Alex Williams used to be held back by a lack of self-esteem but now she’s ready to live a little

While anyone who sees me thinks I look fine, people close to me realise the struggles I have around my identity and body image. From childhood I had a sense I was bigger than other people. On photos and video I compared myself with the size of those with me. In my mind my head was huge and my legs too chunky, I thought I was out of proportion. In reality I was a slim to medium build and never overweight.

At 16, while my peers were experimenting with appearance and lifestyle, I was entrenched in anorexia. I felt as if I was aged 12.
My periods stopped for six years. I had always felt different but this was heightened and I was in self-imposed exile.

I went to university to do a joint degree in English and American studies to please people. I didn’t interact with others and rarely spoke. At the time I wanted to fade to nothing. Finishing university abruptly to receive treatment I became a perfect patient – quiet and compliant during refeeding.

I’d hang on to every word of my doctors as authority figures. I managed to suppress the massive anxiety I felt about weight gain except when I would shout at visitors or cut my arms. Even when I was near a normal weight and had to do body maps (where you draw a life-size shape of yourself and someone else then draws your actual outline) in therapy I would draw a huge blob three times my actual size.

Then, at 24, I left anorexia behind and was newly diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. I felt I stood out in the street, if people saw me they would look twice and make comments to each other. I always had my head down and would sometimes walk into things. The irony was that people were more likely to have stared when I was anorexic than when I was a healthy weight.

Today, aged 28, I still have never had a boyfriend, tasted alcohol or been to a nightclub. I have layers of scars showing the battle with my self image. My community psychiatric nurse says I have had an arrested development. But I am changing and think more positively about my body. I was treated in three different residential units for my eating disorder and eventually settled in the South East.

I have a flat I love, it is my sanctuary and everything is arranged as I want it. I no longer seek reassurance about my appearance. I have found my personal style in clothes. My weight has varied between seven and a half and 10 stone since leaving the units and I am now at a level I am happy with.

I continue to reinvent myself. I have changed from someone who felt they were a non-person to a woman with growing confidence. It has involved psychodynamic work with my CPN and not letting myself become isolated. I’ve missed out on a lot of life experience but it is exciting that I have so much ahead of me to look forward to – so much learning, experimentation and fun.

Alex Williams uses mental health services and is a volunteer

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.