So, my first post. I have sat here for five minutes trying to figure out what to delve into first, so I chose what has had the biggest impact on my life so far. Anorexia.
In turkey at age 14
Even writing the word makes me flinch. I have dealt with therapists, friends and family members asking me about it for over a year now and to this day the word still stings like acid on my tounge or rings like a fire alarm in my ears. But I suppose the first step in getting better is admitting to the problem. I never imagined I would ever have a weight problem.
So I’ll start with my experience with this vile disease. Yeah sure I was always the “chubby cousin” or the “fat friend”, but I was somewhat confident and I could brush off any sour words said in gest. Besides, it was just puppy fat that I shed at the age of 14 and suddenly became very curvy and popular. I was vibrant, laughed at every opportunity and love life. My mum had got married and my new step dad was a male version of me, we had so much in common and I felt I had a best friend in him. We moved house and my brother and I moved schools leaving all of our friends behind. At my new school, I became close friends with one girl, who was the most self obsessed and malicious girl I have ever had the privilege to meet, but at the same time she was stunning, funny and had a body to die for- all I wanted was for her to like me. Everyone loved her and I was a silly, impressionable girl who desired the attention she had. And I got it. But at that age, the pressure coming from all angles to look good, be popular and do well in school very quickely became too much and thats when I began to lose control. I spent my last year of middle school saving money my Mum had given me for lunch to spend on skirts and mascara. It wasn’t yet a problem, and I wasn’t doing it intentionally, but I was quickely spiralling into a trap that would take years to get out.
In the Caribbean at age 14 ( I’m in the middle)
The first years of high school were one of the happiest of my life. I sorted my education out and became an A* student. I gained some amazing friends, took on a horse who I adored and he did me, and couldnt be more content.. outside of home that is. At home life was a completely different story. Having just got my first real boyfriend my step dad became a controlling psycopath and banned me from using my phone, my laptop, going out, seeing people, riding
my horse or even walking to the Co-op for an icecream. I was not allowed to be a teenager, to live. I spend a whole summer in the house being grounded for sins I didnt commit, for instance feeling my boyfriend up whilst we were sitting on the sofa (for the record, he had his arm around me whilst were were watching Countdown. ). He twisted everything and yet, my mother never saw my side and my world became a very dark place to live. He abused me mentally and physically, yet I still loved him like a father to the point where I didn’t know who to trust. Self destruction seemed the only way to stop it, but it couldnt be done in an obvious way so that it appeared to be attention seeking. I had to be sneaky.
The funny thing with eating disorders is anything and everything can trigger them. After extensive investigation my therapist and I concluded that mine was control. I had abolutely none over my life, so I took control over what I ate. It felt good. After months of hell and mental torture I had found something that made me feel better: watching the pounds melt away. I started at a measly 8.7 stone anyway, so it goes without saying that I didnt have much to lose.
I promised myself, “Get to 8 stone, then you can stop”. I thought i’d feel better, slimmer, more confident after all of the abuse. I started restricting, I don’t remember how- my memory from back then is all very muffled. I got to my goal weight quicker than I thought, and by then the habbits had imbedded in my head and I just couldn’t stop. With the habits came the thoughts. Oh the thoughts, to this day I still struggle occassionally with them. They reappear as quick as they dissapear and bring the ability to ruin my day and everyone elses around me.
They started off innocent, “If I go for a walk around the park after lunch I wont feel as guilty for eating”
And soon got slightly stronger, “You can have that biscuit if you throw it up after”
Until they got completely rediculous, “Don’t have milk on your 10g of bran flakes, just have water”
And became overpowering, “No food today, hunger is a good feeling”.
Eventually becoming entirely irrational and dangerous, “Water makes you bloat, and I bet there’s hidden calories in that stuff that they just don’t tell you about. No more water, only if you feel really light headed.”
Whats worse is that the lighter I got, the more I wanted to lose. 7.5 not enough. 7.0 keep going. 6.5 nope. 6.0 fat shit. I got to 37kg, before I finally said enough is enough. My bones were protruding from all angles, and limbs were numb and blue. My once gorgeously thick hair was falling out in clumps. I cried myself to sleep every night and cried every morning when I woke up. I hadnt had a period in 6 months and my boyfriend and I were becoming serious, what if I wanted a baby in the future? My breathe smelt constantly and my brain was slowely shutting down. I couldnt remember things that happened 5 minutes ago and my vision was blurry. The worst symptom for me however was the cold. Having 0% body fat left me sitting outside in the blazing sun freezing cold until my lips went blue and my fingers black. My mum and step dad had now split and she was well and truely on my side so what was stopping me?
I found a list a couple of weeks ago I made at my lowest weight to motivate me to gain…
1) To not be cold all the time.
2) So my boyfriend and family stop worrying about me.
3) To be able to horse ride again.
4) To go to university and have a decent life without anorexia.
5) To be able to sit on a hard chair without it hurting.
6) To be able to eat again.
7) To get my hair back.
8) To be able to have children at some point.
9) To have the energy to laugh again.
Anyway, this list goes on for another 68 points. I made sure to add a motivator everyday for the first few months of weight gain to keep me going, and if I felt bad one day then I would sit and read through them all. I began my recovery on my 2 week holiday to Egypt last August. I was already admitted to an outpatient eating disorder ward and was being weighed weekly, they told me that if I hadn’t gained weight by the time I had got back then I would be admitted to inpatients and fed through a tube. The thought off this would have literally killed me. My disorder was fuelled by control, and what if I had that control taken away? Yes sure I was being weighed and monitored by my mum but at the moment I had control over my intake, no one could force me, but if I was? The thought made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach.
They always say the first day is the hardest. I woke up and felt excited that for the first time in so long, I was going to allow myself to eat and live. I ate breakfast the same way I did every morning, 10g bran flakes and water, “the last anorexic meal” I told my self, similar to a smoker having their last cigarette before quitting for good. At the airport, I brought my lunch. I remember being absolutely terrified, not only was this my first proper meal in about 6 months without being sick afterwards, but it wasn’t familiar, or “safe” at all. My brother brought a KFC, something I would have enjoyed before my disorder took over. Though I couldn’t strive for that just yet, I went into Boots and got a meal deal. I shook from head to toe as I scrolled through all off the calories on every single item. I could feel the panic coming along. “If you eat this you won’t be able to work it off on the plane, and you’ll be huge in Egypt”. I saw two options. The first was a sushi packet at 186 calories. I hate cold fish but this was the lowest cal option so I picked it up. My second option, a sweet chilli chicken wrap at 298 calories. Over 100 more calories. I knew which one I wanted. Chicken and sweet chilli. When you haven’t eaten anything with a substantial amount of protein or sugar in months then the very thought is enough to make you salivate. I stood their for 10 minutes, with women skirting around me, I could feel I was being judged- their eyes scanning me in a horrible and offensive way.
Then I had my first non irrationals thoughts for a year. “Why exactly am I doing this to myself? My boyfriend and I got together at my highest weight, when I was at my most content with myself and the world. Now I am just a weak shell of what I used to be. Do I want to live like this forever?” I knew the answer. I picked up that wrap and suddenly the fear vanished.
“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows” It was all in my head, all I had to do was say
My mum and I in Egypt
enough was enough. I picked up some low calorie popcorn and a fruit bag as well. There are absolutely no words to describe the feeling as I sat down on that plane and dug into that meal. Yes all I wanted to do was get up and run around the plane like an idiot to burn it off, but I was fighting it. Looking around, my mother had just had a meal deal too but not a low cal one, and was now sharing a bag of skittles with my brother. Another woman behind was happily tucking into a foot long baguette with a smile on her face. The man in front was casually snacking on a maltesers bag and drinking a hot chocolate. Why could they eat carefree and I couldn’t? I realised at that moment that no one was stopping me, only myself. Like I said, it was all in my head. We landed and got to our hotel, the country was beautiful and for the first time I was excited about being somewhere new and making new memories, enjoying this time with my mum and brother after the hell we had been through. We unpacked and suddenly I felt a wave of hunger before bed. “Don’t eat before bed you idiot, you’ll wake up the size of a house.” And from that moment, I decided I would challenge any destructive thought I had that holiday and see what happened, there were no scales so I wouldn’t be temped to weigh myself anyway, there would be no problem if I couldn’t see one. 2 weeks of complete freedom. There was a knock on our hotel room door. I opened it to see the manager with a platter of food. “For you after your day of travel” he said with a smile. I scanned the plate and cautiously took it from him. Carrots, cucumber, bread, cheese and some sort of meat. With my new mind-set in place, I took it to my bed and started picking. Before long I had devoured more than half of it when my mum came in from the balcony. She looked at me with eyes that said “Thank god its over”
Everything got better from that moment. I was surprised how much I could eat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between and going back for seconds and thirds. Foods I could have only imagined just weeks ago. However, as my mind-set was improving my body image wasn’t. My view of my body had become distorted and I had kidded myself that I looked amazing with no body fat. But now, people were giving me looks and making comments that made me feel uncomfortable. The stigma that all people with eating disorders are doing it for attention was becoming very apparent and I was very sensitive to people around me and what they could have been thinking. I was looking at pictures that my mum had taken on days out and I hated every single on of them. I knew I had to keep going. At the same time my depression was
Enjoying life at last
fizzling away. I am at my happiest in the sea, and 2 weeks doing nothing but scuba diving and sun bathing was giving me so much inspiration and hope. I knew what I wanted to do in the future, be a marine biologist. It was incredible, last month I was planning on ending my life, and now I was planning my future.
When I got back from Egypt I went to my first therapy session thinking the worst. “You’ve put on about 2 stone, but that’s ok because you can lose it all“. Truth is, I didn’t want to lose it all anymore. My mum was so proud of me and I’d worked so hard to fight the thoughts now, anorexia was not going to win. Plus I had rekindled my love for food, and it felt good to nourish myself. I stepped on the scales and trembled from head to foot. My mum watched and the numbers went up. 39kgs. I had gained 4 pounds in two weeks of heavy eating. I was amazed. I knew I could now trust my body to use what I gave it effectively and I wouldn’t pile on the pounds as quickly as I imagined.
So this is dragging on and you’re probably bored out of your mind so I’ll keep this short. Since
Me and my boyfriend this April
then things have got much better. I’m still technically underweight by 4 pounds but I’m getting there. I no longer eat diet foods and have vowed to myself that I will nourish my body at every opportunity. I eat a balanced and varied diet and get a good 2000 calories a day. I no longer have destructive thoughts unless I have something very high in fat/sugar but am learning to deal with it because my body needs it to repair the damage.
I am suffering from the consequences of the long term damage I have done none the less. I have pretty much destroyed my digestive system and rely on very strong laxatives. I am now gluten intolerant from going from a diet of nothing to a diet of heavy carbs. I still haven’t got my period back which is my goal at the moment. I still struggle with calorie counting which is something I am tackling currently.
But at the same time I am reaping the rewards of my hard work. I can eat whatever the hell I want without the urge to restrict or be sick afterwards. I am healthy enough in body and mind to laugh again, to exercise or to sit and do nothing all day. My anxiety has reduced dramatically and I can now eat in public without having panic attacks. I am learning to love my body and also understand that I don’t have to live up to everyone else’s standards, only my own. People are making comments like “You look so healthy!” which would have once freaked me out because I, and many other anorexics, associate healthy with “fat”, but now I see it only as a compliment. Physically, my skin glows, my nerves in my legs have repaired, my hair is thick and growing at the speed of light again, my nails are healthy and no longer yellow and brittle, I don’t have a cold every weekend and I am always warm and can happily sit outside without freezing or my fingers going blue and numb. I can sleep again and socially I am much more alive.
I am becoming me again.
So, final tips for anyone who is suffering from these thoughts?
- Surround yourself with people who love you. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s wrong and ask for help if you need it.
- Don’t put it off. The longer you do, the longer it will take to begin living again and the deeper anorexia sets in.
- Challenge your thoughts. Start of small and work yourself up. Eventually you’ll see that your fears are irrational and based on nothing with any real proof.
- Have goals. Not just goal weights, but personal objectives. for instance, “when I can pour myself a bowl of cereal without weighing it then I have beaten my own thoughts”
- Don’t cut out your favourite foods. By doing this you’re only fuelling the fear- get them out of the way and enjoy them at the same time. ( Mine was nutella. I made this introduction to my diet easier by firstly dipping a banana in it which is a safe food. Eventually I could have it on toast without anxiety)
- Trust your body. It knows what its doing (for more info on this please see www.youreatopia.com/ )
- Avoid triggers like the plague. Reading fashion magazine and diet reviews can be harmful during your first stages of recovery, as you get more healthier in body and mind you will be able to ignore them or even read them and feel sorry for those who believe in starving themselves and punishing their bodies.
- Find new hobbies or get back to new ones. They can be great distractions from thoughts of food and weight all day. Plus is can be great in getting your personality back and making new friendships or rekindling new ones.
- Reward yourself. Want something? Go get it! You don’t need to justify treating yourself, just do it because anyone else would. This can be with items not just food, such as new shoes.
- Make an effort. Its going to be hard emotionally and physically, but you’re in it for the long haul and believe me the outcome is so much better and brighter than the alternative.
- Remember if you don’t recover, you will die eventually. Sounds harsh doesn’t it? Good, it should. Essentially you’re starving your body, not doing what you need to survive, you will run out of fuel and then what?
- Have motivators. Make lists off what you want to achieve when you think of them. Whether its big, such as a family, dream job or holiday, to something small like getting a tattoo or going to see concerts it all counts and will all help you to keep going.
- Have hope. I promise it will get easier.
For those of you who know someone you think may be suffering:
- Talk to them. Don’t be too direct but ask how they are and let them know that you are there should they need you.
- Keep an eye out for symptoms in their behaviour or physical being. If anything alarming is happening then speak to them. If they don’t seem like they want to talk or get help consult a doctor.
- Don’t be deceitful. You may feel like you’re helping with putting extra oil on their food, but it can have the adverse affect. Anorexics and bulimics are very aware of their food ad will see/ taste/smell any change in their food and will very often watch you while you cook. Keep the trust, plus its better if they ate a plain boiled potato than completely avoided a buttery one.
- Be patient. Its obvious that this is a confusing illness to understand to those who don’t suffer from it, but its also very confusing for those who are burdened with it. It comes with mood swings and a change in personality. Don’t give up hope and never give up on helping them.
- Try to understand. There’s so many little things that eating disorders harbour that don’t make sense to others, for instance how competitive the illness makes you, you have to be thinner than everyone else. Do some research by reading blogs like mine, but remember although many symptoms and behaviours are similar, all motives for the disease are different to some extent.
- Gaining weight isn’t the only end goal. Solving the problem that caused the anorexia is key to long term recovery.
- For more help and advice please see B-eat, the British organisation for tackling eating disorders. http://www.b-eat.co.uk
Thank you so much for reading my story and please feel free to contact me if you need me at any time.