Nicola Ironside

2nd August 2013
My name is Nicola Ironside and I am 25 years old. I’m here to share my story and offer hope to those who need it.

I used to think that I would never be happy, never see my body for what it truly is, have a normal relationship with food and function in normal society.

I suffered with Anorexia for 10 years and I never realised how sick I really was. Nothing would make me see the damage I was doing to my body-I brushed aside several serious and life-threatening medical complications. None of these things worried me because Anorexia made me believe it was all a sign that I was strong and in control. Little did I realise that it was the absolute opposite. I was so out of control that I had lost touch with reality. The more I starved, the more paranoid and deluded I became.

But all of this is a memory in my past, a horrible nightmare. When I finally let myself be nutritionally and weight restored I started to see things differently. I started to question everything and literally fight with my head. I started to realise that I wasn’t at all happy and I was so exhausted. I didn’t enjoy my monotonous daily routine and I started to have dreams of things I wanted to do. When I let myself listen to these other thoughts, I realised that was the true Nicola begging to be heard and that the other voice was a horrible parasite that I referred to as ‘ana’. Once I was able to separate myself from ‘ana’, I realised more and more that I was being controlled by this voice in my head and I needed to start fighting back or I would lose everything, including my life.

For me, what made me want to recover was a combination of things over time. The relationships with my family, in particular my sisters, was fast being destroyed because they could not cope with the fear of what might happen to me. For my sisters, seeing my parents live 14hrs apart for many years to try keep me alive became all too much. I didn’t see the affect my illness was having on my family until I finally began my recovery journey, and even then I was too proud to acknowledge the heartache and the amount my family had given up to support me. I used to think that they were just being controlling and treating me like a child. The truth of the matter was, that my family put me above everything else in their lives and moved heaven and earth to support me. I couldn’t see this fact because I was only listening to what ‘ana’ was telling me. ‘Ana’ was my only friend and the only voice I thought I could trust – everyone else was a liar (or so I believed). Because of my unwillingness to see the truth, those family relationships fell apart. My family still continued to try to support me but without the relationships all I had left was ‘ana’ and I soon realised this was not a life, I was merely existing. I realised then that things had to change and I started to fight against ‘ana’. I literally owe my life to the strength of my family and their unwillingness to give up on me.

After I had made the decision to actually try and get better, things took another turn. I struggled for many months with serious suicidal thoughts and attempts. Luckily, I never succeeded and I started to have dreams of my future – these kept me going. I met my now fiancé during my most recent treatment and in the ensuing months I began to feel emotions and a connection that I had not felt for many years and I could not let that feeling go because it was a break from the screaming voice of ‘ana’.

Over the next few months I started to reach out for the support my family were still giving me and I continued to invest time into what had developed into a romantic relationship.

I realised that even with all the horrible things I had said and done to my family, they were still there for me. I had a partner who loved me for who he saw underneath my illness, and I began to believe that I did indeed have worth and could be loved. ‘Ana’ was no longer my entire existence. I continued to have admissions to hospital but each time I learnt something else and committed myself to the therapy offered.

Today, I have been in recovery for close to a year and am engaged to my soul mate with a baby on the way. A year ago I never imagined that this would even be possible, but it has happened. I can truly say I have no issues with my body or food and I am very happy and healthy.

The important thing to realise is that recovery is individual for everyone. There is no one ‘light bulb’ moment or specific time for recovery. It’s as individual as an individual’s eating disorder. My main advice is to:

  • separate your eating disorder from yourself because it does not define who you are or your worth;
  • find something that inspires, comforts or encourages you that is not related to your eating disorder;
  • take the risk to listen to your loved ones and medical team;
  • recovery is not a quick journey so don’t ever give up and let your eating disorder back in;
  • relapse is still a part of recovery, as long as you learn something from it each time;
  • don’t ever feel ashamed to ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness;
  • always be honest because eating disorders are liars and that is how it will draw you back in. Honesty also helps in building relationships back up;
  • don’t compare yourself to anyone else because you are unique and have your own path to follow.

I don’t believe I am cured or recovered yet, because the risk of relapse is always there in the first few years of recovery. However, I’ve reached milestones that I never have before and I have no intention of going back to ‘ana’. I am never tempted back to that time in my life because I know that ‘ana’ was hurting me and kept me from living the life that I have today.

I dedicate my life today to embracing every moment and never wasting an opportunity. Life is too precious and all too often cut short.

If you have hopes and dreams that you never thought you’d be able to achieve, think again. Without your eating disorder, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Even if it is something you think is impossible, don’t lose hope. I was told I’d never be able to have children, yet here I am today just shy of 5 months pregnant and engaged to the love of my life. Our beautiful bundle of joy is due to bless us Christmas Day. I could not dream of a better present.

If you’re wondering about my family and where they feature in my life today, well I am rebuilding the relationships that were broken down by ‘ana’. All wounds heal with time and the important thing is to be respectful and patient. My family has a lot of hurt to overcome and everyone heals in their own time, so I need to give my family the time to move forward when they are ready. Remember, your family and friends will always love and support you but it doesn’t mean they are immune to hurt. So be patient and just remain honest. The important thing to me with my family is that we have opened the lines of communication again and I am building back trust and respect.

Never give up hope and never stop fighting. Recovery isn’t easy and not always fun but at least with recovery there are opportunities and successes. In illness, there is the same monotonous cycle of angst, pain and exhaustion, which will only lead you to one place…a life cut short way too soon.

My story is not intended to be a scare-tactic or tell you what to do, because we are all individual. I simply want to show you that you can beat your eating disorder and have the life you deserve and yearn for. Just because someone says you can’t do, have or be something, it doesn’t necessary mean it’s true. That is why I have included snippets of my story – to show you that you could be so low that you cannot see an ‘out’, but with hard work and dedication you can turn it all around. You can do anything you set your mind to.

Nicola Ironside