TW: This post discusses my struggle with and recovery from Anorexia. I don’t intend for it to cause any distress to people in a similar situation but please read on with care.
I’ve always had certain issues with food and, to an extent, used it to gain some control of my life when everything else was falling apart. But that’s the irony here: we often think we’re in control of something (and I have used that word to explain many habits and behaviours that I’ve adopted over the years) when the reality is that we couldn’t be less in control.
When I was in full-time employment, I would frequently go the entire day with nothing to eat but a yogurt or a piece of fruit (both if I felt particularly daring!), getting my energy from cups of sweet tea. By the time I made it home in the evening I would be faint with hunger, but I always ate a proper meal at night thus maintaining a ‘front’ for the rest of the family. A lot of my social anxiety was, and still is, around eating in front of people. Staff lunches were a living nightmare and I have a vivid memory of a Christmas lunch at which someone commented ‘…has forgotten her mum’, drawing attention to the fact that I was visibly squirming in my own skin. I laughed along with my colleagues, but it cut me to the bone…obviously, since I still think about it some 6 or 7 years on.
I eventually had to give up work and so eating in public was no longer an issue, but I started to lose weight as a result of being anxious and depressed and not looking after myself properly. All of a sudden I was in control of something! To be clear, I have never been remotely overweight – indeed, inherently, I have always been quite slight – but I wasn’t eating so I was losing weight. I was taking an action and seeing the consequence, which meant I was in control, which made perfect sense to my otherwise confused and frustrated brain. To begin with, my behaviours were discreet. I would eat, but then I would exercise to burn calories. I was constantly adding and subtracting in my head, trying to achieve zero calories. People commented on my weight loss, but probably contributed it only to the state of my mental health. It wasn’t until it started to gain momentum that alarm bells started ringing in peoples heads. I, however, didn’t think there was anything wrong with me – my malnourished, starving mind drove me to lose more and more weight. I avoided mirrors so that I didn’t have to see how thin I was.
I was eventually referred to both a Mental Health Dietician and the Community Eating Disorders Service (CEDS) and my recovery began. When I met with these people, it finally dawned on me how ill I was. They laid it down straight – I was officially Anorexic (something I had subconsciously know for a while). I was headed for hospital and NG tubes and if I didn’t agree to this I would be sectioned. I was at risk of a multitude of health problems on top of the MH ones I was already dealing with. When I thought about it, I was already out of breath just walking to the bathroom. I couldn’t climb over the bath to get in the shower. Due to having no body fat, I found it excruciatingly uncomfortable to sit or lie down. Basically, the proverbial switch flicked on in my head and I realised I had to ‘take control’ of this situation or I was going to die.
In an effort to make this a bit more digestible (no pun intended!), I’ll write about my recovery in the next post.