Making Yourself Priority #1: It's Not Selfish, It's Self-Care
Who I am today and who I was yesterday
My name is Emily, I’m 26 and I live in England with my fiancé and two cats. I am a Pilates teacher and I have my own online Pilates, Nutrition and Wellness business that encourages people to put themselves at the top of their priority list no matter where they are or how much time they have on their hands. I am passionate about working with my clients to enable them to live a life of balance, ditching diet mindsets and creating a better relationship with food, exercise and our bodies.
Rewind 5 years however, and my life was completely different; At 21 I was hospitalised with an eating disorder that had consumed my entire life. I was told that if drastic action wasn’t taken, there was a chance that I could have a heart attack, organ failure and/or die. I was severely depressed and had already been through a couple of suicide attempts in the vain hope that I could get away from the thoughts in my head and my inability to be able to “get on” with life.
I didn’t have a particularly traumatic childhood, but certain events did shape me and guide me down the route I followed. When I started secondary school, I was bullied by a group of boys who would berate me for my looks and my size. At discos, they would have competitions to see who could kiss the ugliest girl, which meant that I would be the target, and in town they would throw food at me telling me to eat it. I was “fat, “ginger,” had “no boobs,” and was “ugly.” All the names you can imagine were hurled at me. My inner motto began to be: “I’m not good enough.” There was no information out there to suggest otherwise. From the age of 12, I wanted to be taller, more attractive, have bigger boobs and less body fat. What started as a diet soon escalated into a life threatening illness.
The search for the perfect body
I moved to an new county and a new school where I continued to chase this image of the “perfect” body for years. By 18, I was six stone. I starved myself, I skipped meals, I lived off diet coke, cigarettes and alcohol. If I had to eat, I'd quickly purge it from my body so that I wouldn't undo all the hard work that I thought I was putting into it. I did relentless and unrewarding exercise persuading myself that “it was what thin people did”. I thought people would like me more if I was more attractive; I thought I would be more confident and have more friends. All I wanted was for someone to look at me and think that I was perfect.The reality was that I was miserable; no matter how thin I got I was never happy.
I kept my secret for years; accepting my eating disorder as part of me, it soon became my way to control my life and help me to cope with the thoughts in my head. I would use my behaviours as a way to punish myself, reward myself, celebrate when things went right and make myself feel better when they didn’t. I was okay with having an eating disorder because I believed that it was better to be a sad, thin corpse than happy and overweight. Looking back now, it sounds ridiculous, but when you are that underweight and in the midst of your illness, you simply don’t think logically.
Things fall apart
When I lost my Nanny to cancer at the age of 20, things started to fall apart. I was severely depressed and would avoid everyone around me. I used to binge and purge to try to shut out what I was feeling and I spiralled deeper and deeper. My life became all about food; if I wasn’t consuming it, I was thinking about it. I spent hundreds of pounds a week to feed my destructive behaviour. It wasn’t until I collapsed at university that I finally admitted I wasn’t okay. I went through day treatment, I worked hard, got myself back to a place where I could function normally and I was well enough to go to drama school in London - my dream was to be an actress, and despite my illness, I had got into one of the top schools in the UK. My body wasn’t ready though and when I finally got there in September I had night sweats that woke me up every hour. I would fall asleep mid-conversation, I physically could not function and after only 2 weeks I was home again and felt like there was nothing left for me to fight for. By November I had lost all hope on life, I was back to six stone and was being sick 30-40 times a day – this prompted my admission into The Priory.
A new road
Over the past 5 years, I have been through CBT treatment twice and done a hell of a lot of work to help me to combat my addictive behaviour as well as learn to really love the person that I am today. I found Pilates during recovery; I loved how it made my body feel and the way that it could take me out of my head for an hour, so I decided to spend the rest of the money that I had to train to be a teacher. I also started to write down my experiences in my life leading up to, and during, my illness and created an online book blog called ‘Stardust’ that I used to get people talking about eating disorders, mental health and to also give insight to those who don’t understand. I speak in schools to students about mental health and eating disorders because I think that it is so important for children to have the information that I never did. If I can save one person from going down my old road that is all that I need.
My experiences with anorexia, bulimia, depression and anxiety have truly made me a stronger person. I am confident with what I believe in and I work every day with my clients to start from a place of love and self-acceptance, and not to let others dictate to them how they should look or feel. Life isn’t about the number on the scale or the size of clothes that you wear; you are not defined by this, you are more than just a number. There is so much more that you can give to the world than that. It is so important to put yourself at the top of your priority list, it isn’t selfish, it’s self care. If you are happy, confident, healthy and free, you can give that energy out to others. So no matter how hard your struggle is, how ingrained in you your mental illness feels, know that there is hope. There is life after a mental illness, and disclaimer: it’s amazing! No matter how many times you fall you can pick yourself up and try again. You have everything you need inside of you to help you, you just need to listen, be kind and love yourself first.
To follow my journey and attend one of my pilates classes, you can head to my website.