I was slightly anxious as I headed home for Christmas on December 23rd. The holidays were always a funny time of year for me – the memories of being in hospital, the stress of the amount of food everywhere in the house… Maybe this year I was applying more pressure on myself, assuming that I should be one hundred percent okay with it all now that I had shared my story. Or maybe I thought I didn’t need to mask up anymore around Christmas; people knew how I really felt, so I could just do what I needed to do to get through the day.
When I get these feelings of doubt and anxiety in my head, I immediately start to beat myself up. I feel like a hypocrite, a complete failure, and that nagging anorexic voice tells me I am no good. It tells me that I should shut up and stop sharing my story.
It’s weird being so naked to the world, having my life on show to everyone. Sharing my life on social media, my thoughts, my silly habits, my panda obsession. It’s something I thought I would be strong enough to do, but the truth was that as I approached the end of 2017, I began to doubt myself. I doubted who I was and whether my story was helping people.
So many people have got in touch since I published my story, and people who I barely know comment on how great life must be. The glamour of TV, the interviews on the radio and in magazines, free running clothes… but the reality is, it isn’t always that straightforward. There have been times when I‘ve received some horrific questions and comments. People would message me on Twitter or Facebook and say I was selfish for having anorexia, selfish for sharing my story and exposing so much of my personal life. One time, someone said to me in front of a room full of people:
“How can you live with yourself when you have caused so much pain to those around you with your anorexia?”
I stood there in that room for what felt like minutes and minutes as the sweat began to seep down my back and through my top. My top lip trembled and I began to get that nagging voice in my head. I used all my strength to respond directly and with as much of an answer as I could muster up. Thank God it was the final question! I left pretty speedily and headed back to London trying to process the whole event.
It is this sort of comment that began to break me this year. When I first started talking openly, there were evenings when I would crawl into bed crying, or be found sitting on the floor by the radiator sobbing after a particularly nasty jibe. I still have those feelings of fear even now, like when I got in after telling my story on a recent broadcast of BBC Newsnight. I was emotionally drained, even though I knew that what I was doing was right, and that sharing my story so passionately was nothing I should be ashamed of!
But something I have learnt this year is that there are so many people across the world struggling with their mental health. People who are too ashamed to open up, too ashamed to admit they are struggling. The endless stigma that comes with mental health stops people seeking help, and there are people who end up giving up on life altogether.
As we enter into 2018 I urge you to talk about how you feel, to look out for each other. Take the time for colleagues and friends. You might not be able to see it, but so many of these people might be fighting an inescapable battle in their head. A battle that every day takes all their courage and energy to beat.
In November 2017, I decided to quit my job. I was not happy there, and I realised that I had been running on empty for so long over the last year. I am terrified of what the future holds. I am scared that, as I write this blog and expose a whole lot of weakness, I expose myself as a fraud. But these feelings that I’ve had don’t make me weak; they make me human. I didn’t throw myself in front of a train – I didn’t let them win. Having anorexia did not make me weak!
Now, I want to use my story to help others. It is this that keeps me going, keeps me strong. That and having an amazing support network to remind me of that strength, to remind me that it is okay to take part in self-care activities. I am not weak. I am a warrior and a fighter.
– Hope Virgo