Holly holding onto new hope in eating disorder recovery process
- Credit: Holly Butler
An Ipswich woman is sharing her story of anorexia in the hope it addresses misconceptions around the illness.
Holly Butler has spent 10 years in treatment for anorexia nervosa, from her first diagnosis in 2011 to her eventual discharge earlier this year.
Speaking about her initial diagnosis, she said: "I was a relatively normal weight but struggled immensely with body image, body dysmorphia and eating behaviours.
"I left school and completed college alongside working part time. After leaving college in 2014, I began working full time, was in a stable relationship and outwardly didn't show any struggles."
In 2015, her health began to deteriorate and she was admitted to hospital in March of that year to begin inpatient treatment.
She set a goal to be back home within six weeks - but that wasn't to be; she went on to spend countless birthdays in hospital, including her 18th and 21st.
Miss Butler has said she's "on a road to recovery" but is taking the courageous decision to speak up and raise awareness about a mental illness that more than 1.5m people in the UK are thought to have.
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She said: "There's a lot of misunderstanding around eating disorders. It's not a vanity phase.
"I found when I was diagnosed with depression people were really supportive, but when I was diagnosed with an eating disorder there was a shift. Some thought it was just a cry for attention, but I didn't want to be this way.
"And it's not as simple to fix as 'just eat something', even though so many loved ones wish it was.
"I understand it; when we see someone's cut themselves and bleeding we're conditioned to put a plaster over it. So people think if someone is too thin, they need to eat. But it's a much slower process and it doesn't have a quick fix.
"Once you've been surviving on so few calories a day for weeks at a time, your body has a chemical imbalance that means eating too much at once could kill you."
Only in hindsight does Holly realise how "scary" the past decade has been, with death a real possibility due to how underweight she was.
"Now it’s scary because of how close I was to dying. My family were maybe more aware of it than me, they had a cognitive awareness that I just couldn’t have."
Now, after 10 years of treatment, Holly acknowledges that the recovery process will be a daily effort, with both mental and physical challenges to overcome.
She's lost much-loved friends to anorexia and knows too well how differently her story could have ended, but said: "I want to be alive now, that's the difference. I know that recovery isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but I wake up every morning now free from hospital routines and have a new hope.
"It feels like there are things on the agenda for me that never felt possible. I'm buying a house. I'm going to university to train to be a midwife. I want to travel."
Speaking about the decision to share her story, Miss Butler said: "I just feel like it's time to let people in - and do what I can to help others.
"Nobody ever knows exactly what someone else is going through, even if they've been in a similar situation. But I feel like if I'd had someone like me tell me at my lowest it could get better, it would have helped."
A spokesman for Suffolk-based eating disorder social enterprise Wednesday's Child said: "Those who have struggled with an eating disorder for a period of time may find themselves in a state of ambivalence or procrastination - wanting to be out of the hell of the illness, and yet fearful of letting go of the rules and rituals which have kept them stuck in their behaviours.
"At Wednesday's Child, we would always remind that person, and indeed, anyone supporting someone in that situation, that recovery is indeed wholly possible, but you have to commit to it, be prepared for the emotional struggles and mental conflicts, and constantly remind yourself of the life you want with full freedom from eating disordered behaviours."
The NHS recommends those struggling try and speak to a GP as soon as possible, but you can also talk in confidence to an adviser from Beat by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.