I've battled with the eating disorder bulimia and bouts of depression since I was 13.
Campaigning for mental health and channelling my experiences and energy into fighting for positive change has helped me towards beating bulimia.
Battling an eating disorder is by no means glamorous.
It is secretive. It is sleepless nights. It is mentally and physically exhausting. It is losing jobs. It is living in shame and guilt. It is having a constant calculator in your head adding up the calories of what you've eaten and a voice telling you how many more you're allowed to have. It is feeling guilty for giving your body the fuel it needs to function. It is your skin drying. It is never feeing satisfied with yourself. It is not being able to concentrate. Amongst other things, I find it confusing to have such a bubbly personality but a sad soul.
I could write a book about my experience of battling bulimia but nothing reminds me more of being trapped in the wrath of an eating disorder and waiting too long for help more than the scar I have on my chin.
I have this scar after taking a seizure, a seizure that landed me in hospital where I had to get stitches. Lying in that hospital bed, I felt too ashamed to tell the doctors that I had been making myself sick and taking laxatives. I knew the seizure was caused by my eating disorder but I feared judgment and that I would not be taken seriously.
I went to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), but when I turned 17 I was moved to the adult system whilst also moving to university. I thought moving to university would be a fresh start and that I would leave my eating disorder behind. Instead it spiralled out of control.
At university I was doing amazing things. I was the strong, resilient and adventurous one out of my friends and was always up for a laugh. I was going to be a teacher, so how could I have an eating disorder? I feared that if anyone found out about my eating disorder I would not be able to fulfil my dream.
The scar on my chin reminds me of feeling ashamed to have an eating disorder, but it also reminds me of having to wait too long for help. Had I had a better transition from CAMHS to adult mental health services then perhaps my chin would look a little different now.
I did not fit the societal expectations of what an eating disorder looked like. I was not thin enough yet or ill enough to get the immediate help that I knew I needed.
No one should have to wait months for help for their mental health. It should not have to hit you physically before you are taken seriously, or feel that you have to become more unwell and thinner to fit the label of an eating disorder.
Having an eating disorder is a complex illness and deeper than food. It is an illness that does not discriminate based on your age, gender, class, race, occupation or where you live in the world.
We need to shatter the silence and shame around eating disorders, but crucially having an ask once, get help fast approach to mental health to ensure when people do seek support they get it fast.
To anyone battling an eating disorder, please know that your feelings are valid and that there is hope. People can support and help you through this.
I am lucky that my eating disorder did not take my life but it was close to doing so. Recovery is hard, it is painful, and I've learned it will take time.