I’m going to begin by adding a possible Trigger Warning to my post. As a sufferer I understand how unhelpful some articles/blogs can be and how they can potentially make others feel – despite me trying my very best to avoid personal details without the mention of calories and weight etc. I have opted NOT to upload triggering pictures, because instead of raising awareness, this will only add to the stigma that you need to look a certain way to have an ED. Which is not helpful for myself or anybody else. I understand and appreciate that there are vulnerable people online who’re struggling with their own mental health problems and are therefore, more likely to be damaged by the things they come across. I totally get that different people are triggered by different things, meaning I have tried to keep this post as manageable to read as possible!
This is my first blog post and I wanted to take the opportunity to speak up about an issue that is very personal, important to me and close to my heart. I have struggled with my mental illnesses for quite some time now. And I’d like to erase the stigma that anorexia is a teenage girl diet where you shyly refuse a cupcake. Adding on to the fact that I’d like to spread awareness of Eating Disorders (and other mental health illnesses) provide support where possible and allow people to know that they are NOT alone. I am in no way, shape or form saying I am recovered, because I have a very long way to go and a long, difficult journey ahead of me. So this is the first time I’ve publicly opened up about my ‘Anorexia Story.’ (Despite this only being brief and not as in-depth as it could’ve been) And although my battle/struggles are currently ongoing – I figured it’s time to give others an insight into the difficulties I am facing and the things I have been through during the build-up to my diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa.
My story begins from being a merely, young age. At this age, I feel that I shouldn’t have known about weight loss and dieting, but instead should’ve been focused on playing with my dolls and getting scraped knees. But, hey ho! If things hadn’t have turned out this way, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. From being a young age, I’ve always had body image issues and have felt very self conscious for as long as I can remember. Along with eating issues and have always percieved myself as being ‘big’. I don’t recall a time that I’ve ever felt satisfied with my body, or myself in general – partly due to my low-self esteem and anxieties. Whenever mum suggested I needed a bigger clothing size because of my height I would immediately freak out resulting in me becoming aggitated and distressed, undoubtably a little offended too with the common belief of ‘does she think I’m fat?’ and even with constant reassurance from mum, I never saw myself as anything but big. And I seem to remember changing rooms being very difficult for me and I tried to avoid them like the plague. And I have been well known for being the ‘fussy eater’ amongst my Family and Friends, embarrassing and awkward when it came to meals and I was choosing from the Children’s menu and younger family members were eating bigger portions, each time varying the meal they chose. Refusing to eat things as a result of me not liking their scent or the way they looked, disliking having things on the same plate because of contamination issues. Sticking to the same, boring repetitive foods due to my fear of trying new things in case it harmed my body or made me pile on the pounds. Body checking in mirrors whenever I seized the opportunity and clenching at the fat on my stomach wishing it would magically go away and wishing I was skinnier. My sister and I often looked at our stomachs in the bedroom mirror in a bid to see who’s ribs were the most visible and who could fit their thumb and first finger around their ankle – it was never me and it was very unsatisfying. I mean, I was younger so surely I had to be skinnier? Why wasn’t I skinnier? Why was I fatter than my older sister? Aged 8 was the first time I purged and although I am uncertain as to whether this was or was not Eating Disorder related, I am positive that it was down to a feeling of control and accomplishment. Though I wonder, where I’d learned this behaviour from and why I was beginning to engage in it. To this day, nobody is aware of what I had done over a decade ago (gosh, that makes me feel old!) but I remember, very clearly, lying in my bed next to a pile of vomit unsure of what to do next, unsure of what I had just done and why I had done it. Unsure of who to turn to. Age 11, I went on holiday and during a boat-ride we had a family picture taken by one of the boat reps and I remember breathing in on the photo, because I felt fat and uncomfortable, especially wearing a bikini and shorts where alot of my body was on show.
Moving along a few years to the time I was aged 13. 13 – hello rebelious teenage years, good-bye younger childhood years! The beginning of a new era. I say rebellious, but in reality I was too scared to step one foot out of place in fear of being in trouble and was more likely to cling to my mum, rather than a cheap bottle of cider. For me, my eating disorder began at the age of 13 and it still continues to overrule me to this date, unfortunately. I attended my friend’s birthday party which was a usual pre-teen sleepover, a challenge in itself. I got home and logged into Facebook and to my dismay, were an array of photographs from the party which had me in them. Of course, I loved being with my friends and the fact that I had been included in my friend’s milestone – however I did not like the way I looked and stared in horror as I appeared to be the biggest one out of my friends. It was seemingly obvious. The fat seemed clearly visible and the tears streamed down my face as I gasped in horror at my ugly, disappointing appearance. I questionned how I had let myself get so big and why nobody had the decency to inform me. Enough was enough I secretly proclaimed, as I began reducing my food intake and cutting out the beloved things I used to enjoy. Having control over my intake led me to the assumption that I had control over every other aspect of my life. The weight loss continued in the following years – though it wasn’t until I started to receive compliments on my figure and my weight loss that I had become aware of it. People had begun to notice, but no major concerns were raised. To me, anyway. In all honesty, it made me feel empowered and enthusiastic about losing more weight because I liked that I was finally becoming noticed and the fat was beginning to leave my body. I finally felt in control and became fixated on losing weight to determine my happiness and to sustain friendships. I began cutting out meals, it started with breakfast and then ‘break time snack’ in school and then lunch was increasingly beginning to get skipped too. It was relatively easy because being in School, I would just say that I’d eaten and save up my dinner money instead. I guess I needed money to fulfil my (probably not very important) teenage needs. I didn’t need to eat, I didn’t want to eat and I presumed that I didn’t want to get fat either. It became normal. A routine. An addiction. An obsession and a way of life.
Age 14- Was the year I went on a Foreign exchange trip to Denmark. Completely out of my usual comfort zone but with lots of persuading from my best-friend and the school teacher, I decided to give it a shot. I mean, what did I have to lose? It was without a doubt the best experience I’ve ever had, with incredible people and the unforgettable memories, both good and bad. Eating was difficult in Denmark as I wouldn’t challenge myself to trying new foods, again, because of the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen. So instead, I ate very little. For the five days I was away, I ate small portions of cereal and salad to put it bluntly. Nobody really understood my feelings and I guess I didn’t, either. I just knew that I was getting increasingly terrified of eating and it felt out of my control. It was like, things just took a turn for the worst and I was left secluded in my own little bubble of sadness and emptiness where nobody was open to my struggles as I put on a brave front. Doing my best to remain ‘happy’ and ‘positive’. On one occasion, during a visit to Copenhagen, we stopped off at a little buffet. N-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e. My friends were thrilled, especially about stepping back from eating the Danish delicacies they didn’t particularly enjoy or like but were too polite to say, otherwise. Whereas I was filled with horror and anxiety, shame and disgust. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Eating a mediocre portion of salad and rice. I felt awkward and uncomfortable to put it bluntly and I wished nothing more than to get the hell out of the restaurant and go back home to my Danish friend’s house. The teacher on the trip with us commented on how little I was eating, but I just laughed it off and went on to pretend I was okay and that I’d have something later on. Following on from this, all of the students attended one of the Danish’ families meal, it was horrendous. We all know that the majority of Danes enjoy tucking into meat-based dishes, I was Vegetarian. I was filled with panic and the usual anxiety, holding back the tears and the sheer embarrassment as I proceeded to add a pile of lettuce to my plate. I felt an overriding sense of guilt as I couldn’t eat the food that was provided, also feeling worthless and as though I was a laughing stock. I also felt shamed whilst my friends stared in confusion at the ‘meal’ I was restricting myself too. The odd one out. I had always done my best to fit in, yet I was still the outsider. The weird one. The disappointment. Luckily, my best-friend noticed that I had eating difficulties and she spoke to me afterwards and helped me to feel calmer and reassured. I remember being absolutely starving but not being able to eat. Not wanting to eat. Not mentally being able to eat or to try new foods. The feeling of my stomach in agony and crying out for food became satisfying – as deluded as that sounds. It spurred me on to carry on with my ill-minded ways. During my time away in Denmark, I returned home and all of a sudden my clothes had started to drown me, hanging off my starved, teenage frame. I didn’t know what was happening, but things were getting out of control. On my -at the time- recent return from Denmark, I went into town with my sister, my Dad’s (ex) girlfriend and her Grandaughter. Aged 14 I was a vulnerable pre-teen like any other my age – yet had a little child spotted my difficulties when she commented on how skinny I looked and questionned ‘where my stomach was?’
Age 16 – A difficult year to say the last, with prom approaching and the ending of my school life just ahead of me, I was petrified and a little lost. Especially as I watched in awe as my friends, and fellow students, were planning their futures and applying to colleges. Whereas I remained clueless and down – I didn’t want to go to college, to leave the safety of school and the usual routine I had gotten used to during the 5 years I had spent there. I thought that if I didn’t apply to college, I wouldn’t have to leave school and I could just stay there forever, to kind of freeze time I guess. it was almost time for prom and the PE teachers were banging on to us about losing weight, keeping fit and cutting things from our intakes. We had just partaken in an 1 hour 40 minute long PE lesson and the teachers began commenting on how we could now eat ‘unhealthy’ things now we’d exercised and burned off calories. Typical people encouraging teenage diets, fab. Just what the world needs on top of all the other triggering, unhelpful things in the media from emaciated models and store manequins to diet fads being thrown our way left, right and centre. One teacher uttered ‘a minute on the lips, a life-time on the hips’ as, which i presume, was set out to be a joke. But I feel that this had a permanent affect on me and quite possibly the other youngsters in the group. Triggering and unhelpful to say the least. Constantly drilling these thoughts into our heads, only made my desire to lose weight higher and my determination had hit a new high. I needed to continue losing weight. I needed to be the skinniest for prom. I discretely didn’t eat for a few days, with the pressure of looking good for prom like the other girls in my year – who were all naturally beautiful, whereas I was the ugly duckling in the pond. It was only when we went dress shopping (me, my mum and mum’s friend) that the shop lady made comments on my ‘slim frame’ and how she’d never seen anybody my age with a small waist like I had that I realised this was all a desperate cry out for help, but nobody seemed to be getting my message and the weight continued to fall off me whilst everybody remained oblivious as to what was happening – watching their loved one fade away.
At this age, I became a student at a college fairly closeby to where I live and I was set to begin my studies of animal care and management. Luckily. Meaning I needn’t worry about using public transport -which is still a huuuge challenge to this day- so I could just walk there and back each day, which gradually became an addiction and I didn’t feel satisfied until I’d walked miles and miles to and back from college despite feeling exhausted and weak. Still, I couldn’t let on to anybody in case they judged me for being lazy, so I dealt with it. College was a memorable time, my friendship group kind of varied but in the end I was happy with my friends and looked forward to seeing them each day, catching up on our day to day activities and college homework. During college, my friends and other students began talking about dieting and joining the gym – which really triggered things for me even further than they already were. I mean, I HAD to fit in. I had to diet too and become the best dieter, lose the most weight so I was ultimately going to be the most liked and valuable member of our friendship group. Because at the moment, I felt very different to my friends and there was always something stopping me from being on their level, preventing me from fitting in. I became fixated on losing weight, it became my main priority and I would easily disguise my shameful eating habits by doing college work and saying that I’d eaten before mum returned home from work. I was too busy to eat, it wasn’t a necessity and college work had to come first – because I had to be the best at that also. It was a strive for perfection and acception really. College began to tire me out completely and began to really take a toll on my health, but I aimed for D*D*D* in my grades and I achieved just that. I felt accomplished and eating didn’t really fit in with my plans of fitting in and losing weight.
The approach of my 18th birthday is what made my Eating Disorder begin to show it’s true colours to those around me. I wasn’t myself. I began isolating myself further and further, spending hours after hours, days after days shut away in my bedroom in the likes of my own company. Throwing more food away and refusing every bit of food I could. My only safe place was my bedroom and the place that went on to provide me with a sense of comfort and security. Mum was commenting on how little I was eating and I was refusing to eat with every opportunity I sought. She was beginning to get aggitated and begun having breakdowns because of my pathetic appetite. Each morning I was left porridge on the kitchen worktop with mum’s intentions of me eating the porridge. In the beginning, I made the porridge, threw it away and left the preparation in the kitchen so make it out like I’d actually eaten it. But after a while, I couldn’t pretend anymore and I just simply refused the dreaded porridge with my head cheering me on and on. My sister was concerned too and began commenting on my obvious weight loss to Mum, suggesting that I looked ‘smaller’ each time she returned back from her Boyfriend’s house. One of the causes of my ED is not wanting to grow up – I crave the security and safety of childhood and I felt that the only real way to avoid growing up, was of course, to lose weight. Another cause is wanting to fit in – I saw my friends losing weight and I heard them (and others) talking about their weight loss and diets. Though I had been struggling for numerous amounts of years, I was really beginning to feel the pressure to fit in. To be well liked. If my friends were dieting, that meant I should take it further and prove to them that I could lose weight the quickest and be the better, more admirable person.
I remember it like it was yesterday, the scariest and most agonising day of my life so far. the day I finally plucked up the courage to come forward about my eating difficulties. The day I imagined all hell to break loose. Unknown to mum, I had just thrown my tea in the bin whilst she went up to bed – it was later than usual because I had just finished dancing. She had left me a Sunday dinner, which I was no-way-in-hell going to eat. Therefore, I picked at a few measly vegetables and gave up, discarding of the meal and going on to pretend all was fine. Except, I wasn’t fine. I was going out of my way to exercise more than my body could handle each day, restricting my diet to a very low intake, obsessively counting calories on my phone and researching weight-loss methods. I sat feeling lonely, confused and empty without even the foggiest idea as to what was happening to me. I just knew I was worryingly terrified of food, every. single. morsel. I had strange thoughts in my head but I wasn’t too sure what they were, or what they meant. They were just there and they wouldn’t leave me, ever. And to this day, they still don’t and I struggle with my scary, patronising thoughts day in and day out. Hands shaking, body trembling and thoughts racing, after a long chat with my best-friend I emailed my College teacher and came forward about my problems in a -what seemed to be very long at the time- short paragraph about the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing with regards to eating and my body image.The voices screamed at me, but I admittedly felt a sense of relief as I didn’t have to keep my problems a secret anymore. Within the next day or two, my teacher had responded to my email and I was petrified or her response, and a tad shocked too. The words written there on my screen in black and white ‘this sounds like an Eating Disorder’ following on with encouragement to book myself a doctor’s appointment which I was adamant of NOT doing. Eating Disorder. Me? The thing is, you hear about eating disorders but you never think it is going to be you, they are stigmatised to make people believe that you have to look a certain way in order to be poorly.
Skipping along a few weeks, I had exchanged tonnes of emails with my teacher expressing my thoughts and feelings – sometimes I’d include my food intake too, but not often. My Teacher, named Sheryl, had asked to see me and I remember sitting through my Farm and Livestock lesson in College debating whether or not I should go, gazing at the clock in awe hoping that lunch time never arrived. Thinking of ways I could avoid this ‘meeting’. My best-friend quite literally dragged me to Sheryl and here’s where things became real, I guess… After a very long discussion and lots of encouragement/persuading, I took the brave step of telling my Mum about my eating struggles and the things I was dealing with. The things I had been dealing with for a very long time. But in fact, Sheryl was the one to tell Mum for me because I was that anxious and worried of upsetting her that I couldn’t. In fact, I was down right petrified. I’d never been one to openly speak to mum comfortably about the things I had struggled with previously – how was I expected to tell her this? Nervously typing in Mum’s phone number in Sheryl’s phone I was dreading what was next to come, positive I would be in serious trouble and that nobody would understand. i regretted telling anybody, adamant I should’ve kept myself to myself and continued to struggle through life (and eating) alone. I didn’t feel poorly, was I deserving of help? What if nobody took me seriously? Sheryl, herself, looked petrified understandably and I was a mess when I had to briefly speak to Mum – who then proceeded to pick me up from College after my favourite Zoo lesson. I never wanted the lesson to end as I knew of the horror and anxiety provoking conversation that awaited me when I stepped foot out of the animal room and into the car. And to the doctors we went, unwillingly, as I was bombarded with questions and concerns from Mum and Grandad.
The thing about me is, I had never entered a doctors surgery on my own and I had never even contemplated it. Neither had I ever been over something as complex and as difficult as this. So what other option did I have other than to lie through my back teeth? Smile through the pain and lie at whatever I was asked. As painful as it was, I somehow proved I was okay and fooled the Doctor (and the student doctor too) and was told to go back in two weeks if I, or my mum, had any concerns. My weight was just healthy at this point, so nobody really cared. But may I just add, eating disorders are MENTAL illnesses and doctors really need to up their game and stop adding to the stigma that you need to be a low weight in order to be ill. Sheryl was very concerned when she found out and proceeded to keep a close eye on me, continuing with the email updates and unexpected (sometimes planned) face-to-face meetings in college. Whenever she became worried -more often than not- she would phonecall my Mum, who then also kept a close eye on me too. I was always under the eye, I felt trapped. Throughout those two weeks, I struggled with my eating and went on to eat less and less as the days went on, increasing my exercise and engaging in disordered behaviours. and things became unbearable for myself, mum and the rest of my family. I went back to the doctor and with Sheryl’s help/support I had written everything down. My thoughts, feelings and my struggles.I was completely honest – which was only made easier as I had written everything down- I was asked copious amounts of questions, the appointment seemed never ending and I was weighed. Which revealed to myself and the doctor that I had lost quite a lot of weight in such a small period of time, which only raised concerns and I was referred to an Eating Disorder clinic and diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.
Being diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa was a strange experience, if I’m honest. Instead of crying and becoming aggressive or argumentative, I was shocked and to this day, I still remain in disbelief. You hear of people being in denial about their diagnosis’, whereas I was in a state of shock and nothing felt real. Though I am now beginning to slowly accept my diagnosis, instead of being ashamed, I am proud of myself for gaining the courage to speak up about it. Watching supersize-vs-superskinny whilst growing up and reading magazine articles about ED sufferers, I just couldn’t accept the fact that this was now MY reality too. Eating Disorders are unfortunately made out to be some kind of myths and the common misconception is ‘It’ll never happen to me.’ Hearing the words ‘Anorexia Nervosa’ and ‘Eating Disorder’ just sent me into a state of uncertainty and confusion – I didn’t understand that things had got this far, that I was mentally ill. It was all difficult and seemingly impossible to take in. It was agonising, knowing something was wrong, but not being able to accept the diagnosis I had been given.
I can’t remember specifically how long I waited for an appointment to come through, though I imagine it was relatively quick, due to how rapidly my health was deteriorating both physically and mentally. The date of my appointment at the clinic was without a doubt the scariest time of my life and I had no idea what to expect or what was going to be asked of me. A 20 minute drive to the clinic with lots of crying and scary thoughts telling me I didn’t need or deserve help, continuously questionning myself and what my intentions were. We parked on the clinic’s car park and had a long time in the waiting area after checking in at reception. Eventually, a lady came walking down the corridor and little did I know that this lady was going to be my psychiatrist. She was tall, she had long hair and she looked terrifying and as though she wasn’t going to take any nonsense. I was absolutely terrified and stunned in silence. I was in the appointment for over 2 hours ago in on my own, the first time without mum doing the talking for me. And I was ‘talking’ (mostly nodding) to my new Psychiatrist about my struggles and my food intake and other things which seem blurry now. I then had to fill in copious amounts of forms, to give an insight into my struggles and the things I was particularly finding difficult. Then it hit me, I was poorly. I was going to be beginning treatment for Anorexia Nervosa and I was referred to my current therapist.
Following on from my first appointment at the EDS (Eating disorder service) I was awaiting an appointment to come through with the therapist, which took approximately a month or two if I remember rightly. During this time, I met with the dietician and mum and found it to be a really unpleasant experience – as she basically fobbed me off with a meal plan and expected me to just get on with it. To put it nicely. Anyhow, I obviously didn’t stick to the meal plan and just laughed at how unrealistic her expectations were. So our second appointment together turned out to be our last, too and she genuinely seemed shocked that I wasn’t able to manage the meals and snacks she had set out for me. Not to mention the 8+ liquids a day – nobody I know consumes so much fluid, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
My first appointment finally came through where I was finally due to meet my new therapist. I was a combined mixture of excited and nervous – mostly nervous as I had no idea what to expect from the upcoming months. I sat in the waiting area in an array of panic, not knowing what my therapist looked like, or what she would be like. The nerves built up as I sat on the edge of the ever so comfortable blue chair. Absolutely terrified of meeting a new person, what if I didn’t get along with them? What if they disliked me? What if… I went through every worst-case scenario in my head and was thrilled when it actually turned out to be a great, memorable experience. My therapist turned out to be the best, most inspirational and helpful lady I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I remember this appointment as though it was yesterday, I struggled through the appointment and my anxiety was setting me on edge – causing me to laugh nervously throughout. I can’t really remember the things we touched upon, though I remember being weighed and discussing when my next appointment would be as I was due to go on holiday. After an hour or so, I came to the decision that I really liked my new therapist and I felt positive regarding the next steps to come. She was very cheery, lovely and bubbly – which made me feel at ease and as comfortable as I could’ve felt. I was given a food diary and then off I went, to return back to the safety and security of my home. A place which I was beginning to grow very fond of, never wanting to leave unless deemed absolutely necessary. I’d be here forever if I attempted to write about the sessions me and my therapist have shared together – both good and bad, sometimes tears but mostly awkward laughter and memories shared. I’ve grown very close to my therapist and have begun to see her as my rock and my role model, the person who’s been there continuously to support me whilst nobody else has. Following on from my first appointment, I was set to travel to Croatia on holiday with my Mum to celebrate my birthday -which was in January- and whilst I was away, a couple of girls in my college class felt the need to call me names and say horrible, inappropriate things about me coming out with comments such as ‘she obviously makes herself sick’ ‘have you seen how skinny she is and how much weight she’s lost’ ‘you can see her ribs in her pictures on Facebook’. Though these comments really hurt me and still do to this day, I have learned to rise above them and their common ignorance – because all in all, I can learn to recover from my eating disorder whereas they are stuck with their ugly personalities for life. So, who’s the real winner?
After a few months in therapy, it was suggested that I meet with the new dietician. And ultimately, I was petrified and anxious because of the previous experience I’d had with the first dietician. Yet, after lots of persuading, my therapist talked me into it and agreed to attend the first appointment with me so we could all meet together and to hopefully make things easier for me. A few weeks later, my therapist came to grab me from the waiting area in order to take me to our joint appointment. A bag of nerves and filled with all kinds of thoughts and feelings, unknowing of what was next to come and who would be awaiting me once we’d stepped foot into my usual therapy room. I sat down comfortably, yet anxiously, struggling to even look my new dietician in the eyes at first because I had expectations of her, what she was ‘obviously’ going to be like – which again, turned out to be nothing like I originally thought. My, my therapist and my dietician discussed things and used props in order to get a practical, real-life look on food items and their weights and so on. Which I found very fun, useful and informative. I began sneakily glimpsing at my dietician to try and get an idea of what she was like and how she would possibly be in future appointments together. It turns out that my dietician was, like my therapist, so so lovely and overall very understanding and caring with a permemant insight into the personal needs of others. I’ve grown close to my dietician, due to the fact that our appointments have been fun and enjoyable – despite the circumstances of anorexia and my other mental issues. Again, I couldn’t begin to relive or write down everything I have been told in sessions, the countless advice and endless support I have been lucky enough to have been given. I believe that if it wasn’t for my therapist and dietician intervening – I’d quite possibly be dead right now, or very deep in my depression with not even a flicker of hope to hold on to. Medical professionals (like mine) don’t get nearly as much credit and recognition as they deserve because of the life-changing work they do and the impact they have on other people’s lives.
And then it hit me,
Life or death. This is serious, my life is in the grips of an eating disorder. MY eating disorder. I HAVE an Eating Disorder. I am unwell, I am not myself. I am a current victim of the thoughts in my head and the demons bullying their way into my mental health and welbeing. I am a statistic of those in the world suffering from mental illnesses. But luckily, there are people who want to help me regain my life, happiness and health back.
And from here, my story remains ongoing and the journey awaiting me remains uncertain and challenging, the battles unbeaten and the story unfinished.
#anorexia #anorexianervosa #eatingdisorders #ed #mentalhealth #mentalillness