Today I wanted to join you all to talk about something very personal to me and something that I don’t often talk about. However, recently after considering my personal battles and the history of my life I finally feel ready to come out into the open and talk about my past struggles with an eating disorder.
Can I just say before I begin, mental health is a very complex chasm and its not something that should be taken lightly. It can be just as debilitating as a physical disability and I would very much prefer it if people would try and be mindful of this when commenting, my blog is a place where I like to be positive, honest and open minded, so please respect my story and others who might be going through a similar thing.
Its taken my a lot of courage to write this blog, for years I was ashamed of my history with an eating disorder. But, I realise that there might be someone out there who reads this blog post who can find comfort in my words, so I felt I owed it to you to tell you the truth and to tell it honestly as it was.
This is of course my personal account of events, eating disorders vary in everyone and I can never claim to be an expert on the matter of eating disorders. But, I wanted to give you an idea of what it can be like.
I have never before revealed this fact about myself on my blog, but I am going to say it now. When I was fourteen years old I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. I battled with Anorexia for 1 and a half years before I finally walked on the road to recovery. This was a very dark part of my life and a time when I was not content with the person I was. I am recovered now and although I still occasionally face issues with my self esteem, I am able to combat them a lot better than I did. Especially now as an adult who has a truly amazing group of friends (online and in real life) who have all helped me accept the person I am.
For many, many years I have been grappling with the idea of writing this blog and publicising it to the world. For years after my struggles with this mental health condition I learned to feel ashamed of this part of my life and to shun it as something to cast away as a bad life choice. And why? Because certain aspects of society made me feel as if my Anorexia was something to hide, that it wasn’t a valid mental health condition and that it is instead ‘a diet choice’ a phrase I have heard on several occasions. People also believe that Anorexia is a choice you make or its something people do in order to get attention or to look like their celebrity idol. And although the media and the fashion industry with their airbrushed models and celebrities on their latest craze diet has a lot to account for when we look at the large percentage of young people (both female and male) who are dealing with an eating disorder, its not as simple as that. Anorexia is complex and the reason it begins is different in every person, some people completely recover from it. But, others battle the disorder for the rest of their lives. But, its a mental illness nonetheless and should be taken as one and not as a fad diet to be tried.
When I first started my blog 3 years ago I debated long and hard with the idea of talking about this side of my life. I often talk about my physical disability as someone with sight loss and Septo Optic Dysplasia. Yet, I could never bring myself to talk about Anorexia, I feared that i would receive a backlash of comments and negativity.
Let me begin my outlining the context of this point in my life when I became Anorexic. I was fourteen years old, but I was not your typical fourteen year old. I had a very rare and complex disability. I had a condition known as Septo Optic Dysplasia, a rare congenital condition that affects the pituitary gland and the endocrine system and in some cases, vison. I was severely sight impaired and I had to use a cane in order to be mobile. I had to take a cocktail of vital medication in order to maintain a health, some of which could make my weight fluctuate from time to time. I was by no means fat, I know that now looking back. I was a young girl who was healthy and simply suffered from water retention.
But, others didn’t see it this way, teenage years can be tough and even more so when you have a disability. I was bullied for my sight loss, for having to use a cane, for my weight, for having ginger hair, for being bookish and swatty. Most of that I could take, its tit for tat after all, you expect to have a little mockery at secondary school, its the way of life. But, it hurt me to think that people thought it was ok to mock me for my disability, something that wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t a popular girl, I wasn’t skinny and I didn’t fit in. It got to a point where I simply couldn’t stand being bullied no longer, I resolved that if I could change one thing about myself maybe I would be mocked a little less.
So, I resolved to go on a diet to lose weight and get a more toned stomach. At the time it was nothing sinister, for me it started of as a diet. I started to go on the treadmill and cut out junk food and generally be a little more healthier.
But, as I looked at diet magazines and saw other girls at my school and the way they looked posing on Facebook for a night out wearing tight dresses and high heels. I became more desperately unhappy, I wanted that life too. I wanted to be able to go out without a cane and to wear tight dresses without looking in the mirror and wanting to burst into tears. So, gradually Anorexia started to take over the person who I was.
Within 4 months I had gone from eating healthy and walking often to making drastic changes. I skipped meals, I hid my lunch in my room, I avoided lunchtimes at my school and lied to my parents of my having eaten at school and thus I was not hungry for dinner. I began to use the treadmill for exceeding amounts of time each day, at my peek I went on the treadmill for two hours solid. I would strip down and weigh myself every night, I’d see how many of my ribs were on show. I started to set myself weight goals and each time I hit that milestone I’d set another. Because it was never enough, I always felt that I needed to loose more in order to feel adequate.
Anorexia can often be described as a method to obtain control and indeed I did see it as this. It was something I could control, I couldn’t control my disability and I couldn’t control how others saw me, but my weight I could.
Within ten months I had lost over 2 stone, I weighted 5 stone and 10 its and I was determined to loose more. But, by this point people had started to realise a change in me, my mother had discover the bags of discarded lunches. My hair was falling out, I had stopped having periods, my teeth were chalky, I was tired all the time, my skin was sallow, I was fainting all the time and I was paranoid and snappy. I was an entirely different person, I would snap at anyone if they so much as said one thing to me that I deemed mocking. People had started to comment on how thin I was and one day I remember yelling ‘so you pick on me when I’m too fat and now I’m too skinny? I can’t do anything right.’
In my case my Anorexia was a real concern to my consultants, I had hypoglycaemia after all, so when I became Anorexic my sugar levels became drastically unstable. I’d fainted a few times, I’d experience low blood sugar every day and I was admitted to hospital on a few occasions.
Everyone was desperately trying to help, my family, doctors and even some people from my school. They all wanted what was best for me and they wanted me to see my self worth. But, all I could see was a girl who really did need to loose weight. I’d tell myself that I was too fat and that I wasn’t worth anything until I’d reached my next goal weight. In a way it was like self-loathing, I hated who I was and I was trying to change myself in whatever way I could.
I started to feel anger towards them, even my own mother who I love more than anything. I remember thinking ‘this is the one thing I’m good at and the one thing that is going well in my life. But, they are trying to take it away from me.’ All I saw was people constantly asking me to keep a food diary and to talk about food and eating. I didn’t see the worry in their eyes and or hear the concern in their voices.
I was officially diagnosed by a specialist with having Anorexia Nervosa.
Eventually, I received counseling and they were able to talk me through my problems. I began to realise some of the roots of my eating disorder, I discovered that it was because I hadn’t truly accepted myself, I didn’t accept my disability and I wanted to be someone else. But, I was terrified of what would happen to me if I didn’t work to change my ways, I didn’t want to be infertile and I didn’t want my teeth to fall out. I wanted to be happy again, I hadn’t felt happiness for a year and a half since Anorexia. I wanted to eat a slice of cake without hearing a voice at the back of my head telling me I couldn’t. It was a long road to recovery, but eventually I got there.
To this day I still can have issues with water retention due to my medication and whenever that arises I simply go for longer walks or morning swims and cut down on sweets. But, I always remember that young fourteen year old girl with her thin frame and lifeless eyes. I never want to go down that road again.
I had always had issues with depression in the past, usually they revolved around my disability and the illness that could affect my day to day life. I learned to deal with my disability and to accept it for what it was, it was a part of me and I needed to embrace it if I was ever going to love myself.
So, I started to talk to my family, I got back to working hard at school, I grew a thicker skin and I started to plan for a future. I gradually gained the weight that I had lost and I started to regain a healthy relationship with food and exercise again. I started to find a love for writing and for fashion. Instead of trying to find acceptance in my weight I started to experiment with my clothes and makeup. I turned to the world of clothes with beautiful embellishments and heeled shoes to discover myself. I began to write more and more, I started to find a sanctuary in my writing. Even though my peers didn’t accept me, it didn’t matter, because I had learned to accept myself and I knew one day that i would find people that would accept me. I was right!
I did very well at my GCSE’S, A Levels and now have a Degree in English Literature and am studying for a Masters Degree. I am now a journalist and a blogger, i have so many wonderful friends and followers that I have met through my work who I am eternally grateful for. Over time I recovered, but for a long time I buried my struggles with Anorexia in a hole and didn’t talk about it. I was ashamed that I had put myself through it, I thought it was a sign of weakness.
But, having been at University and met a wonderful group of friends who were very open about their mental health conditions and personal struggles, I stopped hating myself. I realised that like depression and anxiety, Anorexia is too a mental disorder. Its not something to be ashamed off, like any mental health condition we must talk about it in order to dispel the stigma that surrounds it. We must start the conversation and talk about mental health in order for people to understand it.
I want to raise awareness of eating disorders and how they can affect people, I want to make the fashion industry realise the power they can have over people and that they should use it more positively.
The way I describe Anorexia its like being incased in a ball and the further you travel into this dark world of Anorexia the thicker it becomes. In time it gradually cuts you off from the people around you, it becomes thicker and it blocks them out. It becomes harder for them to reach you, harder for you to hear their words and if not treated it came become almost impossible to get out. But, trust me, from personal experience you must with every fibre of your being, you must try and hear what they say and stretch out a hand for them to take hold of. You must try not to cut yourself off from others and let them help you. Because, the way I was able to beat Anorexia was to see myself through their eyes and when I did I was able to stand up to my demon and battle my way back to normality.
I hope that anyone reading this blog remembers some key things…
Anorexia is not, a lifestyle choice its a mental illness.
Anorexia is not someone merely trying to gain attention or look like a celebrity idol (although this certainly contributes). In many cases it can be rooted in a lot more than that.
If you know someone who is going through an eating disorder, remember to always keep trying to reach out to them, they will hear you if you try hard enough.
If you are someone who would mock a person for how much they weigh, remember how much impact your words can have. The bullies who told me I was fat resulted in me spending a year and a half of my life in utter misery.
If you are going through an eating disorder, try and remember that the people who you may think of as infringing on the one thing you can do, are only trying to help you because they know you are worth so much more than this.
And never forget, you can beat it and you will.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to have read this and if any of you want to reach out you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on my social media. Don’t be afraid to reach out, because when you do that you are already on the road to recovery.