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By Alexandra Hunter

ISBN: 978-1-84747-796-5
Published: 2008
Pages: 130
Key Themes: UK based author, anorexia, depression, relationships, drugs, mental health system


Perfection is a true story about a young women’s struggle with anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction and depression. Although harrowing in parts it is ultimately a positive tale about how good can come out of darkness and how happiness after years of sorrow can be achieved.

About the Author

Alexandra Hunter was diagnosed as anorexic at 15 years old and in the seven years that followed she was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. She abused her body by starvation, purging and by taking illegal drugs in a desperate attempt to quieten the voices that told her she was worthless. It was not until she learned to accept her faults and her failings that she was able to move on and begin to live life to the full. She is now married with three children and recently took part in a BBC documentary about mental illness and the stigma attached to being diagnosed with one.

Book Extract

I never thought that I would write my story, why would I dredge up the past when my future was so happy and settled? I had recovered and moved on to a life that was better than I could ever have imagined in my darkest days. I had achieved so much and I definitely did not want to be reminded of what my life had been like. What I had done to others and myself for years.

I had suffered from anorexia many years ago but it was no longer part of my life. I did not think that once anorexic always anorexic. I had recovered and completely moved away from anything that would remind me of my eating disorder. I did not go to any groups or counselling, or talk to any other sufferers. I was not even a member of the EDA. Why would I need any help? My life was absolutely fine.

I, with the help of others had managed to turn my life around and I was now the proud mother of three gorgeous lively children. I had even managed to obtain my degree through the Open University, after having dropped out of two Universities whilst ill. Much to my families joy I had also trained as a Primary School teacher. So I was living the dream, I had it all, fantastic family and a fulfilling career.

My family were so proud at how I had built a life for myself against all the odds. The daughter that they had been told had a 30% chance of dying, a 30 % chance of becoming an alcoholic or drug addict and a 30% chance of living with anorexia for the rest of her life, was one of the 10% of sufferers who recovered to lead a full and stable life.

I had no problem with ‘new’ friends knowing about my past; in fact I was quite proud of the fact that I, unlike many of the friends that I had met in hospital, had beaten anorexia. But it was like I was two different people ‘anorexic Alex’ who had been weak, feeble and self absorbed and the ‘adult Alex’ who was happy, strong minded and sociable. A normal size women who never counted calories and over exercised, who went for curries, are chocolate and drank Guinness.
Then I signed up for a BBC Horizon programme on Mental Health and during the filming I had a relapse.

To be fair I should have seen the signs coming months before the filming. I only saw the advert for the programme because I looked at the EDA website for the first time in 10 years.

I had been very stressed completing my teacher training and during my final 9 week placement I had lost a lot of weight. I had not stopped eating but I had not eaten as much as I usually did the stress of being observed and often criticised for lessons I delivered affected my desire to eat. As the weeks passed I found I could cope with the pressure and the unhappiness I felt if I focused on the calories I was eating. I was again using weight loss as shield for my emotions.

As soon as I qualified and slipped back into my role as a mother my eating returned to normal. However when everybody congratulated me and celebrated me achievement I could not fully share their joy. I was left with a voice inside my head that kept reminding me I had cheated. I had only been able to complete the course because I had turned to my old dysfunctional method of coping. It shattered my confidence in my ability to move on and do anything outside of my cosy life at home.
The weeks of living with the desire to stave myself again also made me focus once again on how horrible the disorder can be. I began to think that maybe my way forward in life now was to stand up and let people know that you can beat this disease and banish it so that it never again reared its ugly head. Perhaps my destiny lay in giving people hope. After years of distancing myself from eating disorders I now wanted to help people. Which was why I looked at the EDA website.

I felt drawn to do the programme for this reason. Basically the producers wanted 5 people with a history of a mental disorder and 5 people without, to be placed in a house together and filmed for a week. During the week various tasks would be set up to test the participants and a panel of experts would try and judge who were the people with the history and who were the people without.

The message the Programme wanted to get across was that, there was not a clear line between being mentally ill and mentally well but instead a spectrum between the two. We all fell along this spectrum and could move along it at certain times, particularly during times of stress.

Obviously the hope was that the panel would get it wrong. I knew I could fool them. I could be tested and observed and the psychiatrist, psychologist and psychiatric nurse, who were on the panel, would never be able to tell I had once been anorexic. My friends who had only known me since I had become a mum were always amazed when I let them in on my secret…’but your not the type’ they would chorus. How great would it be to show millions of people that after over 10 years of being an anorexic, bulimic and taking drugs you could be as successful and ‘normal’ as I was? I could be a positive image to millions.

Smugly I prepared myself for the programme laughing at the friends who thought I was brave, not considering that I had anything to worry about. I remember in the run up to the week away being asked many a time what my biggest challenge would be. I did not even entertain the thought that anything would be difficult for me to cope with, it was just a week away, a chance for a bit of peace and relaxation.

However within two days of being away from my family, feeling guilt at the kids missing me and being taken far out of my comfort zone to do things I would never usually dream of doing, I was back in an anorexic pattern, I restricted my food to under 100 calories a day, I ran three miles every morning and obsessed about my weight. It was no surprise that the panel and my fellow participants could guess what my disorder was.

Within 24 hours of hardly eating, I had slipped back into an ‘anorexic’ frame of mind, I thought it was the only way I could cope with the tough week. I became addicted to the high of starvation and despite efforts from other people I would not entertain the thought of putting any more sustenance in my body.


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