When I was first floored by my running injury back in October, my coach said, ‘I think this injury will turn out to be for the best.’
At the time, I scoffed this hypothesis, wondering how exactly a heightened sense of anorexia-infused anxiety and crippling knee pain during the peak of my running career could possibly be anything other than a shit show.
Now, upon reflection, I completely agree with my coach’s theory. Being injured forced me to slow down and reevaluate the relationship that I have with my body.
Before my injury, I was dangerously underweight. I actually weighed less than I did during my darkest days with anorexia back in 2014/15. My obsessive daily meetings with the scales revealed that I weighed the same as I did when I was 15 years old.
I HATE looking skinny. While I’ve always been naturally underweight, anorexia had snatched over a stone from the weight that I consider to be ‘normal’ for my pre-anorexic petite frame.
There is a fine line between being naturally slim and looking poorly-skinny, and when you’re already slight to start with, the results of anorexia breathing down your neck can deteriorate at a rapid rate.
As I’ve always said, my anorexia has never been triggered by a desire to lose weight, but eventually, that is how the illness manifests itself. Another thing I have tirelessly attempted to enlighten people on is the fact that anorexia can ‘look’ like any ANYONE. Primarily, it is a mental illness. Someone can be clinically ‘overweight‘ and still be battling with the mental effects of anorexia. Sadly, by the time someone fits the physical description of an ‘anorexic,’ the illness is already highly advanced.
Anorexia is a disgustingly unique disease. I have always found it hauntingly fascinating how such a deliberating mental illness can rapidly take a toll on your physical wellness and appearance.
It’s strange, isn’t it? You think that if you adhere to anorexia and do exactly as it says, one day it will eventually reward you. You lose pound after pound, chasing that unobtainable and ever-changing goal, but all that really happens is that you end up feeling as sad and as hollow as you look.
When I look at photos of myself from the past few months, I feel shocked. One of anorexia’s many callous talents is to blind the sufferer with disillusion. The true extent of anorexia’s devastating effects is only revealed once the dark spell has been broken.
My journey with anorexia has been tenacious throughout 2021.
My relationship with running might have been blossoming beautifully, but anorexia was still dominating my every thought and my every move, perhaps more so than I dared to confess as I cruised along in that lethal, autopilot, breezy state of ‘I‘m fine!’
Running has been my unexpected saviour, and that one aspect of my battle might have been won, but there are many elements that I still need to overcome.
During the first few weeks of my injury, my anxiety was sky high. Without running, starving myself felt like the only option to cling onto the unobtainable control craved by anorexia.
There is no in-between. I have to over-exercise and restrict food with equal force.
When one of those methods of torture lapses, I hone in on the other one with deadly dedication.
Food once again took on the role of the enemy and I quickly fell back into that dangerous cycle of stripping my daily calories right back and surviving on the bare minimum. I was instantly irritable and both mentally and physically drained.
Luckily, I dug deep and stood tall against anorexia’s faceless dictatorship and refused to follow it down that dark road again. No matter what life throws at me, I’m determined to never again experience the full wrath of the heartache the illness subjected me to back in 2014.
So I ate. I ate chocolates from the tin of Quality Street at work (anyone else LOVE those green chocolate blocks?! I seem to be the only one!!). I ate three courses when I went out to Zizzi’s for a festive catch-up with my bestie. I ate cookie dough at the Christmas markets. I ate mum’s homemade mince pies on Christmas Eve. I ate cauliflower cheese on Christmas Day. I ate shortbread for breakfast on Boxing Day.
Christmas is always a challenging time for anybody acquainted with anorexia, but this Christmas, I ignored the screams inside my head and instead chose to listen to the voices of kindness and love around me instead.
Enjoying a pre-Christmas meal out with my best friend! ❤
I’m back running again now, although I’m still not hitting the weekly mileage I was before my injury.
I didn’t run on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, because I wanted to spend that time with family instead. I ran a gorgeous 16k on Boxing Day – very early in the morning – and I spent the rest of the day watching Gavin & Stacey and grazing endlessly on leftover Spanish omelette from Christmas Eve and fancy Belgian biscuits. (Is it even Christmas if a tin of Tesco’s Finest Belgian Biscuits don’t randomly appear in your cupboard?!)
Accepting and practising the balance of exercise and indulging was incredibly hard for me, but I did it.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m terrified. If I sit and think about how much I’ve eaten over the past few weeks, I feel nothing short of burning shame and revulsion. But then I force myself to look at the photos of my smiling face on Christmas Day – my genuine smiling face – and I know, deep down, that none of it matters. What’s important is refusing to be a slave to the voice and letting go of those controls every once in a while. What’s important, especially at Christmas, is family, and making memories without them being tarnished by the spit and hiss of anorexia.
I echo the blog I published this time last year: I refuse to ruin another Christmas.
Christmas Day at Mum's ❤
I haven’t weighed myself since I got injured, but I estimate that I have gained around half a stone. This fills me with terror and joy. Terror because anorexia bellows that I have lost control, but joy because I feel so much better.
My face is the first place the weight drops from, leaving me looking haggard and the epitome of poorly. During December, my face has filled out again, and I love it.
I feel like my body is vibrating with happiness as inch by inch it reclaims itself.
Anorexia is hard because it has the capacity to change your mind and alter your every perception, no matter how strong-willed you think you are. While I detest being as skinny as anorexia forces me to be, I also find it extremely difficult to admit this to myself because the voice of anorexia is often louder than my own.
When I made my first recovery from anorexia back in 2016, I had never felt sexier or more confident. I gained a stone and a half back in weight and I felt fabulous. It was a version of me that I hadn’t seen for a long time; a version of me I’d almost forgotten existed. Under its new-found freedom and hunger for life, I felt my body flourish in the absence of anorexia’s habit of turning my existence into it’s very own twisted puppet show and vindictively pulling the strings.
I finally had curves again (well... I mean, naturally I unfortunately still look like an over-sharpened pencil with two fried eggs slapped on top, but I had more curve than when I was simply just skin and bone, put it that way!).
I looked like a young women, instead of a sad child.
When I peered in the mirror during that time, I saw me. The confidence that that revelation bred made me sparkle, shunning the remnants of anorexia.
I enjoyed getting to know my body again, dressing it in clothes that had previously hung off me in shapeless depression.
Flesh grew over my jutting bones like wild ivy, replenishing my soul.
I just hope that I can get back to that blissful, full state of recovery in 2022.
I just also wanted to add a quick update on my running. I am now pretty much pain-free!
To celebrate this, I finally joined the wonderful ParkRun family and entered my first event on Saturday 18th December. My local park was dipped in a shroud of early morning mist, clinging onto the branches of the sparse trees; the mysteriously murky light of daybreak peeking between.
I only bloody went and finished first female!
The confidence boost that gave me after 11 weeks of injury was phenomenal. I was 50 seconds off my 5k PB, but I didn’t dwell on that.
I also enjoyed my first run in Hyde Park during a trip to London, which was incredible!
On top of all of this, I also ran my non-competition 10k PB, fresh out of injury, and over a hilly course!
I’m really looking forward to seeing what the 2022 running season has in store for me. My goals are to run a sub-40 10k (I just need to knock 24 seconds off my PB), and a sub-20 5k. I already have a number of races booked in, and I want to do ParkRun as often as I can.
Covid permitting, I’m running the Malta Half Marathon in March, and I’m literally counting down the days until my first overseas comp!!
I should also find out in February whether or not I have a place in the London Marathon – everything crossed for this!
This year has been life changing for me, in terms of my anorexia. Truthfully, I don’t know where I’d be right now had I not entered that first 10k competition on a whim back in June. What was once used a weapon of mass destruction is now the source of such indescribable pride and stunning freedom. Through competitive running, I’ve achieved things beyond my wildest dreams, such as coming first place female two weeks on the bounce. I’ve made new friends and I’ve opened up a whole support network of amazing people.
I’ve been honestly flawed by the power that my body possesses in-spite of everything, and I know that every time I think of this, every time my body and I work together to accomplish the impossible, anorexia loses a fraction of its scathing reign.
Cara Jasmine Bradley