**Originally written for and published on Libero Network on November 13, 2015, and republished here with permission.**

anastasia amour body image psychology photo-1451342695181-17c97b85aab4 keep fighting

Once upon a time, my life was incredibly different than the life that I lead now. I lived a life shrouded by darkness.

From the perspective of an outsider looking in, my life was pretty great. I had supportive parents who loved me, I went to a great school and I had wonderful friends. I was performing well academically and I seemed confident, happy and full of joy.

But that joy was just an illusion; a carefully constructed mask that I meticulously applied every day to hide the immense pain that I felt inside.

You see, after spending all of my childhood as “the fat kid,” I’d worked hard to make better lifestyle choices, break down my portion sizes, eat less junk food and drop the excess weight that put a strain on my health. I achieved that, and there were no shortage of compliments coming my way.

My body loved being a healthy weight… but my mind wasn’t so sure.

In my mind, I still wasn’t small enough. I looked in the mirror and instead of seeing a healthy girl who should be proud of her achievements, I saw a disgusting person that I felt no one would ever love. I compared the girl in the mirror to friends, peers and strangers on the Internet. When I looked at everyone else, I could see their beauty. I could see why others would be attracted to them.

But me? I thought I was vile.

Losing more weight was not a conscious decision. It wasn’t a diet – it was a mental illness. My slip into Anorexia Nervosa happened so suddenly, yet so gradually. In fact, looking back, I don’t even remember the point where I realised that I was slipping.

It felt like I’d been in that mindset for all of my life, and in many ways I had – it was only then that the physical signs started to show.

Over the next 5 years, my illness got worse and worse. By the most critical point of my battle, I’d dropped 50% of my body weight, I was growing lanugo and I hadn’t had a period in nearly two years. I was severely malnourished, anaemic and depleted in every sense of the word.

And the more weight I dropped, the more hopeless I felt.

I felt like it would never be enough. I was consumed with thoughts of darkness and death and suicide.

I was acutely aware of the fact that I was wasting away and although I knew that dying was a terrible idea, there was a huge part of me that really didn’t care.

I secretly wished for death, because I felt like it was the only thing that would be able to stop my illness. If I were to use one word to describe myself at that point in time, it would be ‘hopeless’.

Thankfully, one day, my thoughts about dying shifted slightly – the voice in the back of my head that told me that perhaps death wasn’t the only way out got louder, ever so slightly… and for the first time, I listened.

The more I listened to that voice, the louder it got.

I felt a small glimmer of hope returning to my world and I knew that if I didn’t latch onto that glimmer of hope, it would surely spell my end.

I latched onto that hope like it was all I had – and in many ways it was. I’m so thankful that I found that small amount of hope because without it, I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be alive and sitting here today to tell my story.

Recovery was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done.

My illness thrived on secrecy and I was so ashamed of what a bad position that I was in that I managed my recovery by myself. I know now that that was an incredibly foolish thing to do and it took me multiple attempts at recovery to get there.

Even during my recovery, I still didn’t have the courage to speak up and tell anyone around me about how bad I was or how far I had come.

Now, more than 5 years on from being fully recovered, I’m finding my voice to tell my story to help others. There’s still so much of my story that no one knows – and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be fully ready to reveal it to anyone.

But what I do know is that the darkness that once consumed me, heart and mind and soul, is now replaced by light.

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Instead of hopelessness, I’m filled with positivity and energy and a burning passion to help others achieve the same thing. I no longer have to put on a mask of confidence and false hope, because true joy shines from within me.

I’m finally living, and it’s beautiful.

If the themes within this article brought up strong feelings for you, if you’re struggling with disordered eating or if you know of someone who is, please seek help. There are people who can (and want to!) help you and you don’t have to go through this alone. There is always hope, and you can find it here.

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