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My illness was not a choice

Hi, I’m Amy and I’m a second-year Philosophy student and will be competing at Roses with York Hornet’s Cheerleading and Dance Society. One of the chosen charities for Roses this year is Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, a charity that is very close to my heart and definitely requires more attention. I could write an awful lot about the importance of eating disorder awareness and mental health, but I will try to be as concise as possible. Firstly, I will make some important points concerning the truth of eating disorders and try to distinguish any stereotypes. Then I will briefly discuss how joining a sports society at university has helped aid my recovery and emphasise how important it is for anyone who is suffering from mental illness to reach out for help. Before I properly start, I just want to make a disclaimer that I am not perfect and do not have the knowledge that an expert in mental health will have, the majority of my knowledge comes from personal experience. If you want to learn more about the reality of eating disorders then there are many pages online such as beat’s own page and the national eating disorder page.

Eating disorders can be quite a taboo topic and although awareness surrounding them has increased in recent years, there are still many barriers which need to be broken surrounding the discussion and understanding of eating disorders. Firstly, and possibly most importantly, eating disorders do not discriminate. They have no size, no gender, no race, and no set motivations. The picture society seems to suggest is radically different from the truth, a sufferer may be old or young, male or female, overweight, underweight or even at what is deemed a healthy weight: some of my most difficult times have been when I look at my healthiest. The point is that eating disorders are like any other illness, they don’t have a specific target and can affect anyone. Certain aspects of one’s life may increase the risk but again, this doesn’t limit sufferers to specific categories.

Another important point which I have briefly touched upon is that eating disorders, along with all other mental illnesses are diagnosable illnesses. Although this point may seem obvious, you would be surprised how many times I’ve experienced discussions regarding my illness as if it were a choice, even my GP once expressed how great my life was and that I should change before my future was damaged. Treating any mental illness in this way is incredibly damaging and contrary to the truth. Science has recently found lots of evidence regarding genetic causes of mental illness, for example, an international whole-genome analysis in 2017 revealed that anorexia nervosa is associated with genetic anomalies concerning chromosome 12. Of course, like all illnesses, many factors affect the likelihood of suffering from an eating disorder, but what must be emphasised is that sufferers do not choose to experience what they do. I cannot imagine anyone choosing to suffer from such an exhausting illness. Not only is your mental and physical well-being extremely damaged, but your ability to take part in many activities and most importantly, your relationships with other people. It truly breaks my heart to think of how much pain those close to me went through at the times when I was most ill. Eating disorders slowly engulf your mind until you feel completely detached from those things and people that were important to you, I know this as my disordered mind impacted some very important relationships. Although such effects of eating disorders are awful, it must be remembered that the sufferer does not choose for such things to happen, no one wishes to endure such horrendous battles with their own mind.

When I came to university I was quite sceptical about joining a big society but I can definitely say that joining York Hornets was the best decision I made. The friendliness of the club made me instantly feel comfortable and excited to take part in cheerleading and dancing again. Having the support of teammates and something outside my degree to focus on has honestly helped me through the times when I have felt the force of my eating disorder the most. I am so thankful for having the opportunity to take part in such a fun sport and the confidence I have gained from it. If you’re interested in what cheerleading consists of then come and support us at Roses on the 3rd of May at 3pm in the Hes West sports centre!

My final point is for anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder or any mental illness. Please, talk to someone. I know it is difficult and something so easy to hide, but the longer you stay quiet, the harder it will become. This may all seem a bit soppy but these things need to be said. There is absolutely no shame in suffering, you deserve to get help and most importantly, to be happy.