I had everything I’d ever wanted: a lovely little house, an engagement ring on my finger, a wonderful stepdad to my daughter (who was six going on 16) and a new born baby boy. What should have been the start of something amazing and the happiest time of my life was instead the trigger of a lethal attack of mental health problems. What started out as an innocent attempt to lose the extra pounds I had gained during pregnancy, rapidly turned into an unhealthy competition with myself. As my portion sizes got smaller so did I, the flattering comments from friends came rolling in and I loved it, who wouldn’t? But with every positive comment came a new pressure, a pressure to continue, a pressure to do better. I began skipping meals until I would only eat once a day. I visited Boots on a weekly basis to weigh myself; I hoarded those tiny pieces of paper, the ones that showed my declining weight, the ones that made not eating worth it. But as time went on my weight loss slowed and there were only so many days I could go without eating any food at all, that’s when I started to look for other ways to shift the pounds. Get ready, here comes the gory stuff.
Due to my inability to act out normal bodily functions, I’d already become the owner of those special little pills, the ones that we all shy away from talking about. Laxatives were soon to become my new best friend and something I just couldn’t live without. I envied those people who could make themselves throw up, I tried relentlessly but never saw more than a dribble of spit. Instead my days consisted of frequent trips to the toilet, tummy aches and the constant worry that I could have an accident at any moment. It’s a truth that I don’t admit to easily as it only adds to the shame I feel, but it shows the extraordinary lengths that myself and so many others have gone to just to lose a few extra pounds or to counteract those mad binges we find ourselves having after a week of starvation; a harsh and disgusting reality of eating disorders that is so commonly ignored because, let’s face it, who really wants to talk about their own gruesome toilet habits?
Meanwhile at home things were going from bad to worse. The less I ate the more my fiancé and I argued. I was exhausted, irritable and grumpy, quick to shout at the kids and tired of life. The hatred and shame I felt for myself grew stronger every day, I was making everyone that I lived with miserable. I knew I had to change but the truth is I just didn’t want to, I wanted to be skinny and I didn’t care who I hurt on my way to the perfect size – “the perfect size”, what even is that? I had such a distorted view of what beautiful was. I was convinced that everyone around me was smaller than me and I became scared to go out, the anxiety of the school run was at times unbearable, I would feel so ill I thought I was going to collapse on the playground. Raising children and suffering with an eating disorder was hard, how do you look after your children when you can’t even look after yourself?
This disease was intoxicating. I’d been consumed by this vicious voice inside my head that lied to me, that told me I wasn’t good enough, that my fiancé would stop loving me if I didn’t lose weight, that I was too fat to eat. Every day had become a battle with myself: should I eat? When should I eat? What should I eat? Tormented by regret and shame if I gave into my hunger, if I allowed even a morsel of food to slip down my throat. I was my own worst enemy and food was my weapon. I thought I was in control but I was obsessed. I kept diaries, logged my weight, documented my food and began to binge. I could recall everything I ate in the exact order I ate it in. There were foods I was allowed to eat and foods that were completely off limits. Eating in public became a problem and I avoided social occasions that involved food like the plague. I would sit in restaurants and watch my friends eat while I sat there with my diet coke (the glorious brown liquid that had become a staple in my diet). I would spend hours in the supermarket inspecting all the food before it was deemed worthy enough for the trolley. I hated food, I hated the fact I needed it to survive and I hated that my family needed it too. I didn’t just have rules for myself, I had rules for them too. They weren’t allowed to eat “my food” (the fruit I had spent hours carefully picking out), they weren’t allowed to waste the food on their plates and they definitely were not allowed pudding if they couldn’t eat all of their mains. I’d become a monster. The arguments between my fiancé and I became more frequent and more destructive, I was pushing him further and further away and tearing our family apart. The fact that I was slowly killing myself didn’t frighten me, but losing my family did.
I was eight stone at my first doctor’s appointment. I know what you’re thinking, it’s a pretty normal weight and you’re right, I wasn’t underweight, but I had a problem and I needed help. I was so nervous, I didn’t know how to explain what was going on and I was so worried that they wouldn’t be able to help me because I was too heavy. It makes me sad now hearing stories about people being turned away by medical professionals because their weight isn’t low enough, Shouldn’t we be trying to fix the problem before it gets worse or even before it’s too late? Luckily for me my GP didn’t turn me away she referred me to a local eating disorder service that could diagnose me properly and recommend the best treatment for recovery.
When I was first diagnosed with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) I felt unworthy and fake. I was embarrassed to say it out loud because I didn’t look “ill”, but the truth is, eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, each one a cry for help. The size of the person does not determine the extent of the illness. It does not soften the voices. It does not alter the self hate or diminish the desire to hurt one’s self. The size of the person only disguises that eating disorders are more complicated and more common than we as a society would care to admit. By this point my weight had dropped another five pounds but my protruding bones were not enough to have me admitted to a hospital as I was still within a healthy BMI, I guess you could say I was one of the lucky ones. I was offered counselling through a charity called Eating Matters, who provide support for people with eating disorders and their families, (the ones we seem to forget about, the ones in the background, the ones that don’t have the disease but that suffer from it in different ways.) They offer help and guidance and a safe space away from judgement.
At seven stone nine pounds I was at the lowest weight I had ever known myself to be, I could fit into anything I wanted but I was no longer a woman. My periods had completely stopped, what little boob I had left after breastfeeding had vanished and I was in constant agony. I had been given an answer to all my problems and although the thought of talking to someone I didn’t know about my deepest, darkest secrets was not exactly my idea of fun (I had managed to avoid open discussions about anything that made me feel uncomfortable or depressed for years), I longed to lay in the bath tub with ease, to not knock every bone in my body or be covered in bruises, so I accepted the help I desperately needed. At first I hated every session. For someone who had become completely self-obsessed, I despised talking about myself and I came close to giving up. It seemed easier to carry on just as I was than admit to myself that I was in pain, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a quick fix and I knew I wouldn’t get better unless I faced my fears. We are so afraid of being judged that it makes us unable to talk about our problems. We avoid asking for help because we are scared of looking weak. But how can we expect to resolve our issues if we do not talk or listen? Each person’s battle with an eating disorder is different and each journey to recovery starts in a different place, but for me, admitting I had a problem and finally accepting the help I needed was the first step on mine.