By Nina Martynchyk former Ellern Mede patient now an eating disorders awareness campaigner

A few years ago, I experienced anorexia nervosa, depression and anxiety which meant I needed inpatient care in a number of hospitals, including a time at Ellern Mede. I am now a lot better, I’m a champion for a mental health charity and recently I held a conference about eating disorders. I contribute to several websites to talk on this subject. In this first article, I want to tell you what it was like for me going to college again soon after leaving Ellern Mede.

I remember standing outside the college doors thinking ‘how am I here?’ My home for seven months had been hospital.The prospect of meeting new people who didn’t know what I was going through was scary. Even more scary was feeling responsible to cope independently with food during the college day. I was still experiencing certain eating disorder thoughts and behaviours. I had a ‘meal plan’ I had to follow.

Gradually I got better at conquering ‘fear foods‘, managed to eat with friends and eating became more of a ‘normalised’ thing for me. One of the most pivotal moments in my recovery was deciding to go and have a meal with some new friends that had no clue what I was going through and who I had only just met. Despite the experience being scary, I managed it and this gave me the confidence to carry on eating out.

I kept challenging myself. I’d learned about the things that led me to develop an eating disorder in the first place and I’d also learned alternative ways to deal with these things. So with perseverance, my eating disorder slowly loosened its grip. I came off my meal plan, started listening to my body more and became less focused on what I was eating.

I would say a large part of my recovery at college was being open about my problems with people around me including the pastoral team. I knew I needed to break down my barriers and let people support me if I wanted to recover. It sounds cliché, but speaking about my struggles to people I trusted and reminding myself every day that the thoughts the eating disorder gave me were lies, was essential to helping me get to the place where I am now. The process of recovery is hard. It’s up and down but it’s so worth the fight.  The freedom of living life without an eating disorder is worth the struggle.