Anorexia nervosa: "I have always been into the extremes!"
Published 25 Aug 2021 • By Candice Salomé
kurousa, a member of Carenity France, is battling anorexia nervosa. Between deprivation, extreme sport and hospitalisation, she shares with us her journey with the disease.
Read her story below!
Hello kurousa, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us here on Carenity
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hello, thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell you my story.
My name is Sabrina, I am 28 years old, and I have been in a relationship for 9 years. I have lived with my partner since the beginning of our relationship.
I come from a family of three children (a sister and a brother, older than me), and I left home very quickly (at the age of 18). My mother suffered from severe depression (3 episodes that I can remember since I was born). Her episodes lasted for many months, even years.
I am currently an accountant in a regional company where I am fully fulfilled after my burnout.
I have a very curious and dynamic personality, and I have many passions: nature, sport (walking, running, yoga...), motorbiking, reading, piano and especially spending time with friends or family.
As a child, I was very shy and had a lot of trouble asserting myself, but today I have gained a little confidence in myself. Nevertheless, I constantly need to be reassured about my physical appearance (Does my partner think I am pretty? Does he like my clothes, my haircut?), on my personality (Am I boring, always complaining? Am I funny, endearing or something else?) and about my eating habits (Did I eat enough or too much? Did I eat too fast? Did I eat healthy enough?)
Photo courtesy of kurousa
You're battling anorexia. Could you tell us how it appeared in your life? How long have you had it? Do you know what may have triggered it?
I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in April 2020 (at the age of 26) after a simple check-up with the doctor for pain in one leg (anorexia-related pain).
The illness came on gradually as a result of various problems. I don't know the real cause, but I imagine it was a mix between the global health crisis, my mother's depression during this period, plans to change jobs (too much responsibility due to the merger of two companies) and to buy a flat.
My dream job for as long as I can remember was a policewoman. When I was told about the changes in duties and functions in the company where I had been working for several years, I decided to do everything I could to prepare myself for the physical tests to enter the Police Academy.
Having always been into the extremes (all or nothing), I don't really know how to limit myself. When I set out on a project, I give 1000% or nothing.
I used to run, do weight training and was even followed by a sports coach for one hour a week to prepare myself.
As a child and teenager, I hated sport, but after finishing my training as an accountant, I set myself a sporting challenge: an amateur race organised in my region for companies. The first time we trained with my colleagues (all older than me), my level was by far the worst. So, I decided to train on my own on the other days of the week.
Soon enough, my stamina improved, and I realised that the doors of the Police Academy would not be closed to me for much longer and that with my willpower I would be able to achieve all my dreams.
Then, I quickly lost a few extra kilos and decided to eat better (healthier, less sugar, less salt, less fat) until I excluded many foods from my daily life. People around me started to notice my weight loss and congratulated me.
At that time of my life, I was psychologically weak, and I "voluntarily" decided to become anorexic. By losing weight, I told myself that it was a good way to be noticed (for once in my life, I was no longer invisible, but I drew attention to myself), to be taken care of (after having taken care of my mother, I needed to be taken care of) and it was a way to show that my professional activity was not going well (I dreamt of feeling ill - I sometimes fainted at night on my way to the toilet - at work or worse, of having my heart stop during the night to stop this indescribable suffering).
The anorexia lasted about 1 year in all, at least the most dangerous and critical phase did. I think I'm finally cured, even if the question of food and the quantities ingested will certainly haunt me all my life. I would like to point out that I fortunately did not suffer from dysmorphophobia. I saw myself as I was, and it was the vision of my weak body that pushed me to get out of it because I was disgusted.
Are you currently being treated for your anorexia? What do you think of the care you've received?
I was quickly seen by my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist. I see her me monthly. I have sessions with her where we review my private and professional life, my food, my sleep, my mood and above all my feelings. At the beginning of 2021, she prescribed an antidepressant which I take every morning.
Sometimes I wonder if psychological treatment would not be more appropriate. I'm a bit ashamed, but psychologists are not reimbursed by the French health insurance fund, so I haven't made an appointment.
Have you ever been hospitalised for your anorexia? If so, what did you get out of the experience?
My psychiatrist, after several months of follow-up, suggested that I be admitted to a rehabilitation clinic. For my part, I was happy because I wanted to be taken care of. My loved ones were rather sceptical, however.
After a few days of reflection, I decided to trust my psychiatrist and agreed to go to the clinic, especially since my mother had been in the same clinic. I stayed there from the end of February 2021 to the end of March 2021.
The hospitalisation taught me to apply breathing and relaxation techniques. I was followed by a psychologist and participated in daily physiotherapy sessions (relaxation, massage, walking, Pilates, qi qong...). I also took part in occupational therapy sessions and met with a dietician every week. Every week, a session was organised with the clinic's doctors to review my case.
What was particularly difficult for me was eating alone in my room (due to the health crisis) and selecting my own meals (3 to choose from).
However, I promised myself that I would eat everything I was given without repeating my habits of dividing my dishes, selecting the healthiest meals and refusing to eat certain foods. I would like to clarify that I have always loved to eat. Even during my anorexia, but I forced myself to eat less and less to prove to myself that I had control over what I ate (well, I felt like I had control but in reality, I had completely lost control).
What impact has anorexia had on your personal and professional life?
I quickly gave up all my hobbies. Nothing gave me pleasure anymore and I was no longer 'allowed' to enjoy anything, I forbade myself.
A friend of mine who also suffered from anorexia spoke to me about 'anaesthetising' her life. I didn't understand this expression. Today, having regained a taste for life, I fully understand this phrase.
At work, I used to stay away from my colleagues, I no longer took breaks with them. Several heads of department (including the director) became concerned and called me individually to talk about it. Soon, I could no longer keep up with the pace and was "killing myself" by working endless overtime.
My partner experienced my repeated nervous breakdowns, but he is still there today, and I will never know how to thank him for supporting me.
My family was also very concerned about me and helped me to get back on my feet. It was thanks to my mum that I realised I wouldn't be able to work for a while. One day, crying in the office, she came to get me and contacted the doctor because I didn't dare to. For me, I wasn't really ill.
In my mind, a psychological illness wasn't a real illness, and I didn't feel like I was in a bad enough state for my liking, even though I was obviously at my lowest point. She visited me very regularly in the clinic, as well as my whole family and my partner.
How are your relationships with your family and friends? Do they understand what you've been going through? Are they supportive?
I have been lucky enough to meet some incredible people during my sick leave and I am in contact with them very often and we support each other through our trials. My relatives understood the disease well (long before I did). They have always been extremely supportive and without them I would have given up for good.
You've also experienced burnout. Could you tell us about the circumstances? What impact did it have on your life?
Following the merger of the two companies, my role in the company changed and I was given much greater responsibility. As a new system of organisation had to be put in place, it was difficult for me (I'm someone who likes to have my hand held and be supervised) to find a balance between private and professional life. In fact, my private life was, in my opinion, put on hold during this year 2020 and the beginning of 2021.
Do you think that your anorexia and burnout are related?
For me, the two are closely linked, even if it is sometimes difficult to find a cause-and-effect relationship. Mental illnesses are very complex. However, one of the symptoms of anorexia in some people is hyperactivity. In my private life (excessive sport) as well as in my professional life, I was trying to outdo myself in order to accomplish as many tasks as possible (at the expense of quality) and to work endless hours until the point of exhaustion.
What are your plans for the future?
My main plan is to finish renovating our flat with my partner and to be more fulfilled in my daily work. When I got back from the clinic, I applied to several companies. My applications led to several interviews and two positive responses (which gave me renewed confidence).
One company that offered me a contract wanted a very quick response and I had not yet started working again (I was convinced that I would not be able to return to my company).
I asked for a meeting with my 2 superiors to explain the situation and ask if a change was possible. They told me that my contract would be changed and that I would be relieved of the responsibilities that had brought me to this state.
So, I turned down the job at the new company and started working again. Everything is going well for me in this respect today, only a few months after the work stoppage.
I would like to point out that during my 3 months off work, not a minute went by without me thinking about work and feeling my chest tightening up until one or two weeks before returning to normal life.
Now I want to enjoy life in general and resume the activities I gave up.
Finally, what advice would you give to Carenity members who are also affected by anorexia or have experienced burnout?
One piece of advice would be to talk about it. It's important to open up the discussion because so many people are affected by mental illness in general. Everyone has suffered or knows someone who has suffered. If you have any doubts, do not hesitate to consult a health professional and do not be ashamed. My heart goes out to you, and I am at your disposal if you wish to discuss this.
Especially with regard to burnout, work is not a priority! Your private life and especially your health come first in any case.
Any final words?
Thank you for giving each person the opportunity to share their journey. I hope I have been clear and not left out any details. However, I would like to add that during my anorexia, I felt like it wasn't me that was going through it (which I think may have been a sort of side effect or part of some trauma in my teenage years I hadn't processed). I don't regret what I've been through at all because I've learned so much and today, I do everything I can to take care of myself. Many things I experienced during that period don't necessarily come back to my mind. In the end, I only keep the positive lessons.
Many thanks to kurousa for sharing your story with us on Carenity!
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