged as ‘boring’ or have people find out about the anorexia.
When they were all eating out at a restaurant I couldn’t bring myself to go, as the anorexia convinced me being in the same room as food would make me gain weight.

I even cut myself off from my family, I wouldn’t let them see me and I spent all my ‘free’ time hiding away in my bedroom.

When I was poorly I isolated myself, I pushed people away and I avoided social situations, mainly because of a fear of anything that would involve unknown food or having to sacrifice my rigid and disordered routines.

I was not happy, I was incredibly lonely but the illness became the only comfort in my life because the cruel fact of an eating disorder is that the pain and misery of being lonely is easier to tolerate than the terror of doing anything outside the control of the illness. Loneliness offered a numbing blanket from the difficult emotions.

Your teenage years are supposed to be the best years of your life, but I spent mine in eating disorder units, one even all the way in Glasgow. When I ended up in hospital it was one of the darkest times of my life, not to mention the loneliest. I was terrified to be around people, I couldn’t bare the fact I couldn’t be alone.

Although I hated every second of my two-year admission in hospital, it also allowed me to build relationships with like-minded people.

When I was discharged I was terrified to go home; I was going to be around the people I pushed away for so long. I lost a lot of friends from being unwell but I’ve made so many more. But it’s important to be strong and remember people will always be waiting for you.

I’m learning every day to not put pressure on myself to be accepted or try to be who I think everyone wants me to be.

It was my lived experience that got me working in mental health. And one thing I say about myself is I have that first-hand experience and empathy for service users which is so important in my role as a Support Worker.

I think the advice I would give to anyone experience loneliness would be to realise loneliness is a feeling, and as with all feelings these can change. Let the feelings of loneliness be there and use them to change the situation in any way possible to lessen the feelings of being lonely.

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