Tess's Story

Fighting Anna

You don't 'get' anorexia like you get an illness. Anorexia is not an illness, it's a person. I call her Anna. Anna becomes you - your spirit and soul is shifted to one side whilst Anna comes to live inside your body with you. You're still in there too but Anna is stronger so you don't get a chance to show yourself very often until eventually you are completely silenced, and all everybody sees is your body with Anna living in it. And of course they think it's you - when it isn't - you're still there, trying to get back into your own body - fighting with Anna all the time. But she is always stronger.

I remember when she came to live in my body. I don't remember the exact day she arrived but I remember suddenly realising that the actions of my body were no longer my own, and wondering who it was that was making these decisions for me, and why I had to share my body with her. I was still strong then, I would tell Anna off when she tried to control me and I'd do what I wanted, ignoring her arguments. But it got to the point when after I'd eaten I'd weaken and then Anna would gain strength and make me feel so terrible that it was easier to let her choose when and what we ate. Of course, Anna hated food, and as she was in charge, I had to go with her choice of what to eat. Most of the time this was nothing. I would argue with her constantly - often shout and cry at her to leave me alone to eat what I wanted. But she'd never leave. This was hardest when I was out with my friends, or ready to eat with my family, because Anna would come with me but I couldn't argue with her in front of people because they didn't know she was there. So I lied. I had no other choice. Nobody else knew that Anna was there - they thought it was just me so how could I explain that Anna wouldn't let me eat when they didn't even know who she was? I couldn't. So I told them I wasn't hungry, or I was allergic to foods, or I felt ill. Anna would just sit there and laugh at me trying to convince everyone. It was okay for her, she lived in my body but couldn't feel my hunger, or my pain. She didn't care that my hair fell out, that my bones creaked or that my teeth were wobbling.

Eventually I ran out of lies, so I made sure I never had to be with people when they were eating or drinking. I just let Anna convince me to stay indoors alone - it was much easier that way and I was glad I didn't have to lie anymore. People would talk about me - I knew why because I could see that my body looked wrong, that my bones were showing and my veins would stick out. I didn't like it - it was Anna's choice. It was her that got on the scales every day, and punished my body if another pound hadn't been knocked off. I wanted to tell everyone that it wasn't me that had done this - but how could I expect them to believe me when they didn't know about Anna?

And then I gave up the fight with Anna and I let her have my body to herself. I could no longer fight her and I felt that as my body was so useless now anyway, I didn't even want it anymore. I would sit and watch while Anna controlled my body, masquerading as me whilst people sat and watched and talked about me as if I was the one refusing food and being hostile and rude. I resented them all. Had they just forgotten who I was? Did they just think I had turned into someone else? Did they not remember that I loved food and that I was fun and sociable?

There were a few people that knew it wasn't me. But they didn't know what Anna was doing, and whenever they tried to speak to me, they actually spoke to her and she answered so of course they couldn't help me. They stuck by me though - well, they stuck by Anna thinking she was me which must have been hard for them because Anna was made of an evil that I can no longer comprehend. These people were my family. They were the ones that would eventually fight to get me back, and would eventually realise that they had to fight Anna to get to me. Though they didn't know it then. Back then they thought it was me.

People thought I didn't want to live anymore. This wasn't true. I didn't want to share my body with Anna anymore - and as she had claimed it as her own, this left me without one to live in. But at the same time, if I left, she wouldn't have wanted to be there without me. To anyone else this meant I wanted to die. That wasn't the case - I didn't want to die, but I would sooner have left my body than share it with Anna. And what other choice did I have. I resigned myself to the fact that there was no other way, and every day I waited for my body to give up and set me free. I felt it start to happen. First I lost my energy - I don't mean I felt tired - I lost the ability to walk more than a few feet before having to lie down. I had to summon all my strength just to go on breathing. My hair would come out in handfuls from my head and my nails had started to fall out. All the time Anna just watched and laughed - and I just waited. Knowing that soon it would all be over. Eventually I started to feel my heart flutter, trying to hold on though it was being burnt away with every breath I took. It was almost a relief knowing that soon I'd win over her - and that she couldn't survive without me.

Whether through fate, or for another reason, it was at this point that Anna showed herself to my family. Maybe she let it slip, or maybe it was because she knew she needed me. Whatever the reason they saw her and then everything changed. They said they knew I couldn't fight her on my own, but they said that together we'd be stronger, that we'd send her away, and that I could take my body back for myself. I didn't believe them. For two years I'd fought and fought. I'd watched her take my body and kill it slowly and painfully while all I could do was sit by and watch. I'd seen her convince all of my friends that I'd done this to myself and eventually I'd surrendered to her knowing that I'd be dead, but at least I'd be free. How could I change that now? I didn't know how to eat food anymore. I didn't know how to feel hunger anymore. I didn't feel anything anymore.

It took time for them to reach me. They had to fight her first, but eventually their voices came through and pulled me back and then I could help them fight her too. It took a long time for me to feel the strength to confront her - I had to concentrate more on giving my body the help it needed to go on living. It was a constant battle, with Anna trying to push me back every time I found a bit of strength. But this time there wasn't just me there to greet her. I had the strength of my family, and the doctors with their medication that gave me extra strength. Soon our combined powers were stronger than hers and we started to scare her off. She'd still creep up on me when I was alone, but I knew how to deal with her now.

My body began to look normal again, and every day this gave me satisfaction because I knew that the stronger I got, the further away she was pushed. And then one day I woke up first, and had my first taste of life, albeit for just a few minutes, without her in my body. Then it was a few more minutes, then an hour, and then a whole day. When she wasn't there it wasn't like before she'd come into my life - it was better. Like the old proverb that says you don't know peace until you've experienced war, and you don't know happiness until you've felt sadness. Well, knowing how bad things could be with her there just made life even better when she wasn't. Each day I felt her absence I knew I'd gained more strength to guard my body against her in the future.

That was a year ago. And now I look at my body and know that I control it. I won't lie and say she's not there, and I'm not blind to the fact that she is. But just as I was forced to sit and watch my body being controlled - so she is now. It's her that has had to surrender my body back to it's rightful owner - me. And although occasionally I read her thoughts, or hear her voice, I have the power to push them away because my voice, and my thoughts are stronger. I don't know if she'll ever be totally gone. She may lie dormant beside me forever. But now her being there serves a purpose. For as long as she's there, I will draw strength from her. For now she will only ever serve as a constant reminder that with the love and belief of my family's strength - and their belief in mine - I defeated her.

Anorexia can choose anyone's body to invade. At first it's hard to identify that it's not you, but her that is controlling you. After all, it's not every day we have to share our bodies unwillingly with another being. But once you know she's there, you can accept that it's not your fault that you're acting against your true will. Once you accept this, you can, with help, fight the other being living inside you. The most important thing to remember is that although many people will not understand that there is someone else using your body and killing your soul, someone will. And when that someone does, they can fight with you to get rid of the impostor. Don't ever let her win. 
I didn't let her win.

Tess

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Eating Disorder Association NI
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Belfast, BT2 7FE
Phone: 028 9023 5959
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