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Letter from Kate to Anna (2011)

May 2011, published with permission of the author

Dear Kate,

Everything you say sounds so familiar. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through it themselves can fully understand what agony the illness is: you feel persecuted by your own mind, unable to control your own thoughts, unable to focus on anything except food, on how to avoid eating and to compensate for the little that the illness allows you to eat. As you say, it’s exhausting: the incessant voice in your head making you plan how to eat as little as possible and then to deceive those around you into thinking you’ve eaten more; the regret and guilt; the endless calorie counting (I became so good at maths!). It takes over your whole life and makes you into a horrible person. It destroys everything – relationships with your family, friendships, happiness, studying, laughter – and takes away all pleasure from life; you’re unable to concentrate and focus on anything else. Every day becomes a chore, long and painful. Deep down, of course, you know it’s not the real “you”, you vaguely remember life without it, but it becomes impossible to imagine, impossible to believe you can ever get better and be normal again. As you say, the illness desperately tries to make you think it’s all ok, that that sort of life is acceptable.

But it’s not. You deserve nothing less than full recovery, and it’s within reach. It may seem so distant now, but before you know it,
you’ll have your life back, your real self back.

I can imagine exactly how you must be feeling. I remember in the early days of the recovery programme I was pretty much eating all the time, or at least it felt like it. Part of me was so happy to be eating foods I’d been denied for so long, but the illness made me feel so scared and guilty and horrified. But every mouthful is a step to recovery, every mouthful is bringing your mind one step closer to normality again, when you won’t have to agonise over every bite you take, every food choice you make, and feel guilty for every bit of pleasure and enjoyment you take in food. But you just have to trust your mother. I remember how the illness at times made me hate my mum when she was refeeding me, and think she was trying to ruin my life and make me miserable by forcing me to eat. It tries to destroy your closest, most special relationship, and take away the person who loves you and cares for you the most, who’s willing to do anything to get you better.

But it won’t succeed; it didn’t in my case, and it won’t in yours. I have so much confidence that you will get better, I just hope it won’t be too painful for you getting there. As I said, it’ll probably be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and the internal mental torment will get worse before it gets better, but you just have to keep believing that you’ll be able to beat it. I know you will. And however long it takes, it’s worth it.

Please get in touch whenever and however often you need to. I’m there for you, rooting for you to win and fighting the illness with you in spirit.

Love, Anna xx

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