Real Stories: Life as a vet recovering from anorexia

A veterinary surgeon has generously agreed to share her personal experience of anorexia and the steps she took to recover, in the hope that it will encourage others to seek help:

If I could turn back time seven years and show myself the life that I am living now I would not have thought it possible. In fact, suffering the paranoia that I did back then, I would probably have thought that it was a trap, designed to lure me into eating and being the fat, worthless person that I believed myself to be. It is often thought that anorexia is something that vain people do in order to become thin, but for me it started as a way of punishing myself and very nearly ended up killing me.

I clearly remember the day that I was accepted at veterinary school. I thought that it was the happiest moment of my life. I told myself that I would be the best vet in the whole world, I know now that I was setting myself up for a fall. It would be easy to blame the pressures at vet school for my anorexia, but my problems with self esteem and body image were deep rooted from an early age. I had always been a perfectionist and aspired to be a high achiever. I had spent so many years convincing myself that being a vet was what was going to define me as a person, that I had forgotten how to be myself. I continually set myself goals that were unachievable and when I failed to meet them it only enhanced my self-loathing and I became more and more depressed. I began to hurt myself in the way that I knew best, by starving myself. Finally, I had found something that I was good at..or so the anorexia made me think!

I had created the anorexia because I was afraid of life, or I was afraid of the pressurised life that I had enforced upon myself. It quickly made me become a vulnerable, helpless child, far removed from the professional woman that I had set out to be. By the time that I realised this, however, I was trapped within an illness that I didn’t know how to escape from, or indeed if I wanted to escape from it at all.

I literally had to hit rock bottom and unravel every single part of my personality before I could start to piece myself back together. Thankfully, with the help of a specialist eating disorders unit, and a spark from the spirit deep within me, somehow I managed to battle the disease. I had to take time away from my studies to do so, but in that time I learned far more about life and living than any university could teach me. I gained the strength to survive and the courage to move on. Even now, I continue to build myself up, and from time to time pieces do fall away and I stumble, but through my experiences and knowledge I believe that I will always have a solid base to stand tall from and I never want to venture back into that world.

I am lucky in that I did finally manage to achieve my goal and become a vet, but I am blessed in the fact that I know that this is not what defines me as a person. What is important is how I act towards others and the world around me every day. I may not be the best surgeon, or have the best academic knowledge, but I do know that I try my best every single day, I care deeply for every animal that is under my care, and I can empathise with their owners. Everyone has their own unique qualities making them good at what they do, which is what makes us all special. Of course I make mistakes, but instead of engulfing myself with guilt and torturing myself over them which I once would have done, I try to always learn from them. My experiences have made me realise that life would be very bland if it did not have ups and downs. By experiencing mistakes and sorrows we are truly able to appreciate our joy and achievements!

I have to say, that it has not been an easy road through recovery and even now I sometimes catch myself thinking of anorexia as the warmth and familiarity of a childhood friend, or a comfort blanket that I long to reach out for when I am feeling vulnerable or stressed. We cannot hide from the fact that this vocation is pressurised and sometimes highly stressful. We deal with life and death on a daily basis so it is inevitable that from time to time we are going to feel down but I now realise that it is how we deal with this depression that is important. It is only when I remind myself of the horrors that I went through because of that illness that I am able to jolt myself back into reality. The temptation of anorexia, I feel, will always remain there, but only now there is a big black hole separating me from it and I am no longer trapped within that space. Instead, I am now safely on the other side and each year that distance is growing as I continue to build a life for myself. The security of a job, a home, good friends and the responsibilities that come along with these things help to keep me safe. I no longer feel trapped by my pain and I view each day as a new opportunity to learn and live. It is ironic that the illness that almost took away my life has instead given me a new lease of life, and for that I am thankful every day.

Vetlife has been there to support me through this extremely difficult period of my life.