I met anorexia when I was 12 and she became my everything

The number of new anorexia cases among those aged between eight and 12 is twice the number of previous estimates, a new study has found.

The study, which looked at figures from the UK and Ireland, found that there were 3.2 new cases per 100,000 children in that age group.

This was more than twice the 1.5 cases found in 2016 research.

Hope Virgo was diagnosed with anorexia as a teenager, and recovered after years of support and treatment. She shared her experience with Sky News.

I met my friend anorexia when I was 12 years old, and she became my everything.

She comforted me at night, held me close when I was struggling and distracted me when I was anxious about my parents arguing. She was my secret and I didn’t want anyone to get in the way of what we had. I managed to keep her hidden for four years, becoming more devious in my attempts to conceal her from the people around me.

I hid everything – and I was very good at it. But when I returned from school after my summer holidays aged 16, my school found my secret out.

That’s when things started to go wrong for me and my best friend anorexia.

Within weeks I was referred to the child adolescent mental health service. I remember my first appointment like it was yesterday.

I arrived at the hospital with my mum and sat in the waiting room. It was full of other young people and they didn’t look like me. They all looked unhappy, just different, and I couldn’t understand why I was there.

I entered the room and the doctor diagnosed me with anorexia. I couldn’t understand it: anorexics, I thought, were skinny and I certainly wasn’t.

I accused him of lying and told him to stop making me fat. I wasn’t anorexic. Over the next few months things got harder. I felt completely trapped and gradually more out of control.

My days were spent obsessively exercising, skipping as many meals as possible and either ending the day with a massive family row or eating dinner really quickly then heading upstairs to make myself sick.

I used to sit in my therapy sessions being told that my body was falling apart and I was losing the fat round my organs. But I didn’t believe anyone telling me this. I thought they were just jealous I had a best friend who made me feel so good.

It spiralled out of control so fast that months after my first appointment at child and adolescent mental health services my heart nearly stopped and I was admitted to a mental health hospital where I spent the next year of my life recovering.

It was the hardest year of my life: revisiting past experiences, learning to talk about my feelings and learning to accept that I needed help.

After that year in hospital, I had developed a handbook of coping mechanisms – including learning to talk about how I felt, challenging myself around food, and getting rid of all emotions.

But my biggest frustration was that people still thought your anorexia must be completely gone if you were a healthy weight.

That is not the reality. There is so much more to recovery than gaining physical weight.

Recovery isn’t always a straight line either. You have to learn what triggers to watch out for, and to be aware if it gets tough again.

As we entered in to 2016 I was feeling positive about life. I barely thought about my anorexia and I certainly didn’t let her dictate what I did.

But after my grandma passed away, anorexia used it as a reason to seduce me. She pulled me in when I was feeling weak and grieving, sucking me closer and closer.

After four months of battling with this relentless voice in my head I reached out for help. I got an appointment at my local mental health trust, but because I wasn’t underweight there was nothing they could do for me.

My story isn’t unique. In fact there are countless people who get turned away for not being “thin” enough, or not fitting a specific criteria. It isn’t right or fair that this is still happening – and it means people with eating disorders aren’t getting the treatment they need to prevent them getting worse.

After I came through my relapse I decided that I needed to help others, so I wrote a book, Stand Tall Little Girl, and I began doing talks about mental health.

The more people I spoke to the more I realised this was an growing problem and one that needed to be tackled. And despite the clinical guidelines, people are too often turned away from getting the help they so desperately need.

The guidelines are correct but they are not being uniformly implemented across the nation – to the detriment of thousands of people daily. It is time we stopped waiting for people to hit crisis point before offering them support.

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