Identifying my Identity
Updated: Apr 13
I call myself a survivor; a 'recovered' anorexic...
An autistic girl who is so mentally strong nowadays - that the past feels like a distant memory.
But the truth is, that isn't the truth. I tell myself (and others) daily - that I am okay and most of the time I guess I am.
You can become extremely good at pretending. And after a while pretending you’re ok – you start to believe it yourself. And that is one of my skills of course.
I grew up in theatre; mum taught drama at school and I performed in all discipline from a tender age. I was a good dancer, a decent singer and a cracking little actress. I'll say that now – confidently... wouldn’t have been able to back then!
Yeh, I was good at what I did, but I never got that break. I was ALWAYS going to be the girl who went to theatre school, who had a successful career in acting, who went from stage to screen to stage and to be honest I never EVER considered a life doing anything else.
‘Emelye the actress’.
There was nothing else I wanted to do. There was nothing else I could do.
So when I got really sick... and I missed my opportunity to graduate from theatre school... my world began to crumble and spiral off around me…
Let me give you some context…
Since I can remember I have had body dimorphic issues. I was 9 when I first made myself sick and 12 when I first took a blade to my arms. Doctor said it was a ‘phase’ I was going through… in which I’ve been in this ‘phase’ for 22 years now.
I managed the problem well, especially for an undiagnosed autistic – with an extremely addictive personality. It is common for girls with autism to mimic the behaviours of those around them in order to try and fit in or be more socially accepted.
Perhaps this is why I concealed it for so long and kept it relatively under control. I distinctly remember replicating the habits of friends, their sayings and catch phrases, their accents or ‘isms. This was super helpful as an actress, but meant I never really knew who the hell I really was as a person.
It is also very common for girls with autism to develop eating disorders – I read somewhere it was 1 in 3, which explains a lot. We like to be in control.
I absolutely NEED to have a plan for everything I do; the week, my daily tasks, job role requirements. School and (the beginning) of college was great cause I had a timetable and a plan… as soon as that went I was free falling.
So then when I couldn’t immediately continue my journey to theatre school to become ‘Emelye the actress’ I lost my head.
I didn’t have a plan B. There was nothing else I enjoyed, and nothing else I ever envisaged myself doing.
The restriction became harsher, the lies became deeper, my self-hatred became nastier and my weight plummeted. I had no course to follow except the daily grind of struggling to wake up, drink water, walk 10 miles on zero fuel or do an exam (before college broke up).
I would sit in my car with the heater on and a rice cake to last me the hour, go to youth theatre to burn it off, avoid every meal, go to the gym in case the squash had sugar in it… or nap cause I was so weak. It was a hamster wheel of suffering. And I didn’t know how to make it stop. I wasn’t in control of my thoughts. I was a very very poorly girl.
Eventually I pushed it all too far and was hospitalised; fed through a tube in my nose and on 24-hour observations - using a bedpan because I couldn’t be trusted in a bathroom to not do star jumps!
After my lock in at the general hospital was done, I was resident at 2 different secure units – Kimmerage Court and The Priory, until I eventually moved home and then in with my (poor suffering ex) fiancé and began the slow road to recovery.
Side note: I’ll forever be in his debt. He was amazing; just 21 years old and bloody awesome. He took such great care of me.
I dabbled in various job roles – trying to find my ‘why’ again. I went back to acting for a bit and had a few decent roles, a little television; mostly theatre and was mostly touring which can lead to a pretty unhealthy lifestyle (aka: I got a bit fat…).
I never got that break and I felt like I was spending so much energy trying to ‘live my dream’ that I wasn’t ‘living my life’.
So… I got myself a ‘proper job’ and joined a gym.
After an unsavoury experience with a boy that I won’t bother to bother you with - I hit a relapse HARD… the weight was dropping off… back came the 10 mile RUNS not walks now… the scars in my arms were reopened, so I left that gym pretty swiftly.
I took my broken heart and body straight through the doors of a CrossFit box and this all or nothing ‘addictive personality’ went ALL IN.
What a distraction.
Before I knew it I was there before work at 6am… back again by 5:30pm. I had a new focus, and a new goal… to be an athlete. To be successful at something that required seriously hard work, and less ‘luck’.
One of the things I found so destructive about theatre or dance was it was subjective; one director thinks you’re the shit, and the other one thinks that you are shit. CrossFit was objective; you’re either the fastest, fittest, strongest (ha ha not me!) or the most agile… or you’re not.
After a year I took my L1 and began coaching… after 2 years I did my first competition… after another 5 months later I moved 200 miles away from my family to Essex to train properly, complete my first Open and become this ‘athlete’.
I moved up here barely knowing 1 person – which is to this date the scariest thing I have ever done. I’ve been here 18 months now and some days I feel like I have a purpose!
I often worry that my ‘being an athlete’ is an excuse to still weigh and measure my food, a excuse to weigh myself and an excuse to do phenomenal amounts of ‘exercise’ every day. That shoving myself in a hole of a workout is another form of self-harm and to be honest, it probably is... (but it’s more socially acceptable than burning your arms with a lighter!)
I am fighting EVERY DAMN DAY to make sure that training is a healthy obsession. My focus is far less on food for aesthetics and more on performance.
I hardly ever self harm anymore.
I have an amazing team around me in the form of my coach, manager, my agent and my friends. I know my warning signs and I know what I need to keep myself mentally sound.
I have learned to satisfy my little ‘autie’ brain properly and to plan ahead. I have learned that I need to be selfish and say no; that being busy is ok so long as it is productive and still allows you to make progress. I have learned to be careful whom you invest your heart into and that some people are so SO awesome. I have learned to trust these people.
I have learned that strangers on the Internet are not your friends and to take their opinions / words / input with caution.
I have learned to be grateful and to be brave. I have learned to stop pretending.
I am starting to learn that it ISN’T OK to not be ok… you’re allowed to be not ok… but you can’t just ignore it… it still needs fixing.
I am planning ahead now, as there will soon be a day when I am no longer ‘Emelye the athlete’ and once again I will struggle with an identity.
But, I will always be Emelye the Autistic (I am sure)…
And I will certainly always be ‘Emelye the Survivor’.