My name’s Ilona, and I’m an Anorexic

Ilona Burton

I’m not Catherine, I’m Ilona. ab 150x150 My names Ilona, and Im an Anorexic

Catherine is my middle name. I decided to use it as a pseudonym for this blog when I was about to begin writing about my time in an Eating Disorder Unit. I didn’t really think it through but it was suggested by the then Editor as a means of keeping my own identity somewhat separate and I suppose for my own protection. I chose Catherine because I wanted to go along with this but wanted to not disconnect completely – it was still part of my name and I didn’t want to hide away because that suggests an attached fear of embarassment and/or shame.

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Unlike National Sausage Day or National Hug a Hamster Day, EDAW is internationally recognised, gets bigger year on year and allows organisations, individuals and charities such as B-eat to promote awareness and educate about the wide spectrum of Eating Disorders that exist and affect millions of men and women of all ages across the world.

I am 24 and have struggled with food and weight since the age of 7 but have rarely let it get in the way of my ambitions. I have a First Class degree and am currently studying a Masters in Journalism, with dreams of one day living in a beautiful house with my man and children, and writing for a living. About what… I’m not sure, but I’m lucky to have this platform now to put my opinions forward and express how I feel about the issues I am most passionate about.

One of those things is raising awareness of an illness that I have had for most of my life. Eating Disorders awareness is so important to me, as I am so aware of how they are portrayed in the media; film, documentary, tabloids, broadsheets, and I have felt strongly for a long time that there was something not quite right in how this is and has been done. The constant connection to celebrity, to fashion, to vanity, to extremes, shock, horror, glamour. Sometimes exploitative, sometimes ill-informed, rarely accurate. I didn’t want to sit around moaning or writing essays about how I would do things differently if I were some kind of Media God. I simply wanted to write about the raw, gritty, often mundane reality behind Eating Disorders, with my own individual spin – straight from the horses mouth.

A smaller part of all of this is that I am a B-eat Young Ambassador. Most of my media appearences, interviews and involvement with ED awareness films and literature are arranged through B-eat. I sometimes link to such articles, radio interviews and television interviews, most of which happen during EDAW – a little warning for you there. However, whatever I write here is an expression or opinion of my own – I do not represent B-eat here – just see me as a cheerleader for them as a bloody fantastic, hardworking and leading Eating Disorder charity.

I am not here to preach. I am not standing on a pedestal. I do not claim to know the answers or represent those lucky ones of us who have ‘recovered’ from an Eating Disorder. I have been up and down, in and out of control, in treatment, out of treatment, sometimes carefree, never for long. Recovery is a process that demands not only determination and guts, but the ability to take an enormous leap of faith without ever looking back. I, regretfully, have not been able to do that yet. I can only hope, and until then, I continue to live doing what I can to live with whatever my silly brain throws my way. Some days I fight, some days I let it take me.

This week is about understanding an illness that is so often misrepresented. I want to challenge stereotypes and I want to speak out for those who suffer silently. There should be no shame or stigma attached to mental illness, but unfortunately, there is, too much. I’ll be wiritng about different issues connected with Eating Disorders throughout the week and if it helps only one person, job done.

Have a good week. x

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  • Fiona Bromelow

    Thank you Ilona Catherine – a well thought out and sensitive article in this week when we get an extra opportunity, and I believe duty, to speak out about these serious mental illnesses. Fiona Marcella

  • katecollings

    Wow what a brave step well done you. I hadnt realised it was ED Awareness Week so thanks for the heads up. I think the sooner we can help prevent people from suffering from this deadly illness the better. I saw some of myself in your words though I have a few years on you ;-) Good luck with all your endeavours. Kate Mary xx

  • Sanabitur Anima Mea

    Thank you for your bravery and honesty. I hope one day that you recover completely.

    I am fighting bulimia and it is so hard.

  • Jules Evans

    Thank you!

    Everyone has demons, when we are more OK with talking about them publicly, we reduce their power over us. I had social anxiety in my late teens and early 20s, which I wrote about publicly. Wasn’t always easy to do, but I’m very glad I did. All best, Jules

  • Claire Kearns

    well said xxx

  • Charlotte Bevan

    Dear Illona

    Thank you – a great blog. I am hoping the link below will prove useful to explain anorexia to friends, and will also make you smile

    We have a whole You Tube page with Xtranormal videos of information about eating disorders (C&M ED Productions)

  • hunfred

    The stigma attached to any mental illness is so horrifying that I often find my self speaking out when keeping “stum” would be a lot less trouble.Any person who has experience of mental problems will know just how difficult it is to make others understand,it is not like a broken bone you cant get your plaster signed, instead you get labeled,and be told anything from pull your self together to look how lucky you are.Sometimes a highly productive mind is payed for by long periods of utter despair.Most people I have met over the years and it has been a lot of years I am no spring chicken,shut off as soon as I mention anything which to them is not normal.I suffer from a different illness but it comes from the same place as yours,the mind.Take it from an old geezer I think you are very brave and wish you all the very best.

  • KesterR

    Dear Ilona

    my girlfriend used to have serious anorexia for nine years and nearly died from it, she’s now 95% recovered for 2-3 years, but still occasionally re-experiences some of the emotions without actually not eating properly. She’s currently a good healthy weight, a little over actually, but not very much.

    I’m really struggling to understand how it feels for her -and a couple of times (twice in 6mths) I’ve unintentionally stimulated the old feelings for her, and she gets so so upset it’s quite terrifying. I empathise when she’s upset but I just can’t understand how or why she feels it’s so enormously terribly important. When I imagine myself in the same position -being moderately overweight, I don’t feel like it’s a big deal at all, n I think I’d feel very calm n rational about it and just adjust what I eat a bit and run more.

    I empathise when she’s upset but I can’t really intuitively understand what it feels like for her and how it seems to terrifyingly important to her.

    I’ve tried speaking to B-eat and Samaritans and NHS Direct to try to get someone who understands it very deeply to explain to me what the connections are or why it seems so totally significant and important to her, ideally someone who’s gone through it and recovered with enough distance and perspective to be able to explain it to someone who hasn’t, but so far nothing but vague superficial generalities and nothing about the feelings that lead to it.

    The gist of my question is: how or why does someone’s weight come to seem so enormously and terrifyingly all-important to them, as if it’s the ultimate fundamental summary of their value? Intuitively it makes no sense to me and it isn’t even clear to me how it connects to feelings about the value of life in general -it seems like for her it connects to that adolescent morbid phase of feeling life’s futile and meaningless in the context of death, and nothing we can do or experience is of any ultimate value since we all die (I experienced that phase too in a different way), but I don’t see how that can connect to one’s weight at all. Weight seems fairly trivial to me and it seems almost ridiculous to me to connect that kind of morbid angst to worry about body weight. I just don’t understand how and why my girlfriend is so extremely sensitive and overreacts so much, and it’s very stressful empathising with the upset but not understanding where it comes from.

    I’m trying to understand so I can avoid even unintentionally stimulating it again and making her so upset. I’ve only really triggered it by stupid insensitivity twice in six months, so I think I’m capable of learning. Please?

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