“I think I have an eating disorder”
You don’t have to weigh five stone, have bones protruding like angry Himalayas or have lived by water and green tea alone for weeks on end to have an eating disorder. You don’t even have to fit neatly into one of the doctor’s tick-lists; their tidy criteria used to label you as anorexic, bulimic or a binge eater. Every single person who has the courage to take that leap of faith and mutter the sentence “I think I have an eating disorder” deserves to be taken seriously and treated with respect.
There are many reasons why eating disorder are something that are often kept secret for months or even years before a person confides in someone or asks for help. In the early stages of the illness, many people who are affected will be in denial and not even be aware themselves that they have a problem; they will shake of the fatigue, the headaches, the dizziness, the turmoil and be adamant that they are ‘fine’, especially if challenged. But even as the penny drops in slow motion and flips on the floor sending ripples of fear, as the awareness flicks a switch and eyes widen, acceptance is hard to swallow.
Is power over food really a power or is it a weakness? You thought you were in control, but look at your now; is sickness control or is it the opposite? Where is the happiness that you thought this quest to ‘be thin’ would bring you? Where is the joy in dragging your exhausted body to the gym at 6am? Is that pride you see in the mirror as your eyes water and mascara stains after throwing up that child’s portion of dinner? Is this level of self-denial really an achievement? How do you feel now? Admit it – you feel like shit.
Looking back at my ‘worst’ stage of Anorexia (one of many ‘worst’ parts I hasten to add), even now I feel nostalgic sometimes. I miss that sense of achievement that I got from knowing that I was strong enough to resist anything and everything. But that wasn’t strong, that was me being dictated to by a mental illness that could have killed me and has killed many others like me.
Real strength comes through holding your hands up. Real strength is saying those words out loud for the first time. Real strength is admitting that you can’t do this alone; that you need help.
Breaking point for me came years after people first started to notice, make comments and voice their worries. For years I batted them away, told those closest what they wanted to hear, that it was just a phase – I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine. I was a ‘fine’ robot. Perhaps they gave up trying. My parents later told me that living with me back then was like treading on eggshells. They were desperately worried and wanted to help, but didn’t know how. They wanted to talk, but didn’t know how. They were scared I would snap and bite their heads off at the slightest mention of food or weight. They were called into school after friends expressed concern to the deputy head. I was annoyed off because all they ever talked about was make-up and the bloody Special K diet – how could they tell me to eat?
Eventually, I went to the GP with my mum. I reluctantly admitted whatever charges were put to me, lulled in the chair staring at the dial as the wet-lettuce woman GP did my blood pressure. She weighed me. Underweight. A few more questions. The result? “As long as you’re having your periods you’re fine.” Years later, my consultant stared in disbelief as I recounted this. She had treated girls with a BMI of 11, still menstruating. To me, this doctor’s appointment was a green light. I was right – I was fine.
Of course, I wasn’t. The seeds had been sown and the next few years of my life would see me eat less, exercise more, lose more weight and become increasingly miserable. Ultimately, it ended in me getting so ill that I was told I could have a cardiac arrest at any minute.
I sometimes wonder ‘what if?’ What if that first GP had said something different? What if I had shown a bit more willingness to cooperate if she had? Hindsight is a wonderful thing – but for the record, I so much wish that I had been able to ask for help earlier. If you’re in that position now, I urge you to do it – tell someone, anyone.
But this isn’t just for those who have never told anyone about their illness. This is for those working towards recovery, those struggling to keep a hold, those who have come so far and are ’stuck’, those who are recovered and are having an ‘off day’. Telling someone for the first time may be the most daunting thing – but there’s no point in doing that, addressing it for a while and then letting it peter out into weeks, months, years of more whispers and sneaking – the secret wins. ‘Breaking the Silence’ once is not enough. Eating disorders can only be beaten if we start the wheels turning and keep them going. Honesty and openness in spite of whatever the voices in your head tell you. The illness will scream at you to keep quiet. Scream louder.Tagged in: anorexia, Binge-Eating Disorder, bullimia, Eating Disorders Awareness Week, health
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter