Content note: discusses experiences of eating disorders, treatment, and recovery
A few years ago, a couple of months before my 30th birthday, I left London and left my job. I was on the verge of being detained under the Mental Health Act for my severe and enduring anorexia which I’ve had for nearly sixteen years now. Being detained, also referred to as being “sectioned” in the UK, means that you are legally required to be admitted to the hospital whether or not you agree to it. I was so upset. I loved the city. I loved being a professional woman working in marketing. I felt like a failure.
As time went on, to keep myself occupied, I started to do bits of freelance writing. Writing has always been my passion, and I wanted something to distract me from meal plans and recovery work.
It has been the best thing I’ve ever done. Not only because I now have a varied portfolio of clients spanning copywriting, marketing and communications, earn much more than I did at my corporate jobs, and crucially, enjoy it way more. But for my health. I’m not recovered, far from it, but much better than I ever was before – and I put some of that down to freelancing and primarily working from home.
Here’s how freelancing is helping me recover from anorexia:
Ditching the diet talk
Working from home, with only my family or boyfriend for company, there’s no office diet talk, which can be prevalent and insidious. Take a note next time you’re at work – how often do people talk about being “good” or the “naughty treat table”? We don’t all need to talk about calories and losing weight as a way to bond. Colleagues could also be quite direct about it, which can be harmful. Even when I was visibly incredibly sick people would comment on my appearance or ask about my weight. I remember once hovering by the snacks table, willing myself to pick up a biscuit and someone said, “a moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips.” At the time, I was emaciated. Not cool.
The cupboard feels approachable
At home there are cupboards and a fridge full of food that feels comfortable and safe for me. No meltdowns in the office canteen. One of the hardest things about my recovery is making the choice to eat something – once that is done, the actual act is much simpler. I go shopping, choose food that stretches and food that is safe, and it’s available for me when I need it.
No more commute
Often, people forget that activity and exercise can be addictive for people struggling with eating disorders, and is a way for people to burn off the often few calories they will allow themselves. It makes you lose weight when taken to excess, weight I couldn’t afford to lose. Now I roll out of bed and to my desk. Easy. It’s important that we move our bodies joyfully and not just in a way that involves head down packed in a tube at 7am. That’s not good for anyone.
My schedule, my plans
When I worked in the office there would quite often be meetings over lunchtime, which became a great excuse to skip eating. Or I would miss a snack because someone was talking to me. Now I am, more or less, responsible for my agenda. And so, when it’s time to eat, I can eat. My working day fits around my meal plan.
Rest for recovery
Some days I don’t do so well and am low on energy. I can take a nap or read a book and come back to the work when I’m ready. Having this flexibility is so key. I always get the work done, and to a very high standard. I just might get it done at a different time than the typical 9:00-5:30. This actually works really well for most clients, as they’re not paying for me a day’s work of which a couple of hours won’t be my best.
It’s becoming the norm
Many people have been working from home for months now due to the pandemic and lockdowns, so remote working has become something of a norm. For some this has challenged their wellbeing, as people rely on the stimulation and connection that comes with an office environment. But many have found it has caused a reduction in stress and helped them find better balance in life, which helps them manage their mental health.
I want to be clear – working in an office didn’t cause my anorexia, and freelancing hasn’t cured it. But it has made for a much healthier and happier lifestyle, and I am so happy I took that step.