Laura Bennett, 23, is studying for her Masters in Psychology at Brunel University London. To mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week (27th Feb - 5th March) Laura has written for the Huffington Post on why she will be running the London Marathon this year to raise money for the eating disorders support charity Beat.
"There are currently around 725,000 people in the UK affected by eating disorders, and these illnesses are responsible for the highest mortality rates of any mental illness.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from 27th Feb - 5th March and in aid of this I wanted to share something that might help someone struggling with similar issues. Although it may feel like it, sincerely, you’re not alone.
I’m Laura, a theatre graduate currently studying for a Masters in Psychology at Brunel University London. I’m also working a couple of jobs, training for the London Marathon and attempting to hold onto my sanity.
I’m running the marathon for Beat - a charity that does vital work supporting those affected by eating disorders, and one very close to my heart.
Writing something like this and then casting it out into the ether is a pretty daunting thing, as most of the things I struggle with in life feed off a silence of sorts. But secrecy is fuel to mental disorders and the best way to combat this is quite simply, to speak.
So, here goes. Self-destruction is a silent killer. It is invisible, insidious and more powerful than many would think. The choice of living or dying, of relapsing or recovering, surrendering or fighting, is one of the hardest many will likely face. In a lot of cases, the more worried those around a sufferer gets, the more the disorder is fuelled; even the greatest intentions can fall on deaf ears or act as triggers, adding to the web of complexity that each eating disorder is laced with.
At 16 I developed an eating disorder. I began to break myself down section by section, regimentally fixated on a goal of disappearing, consumed so violently by self-hatred I found countless ways to continuously hit my self-destruct button.
I sat in my bedroom, three years later, about to go to university, listening to music that took me elsewhere with tears streaming down my face, making the hardest decision of my life. A decision that your head tells you is failure. A decision to take control and save my own life.
I’m now proudly recovered, but there are certain things, as many recovered sufferers will tell you, that will probably stay with me for life. I prefer to think of them as quirks, and each reminds me exactly how far I’ve come.
Learning to understand and even like your body is an all-consuming experience. Struggling with food is unique in that we require it to live. People who have severe issues surrounding food are not only faced with a battle for survival, but they are confronted with food at least three times a day for the rest of their lives.
I’ve always related the grip of an eating disorder to two parallel train tracks with trains speeding down them. One of these tracks is your true identity, the other is the disorder. At some point when your back is turned, one train is lost and you don’t know which one remains. You can no longer trust your thoughts. Are they yours or the disorders?
My friends from university may not even know I had suffered - you get a fresh start at university and I tried to leave the public aspects of my private plight behind me.
But whilst there the vulnerability I didn’t even realise I possessed or exuded was instrumental in someone using my issues as a means of control, knowing that their comments acted as triggers to my illness and putting obstacles in my recovery plans. This person was a temporary hindrance to my recovery, preying on my vulnerability which was a revelatory experience, as I had no idea quite how exposed my disorder made me.
My mental health took a turn for the worse, but by the end of my first year I had met my boyfriend (now of four years!). Initially, I unwittingly did all I could to push him away in order to hide what remained of my disorder, but he helped me through, maintaining an understanding and respect of my vulnerability which he continues to this day.
After university, I began working on an eating disorder ward.
Helping other people who were exhausted by the battle they faced helped me to appreciate the journey I had been on. Objectively seeing the unadulterated pain being felt by each patient is a sobering experience for anyone. I was grateful that I no longer had to worry those around me who loved me. I still feel so grateful to have come out of the water I felt like I was drowning in for so long.
The pressures we face to have a certain type of body are often overwhelming, overtly sexualised imagery projects one image of what is to be strived for and leave many people feeling disgusted with the wonderful homes that their bodies are.
Your body allows you to move, to sleep, to laugh, to think, your body is your comfort and your strength. Anything that switches your brain to believe your body not good enough, that it is unacceptable and must be destroyed does not deserve to be cultivated. It strips you of your true identity, coercing you into believing that your true self is your disorder and that you will be nothing without it.
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault if you feel disconnected with the body that houses you. You are not to blame and you are not alone in these feelings. Find your escape, find your harmony, find the music that soothes you, be it Bon Iver or Bring Me The Horizon, there is no shame in escaping from your mind for a moment.
Please, if you relate to any of this, know that it is possible to recover, to rediscover balance, there are things in place to help you and I know it’s a scary step to take but I am living proof that you won’t regret it; there is no shame in asking for help and no greater strength than the overcoming of inner turmoil, even though your mind will tell you this is weakness, do not listen to it, listen to me. You are not weak for suffering, you are strong for surviving despite this.
So, I run this marathon for the woman on a tube hiding her tummy, ashamed, for the people who can’t go shopping because it is genuinely harrowing, can’t eat in front of others due to fear of judgement. I run this marathon to show what is possible, as a public liberation of a very private battle. For every mother pressured to ‘get her body back’, for every man who feels shame for even worrying about his size, for those consumed with notions of misguided self-destruction, I am running this for you."
Visit Laura's fundraising page to see how you can get involved with her marathon efforts and support Beat: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LauraRoseBennett
This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post Young Voices blog on Thursday 2nd March 2017