Back in 2012, pounding the streets, I would think to myself “if only my PE teachers could see me now!” At school I was never sporty. I liked to walk but mostly I hated sport. My love of netball disappeared when I stopped growing and stayed too short to reach the ball. I was relegated to “special PE”- plastic rackets and foam balls style sport.
Anorexia convinced me I was succeeding at exercise finally. I was doing so much more exercise than I had ever done. But anorexia is a trickster. I wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t getting fitter. I was torturing myself. Before being admitted I was walking hours a day, at least 10km every day. I was forcing myself to skip manic-ly for every extra calorie consumed. I reached a point where I was so unwell I wasn’t allowed to use the stairs at my outpatients and yet I was constantly moving as soon as I finished my appointment. I remember walking down fulham road, freezing cold and praying I could get home without collapsing. I would walk past Chelsea and Westminster hospital wondering whether I should go in as my head was spinning, my chest was agony and I could barely stay upright. And still I made myself keep exercising.
And then came the day where I was admitted as a day patient. Only it didn’t work, I was so terrified of the food I was being made to consume I left the unit after every meal and speed walked for hours. I was still sure my exercise was healthy, everyone always says you should walk more right? But as I spiralled down I was caught and fully admitted to the ward. My head went into overdrive. I couldn’t go on my walks. I couldn’t go to the gym or for a run. Why were they stopping me being fit when everyone always said exercise was a good thing? That was when I hit my lowest times with my exercise. I used to lock myself in the unit shower room for hours, exercising to the point where I had sores on my spine and bruises on the backs of my hips. I refused to sit down after night snack until 2am when I would finally let myself rest.
It took a very long time for me to start rebuilding my enjoyment of exercise. I had programmed myself to rely so heavily on extremes and numbers I had to teach myself how to exercise safely. I no longer go running, for me that was just a form of punishment. But I walk the dogs with my family and once a week do a two hour keep fit session. I’m learning I need to fuel my workouts, how I survived on so little whilst doing so much I really don’t know. It’s still hard sometimes to switch my brain off. I have to make a conscious effort to exercise “at my level”. I used to think that meant working at the highest intensity without taking a break, always wanting to burn the most, do more repeats with less rest. Now I see that sometimes I have to step back listen to my body when it’s tired. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.