I want to dedicate the topic of this article to one of the most forgotten/ unknown effects of anorexia: isolation.
Once upon a time, before I started dabbling in a game of Russian roulette with my own body, I too thought anorexia was simply categorised by extreme weight loss. It never even crossed my mind that this major misconception is one of the main reasons that anorexia is still so hugely misunderstood and, more tragically, why the severity of it often goes undetected for far too long.
There are literally hundreds of anorexia symptoms that the outside world is blissfully unaware of. Weight loss is just one minuscule piece of the whole harrowing jigsaw.
Other common unseen signs include heart palpitations, absence of the menstrual cycle, Lanugo - the growth of hair across the body in an attempt at insulation… And isolation. This is perhaps one of the deadliest symptoms of the disease, because it limits recruits to the army needed to tackle anorexia head on.
Anorexia strives upon having its victim all to itself.
It’s a clever beast, misconstruing thoughts and convincing you that those around you are trying to sabotage the epic control that you *think* you have over your own life.
Friends warning you that you’re exercising too much? Yeah well, they’re just jealous because they wish they had the gumption to do what you’re doing!
Family inviting you out for meals or buying you little treats? They’re trying to interfere and subtly make you gain weight! They’re going to undo all of the hard work anorexia has built up over its terrorising time of reign.
So you know what? You’re better off without them. You don’t need their negative input.
If you dare to stand up to this voice and reason that perhaps your loved ones have a point, it will change its tactic. Instead of acting as that faux friend who claims to want the best for you while gleefully ruining your life, it will instead tell you that you’re basically a piece of shit. It will sneer that nobody likes you, that those around you think you’re a boring bitch and a waste of space. It will steal your voice and your personality, leaving an exhausted silence in its wake.
After a while, the accusations of the voice dissolve into your pores and you start to believe them.
When friends, family and colleges strike up a conversation with you, you believe it’s from a place of pity, or quite simply a cruel joke. Because why would anyone want to talk to you? You are a boring bitch and a waste of space.
Your responses are muddled, and any form of communication leaves you weary as anorexia picks holes in your every word. It almost feels like a degree of social anxiety.
A change in personality is a major, MAJOR sign of anorexia that is so often overlooked.
I myself have suffered from this shattering symptom on numerous occasions. You almost forget who you are. You become anorexia; a dark, heavy shadow dragging its feet along the floor, helplessly viewing the world from an underwater dungeon.
Eventually you tell yourself that you’re better off alone. You don’t want to burden your loved ones with your issues any more, and you’re acutely aware that you have absolutely nothing to contribute. You’re no fun – every aspect of your personality has been scratched away.
You’re in too deep in your controlling relationship with anorexia to muster up the energy to seek a life outside of its claustrophobia.
You cut everyone off before they can cut you off. They’re better off without you anyway. You can do this on your own. Anorexia becomes your only friend, even though deep down you know you’re entering dangerous territory. From here on in, it’s a one way street to self-destruction.
Living life with only anorexia by your side is the most depressing existence I have ever experienced.
Anorexia boots all traces of your former self to the ground and seizes the controls of your mind, influencing your every decision. You begin to function on auto-pilot, crawling through a black and white, monotone life.
In order to stand tall against anorexia, you need people. Of course anorexia will disagree with this and do everything in its power to prevent this from happening. It was display every tactic available to stop this attack in its tracks. It wants you to be alone, because that way you’re easier to manipulate.
Anorexia-induced isolation is something I have struggled with this year. I hadn’t even noticed that I had slipped back into this detrimental web of behaviour until lockdown lifted and I still had no desire to meet up with my friends.
Anorexia is so addictive. It is the savviest illness out there, and can so eloquently convince you that it has only good intentions. It takes a great deal of strength to see through its tantalising promises.
For the past year or so, I have been unwittingly bejewelled by my anorexia. I have followed its trail of distorted pledges, which have led me further and further away from those who really care about me and have my best intentions at heart.
If you’re familiar with my journey and have read my other posts, you’ll know that my anorexia thrives upon self-discipline, impossible perfection and a need for strict control over my own life. Over the past few months, anorexia has somehow persuaded me to believe that socialising with my friends has no place in my tight routine. Anorexia says that meeting up with friends is an unnecessary activity that will only hinder my determination to heap my days full of overbearing productivity. Even a few hours away from my writing or running would surely result in a lifetime of failure.
At the end of September, I turned 28.
I wasn’t looking forward to my birthday; I’d had to cancel my much-needed solo trip to Malta due to Covid restrictions, and on top of
this had been struck down by a hideous [non-Covid!!!] cough and cold. Having unintentionally bowed out of my friendship group months ago and slipped off the radar while taking an unhealthy refuge with my demons, I wasn’t expecting to hear from my friends. I certainly didn’t consider myself worthy of their time or well-wishes! Anorexia is a selfish illness, and it has taken me away from my friends when they perhaps need my support themselves. I’m not proud of the hold that this illness sometimes has over me.
On the evening before my birthday, I received a box of stunning flowers from my friend Georgina. My friend Molly snuck round and hid a bag of cookies, sweets and chocolates behind the porch for when I got back from my birthday meal.
The messages I got from not only my nearest and dearest but also old friends weren’t of the standard ‘happy birthday x’ but detailed paragraphs and photo collages, laced with in-jokes and happy memories.
I felt so touched and even got a bit emosh!
“People actually care about me,’ I said to my husband.
“Obviously...” my husband replied, sounding surprised.
My beautiful birthday flowers from my lovely friend Georgina 🥰
I’ve always been so fortunate to be surrounded by the most incredible group of friends. ‘Incredible’ sounds too pathetic a compliment when describing my girls, but I’m struggling to find words fitting and fierce enough to sum up their ferocious loyalty, limitless support and beautiful hearts.
I’ve collected my girls like grand treasures over the years, and many of them represent a different time in my life. Shelley has been my bestie since day one of high school, and the memories we constantly giggle over are worth their weight in gold. We’ve been through it all together, from cringey crushes on X-Factor stars, to an undying obsession with Jacqueline Wilson books.
Molly crashed into my life during my rowdy college years, and so our reminisces often centre around bad decisions and questionable choices in eyebrow width.
Karina, my voice of reason and my go-to for ANY of life’s burning questions, was originally my supervisor at my first proper job. Six years later, she ended up being one of my bridesmaids! Karina’s resilience and benevolence will always mean more to me than she’ll ever realise, for she was the first person I ever told about my anorexia. We were working together at the time, and I was trying to make sense of the force that was crushing my life to pieces. I had no idea that the force had a name; I just knew I had a problem, and I knew that I couldn’t do this on my own. Karina was my light in the darkness during those first painful months of acceptance and fight.
Georgina is my absolute soul mate from my repping days. Out of all of the countries, all of the seasons and all of the hotels, I still can’t quite believe that I was lucky enough to end up working with Georgina. She’s a true friend for life.
Caroline, my infinitely thoughtful boss brightens my working days by treating me to dark chocolate Bountys and subtly putting any worries I have into perspective. Caroline has an admirably wise way of problem solving and tackling issues head on with refreshing optimism.
I met the lovely Lauren in the toilets of The Ritz nightclub in 2012, and we’ve always stayed in touch. Lauren always takes the time to wish me happy birthday, and I love that such a random meeting has blossomed into a decade long friendship!
Amy is legit the coolest girl I know. She’s on her own remarkable journey of success… yet she’s one of the most humble people I know, and will always find the time to big up others. I’m in awe of her classiness, dedication and attitude, and how she remains so grounded despite being an actual powerhouse of a woman!
Pegah and I have been through a lot together, and I’m honoured to have shared all of life’s ups and down with such a strong lady. We met aged 19 at our first adult job and went from bonding over our love of the song ‘No Scrubs,’ to attending each other’s weddings and bawling our eyes out with pride. Pegah has always been my cheerleader, and I take great comfort in knowing that she’s always at the end of the phone if ever I need her.
Sometimes, all a gal needs is Carla and a spontaneous Pizza Hut night in town. Carla and I might only get together once or twice a year, but she’s someone I couldn’t live without. Her random White Chicks WhatsApp gifs make me laugh out loud no matter what’s going on in the outside world.
Danielle is my sunshine girl, always sprinkling my life with her remarkable positivity. I thank my lucky stars that our paths crossed and we ended up working together at the travel agents back in 2016. Her infectious cackle and happy-go-lucky nature have been my godsends on so many occasions.
Abbie is a colleague of mine, and is kind beyond words. Her beauty radiates inside out. Every night when she leaves the office, she wishes everyone a good evening. It’s little random acts of kindness like that from beautiful souls like Abbie that help to extinguish the fire of isolation.
My gorgeous Uncle and Aunty are so important to me. Whether it’s a simple text detailing a memory of my beloved grandma (my uncle’s mum), or giving me and the hamster a lift to our first home on moving-in day – I know they’ve always got my back. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but our unbreakable Bradley bond runs deep.
When anorexia hisses that I’m a failure because I’ve eaten a biscuit outside of my strict designated ‘treat day’ and I feel like my whole life is crashing down in a sickening lack of control, all it takes to give me a little lift of hope is Abbie telling me to have a nice evening, or Carla sending me a link to Its Tricky by Run DMC, or Molly ringing me and saying, “OMG remember that time you wore a full Juicy Couture tracksuit to college you chav!”
There are so many more people I could write about in this post. I am richer than I often care to realise, because my life glistens with the love of these treasured individuals and their empowering presences. Their impacts on my daily life may be little or large, but every single act of kindness is invaluable.
My friends and family gloriously embellish my life with such unbelievable love in so many little ways every day, and that really is the strongest tonic against anorexia’s suppression. They give me hope and remind me that actually, I am worth fighting for. I want to be the daughter, niece, partner, friend and colleague they all know and cherish, and not the downtrodden version that this illness sometimes portrays me as.
I hope my loved ones know how much I appreciate them.
Their mere presence reminds me of me, and the person I was – the person I can be – without the cape of this illness weighing me down. I want to bring that person back, if not only for myself, but for them too. I want to eat food with them, laugh with them, dance on tables with them. I want to make new memories, and celebrate life with them.
I’m not sharing this post for sympathy or even as an excuse to my loved ones as to why I’ve been so withdrawn over the past few months. I’m sharing this post to raise awareness of anorexia and all of its complexities. You might be lost in the waves of anorexia yourself and this post might spark some recognition within you. Or, you might currently be concerned about a loved one’s sudden removal from socialisation and this post may provide you with some answers or clarity. If my explanation helps to shed some light, my speaking out won’t be in vain.
My number one rock - my Mum!
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©