This is a bit of a different blogging direction, but I am passionate about erasing the taboo of mental illness and value honesty and raising awareness.
So I decided to write a (fairly lengthy) post outlining my experience with eating disorders.
I want to encourage others to do the same as I think accepting your past is the first step in changing your future.
I also believe that no one should be ashamed of their struggles, and I have worked too hard in recovery to not tell my story. So, here goes; let me know what you think in the comments!
I was always a stick-thin child and pre-teen, because despite eating whatever I wanted (my mother has worked in eating disorders for decades so we were a firmly anti-diet household), I was extremely active and hated sitting still. I really enjoyed dance, ballet in particular, and fashion (which I went on to pursue as a career) but until I was around 12 or 13 years old, I ignored the pressure of body image that these aesthetically focussed activities encouraged, instead honing my perfectionist tendencies into school work and social life.
One afternoon whilst at the local gym with my friends, I stepped upon the weighing scale, something I had never done before and immediately compared it to my friends, who were much shorter than me (I have always been the freakishly tall friend!). I had no knowledge then of BMI (body mass index) and the first thought that hit me was that I was too heavy, despite actually being borderline underweight. The feelings of taking up too much space in the world heightened day by day, and it wasn’t long before I decided to go on a diet so I could start to disappear from the too loud, too tall, too fat person I had become. I wanted to be dainty and delicate like my friends, who I constantly compared myself to throughout my time at an all-girls high school.
I began to cut out the sweet treats between meals, skipped dessert and takeaways, and started upping my exercise. I discovered meticulous calorie counting, which proceeded to take over my life until the present day. No one noticed though, as I was still fairly healthy, and I wouldn’t say I had a clinical eating disorder yet, but the seeds had definitely been planted; I learnt that I could control what I looked like and lie to those around me to get what I want. My bedroom was plastered in reminders of what not to eat, what my daily exercise routine was and names of people I wanted to be as thin as. Simultaneously, a rather toxic friendship at the time moved into a relationship of deceit and dieting, and my group became increasingly infected with the dangers of anorexia, depression and self harm.
It wasn’t until the start of 2012 (at 15 years old) that I was officially diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, by a GP that my parents had dragged me to, much to my dismay. By this time I was eating no more than one measly meal a day and became literally addicted to caffeine; consuming over and above 2 litres of diet coke and 6 black coffees and teas to suppress my ever-increasing hunger. It was as if my little secret was finally out, and control had been lost. In reaction, I further embraced my demons and sunk to my lowest ever weight, and cut out all happiness from my life; isolating myself from friends and family. I was obsessed with forcing others to eat more and be healthy, baking cakes for school every day and even dictating the calorie intake of people around me. All I could think about was my weight and if it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted, my extreme anxiety and panic attacks took over. I also discovered pro anorexia websites and got far too involved in the horrible online world of the extremely skinny, and continued obsessively exercising in secret any time i could, refusing to rest.
After a few months of this torture, I was referred to CAMHS, the young people’s eating disorder service. I was provided with a support worker and doctor but at the time I refused any help; still in deep denial that anything was wrong. Several weight checks, blood tests and ECGs later, it became apparent that if things didn’t change soon, I was going to die. I was put on a waiting list for inpatient hospital treatment. This terrified me as I wasn’t ready to let go,so I tried to gain weight and as a result discovered binge eating. However, it wasn’t enough, and I was finally admitted in June to a facility in Maidenhead/Kent; a long distance from my home making it extremely trying for my family. Told I would be there just 6 weeks, but was then referred to another hospital near Birmingham (so closer to home), and stayed there for 6 months, discharging myself against medical advice on my 16th birthday. My experiences in inpatient treatment were extremely traumatic; I think it would need a whole day to talk about it all, but long story short, it didn’t help me. I gained the weight back, but as soon as I was back in the community and back to my final year of high school, I immediately lost it all again.
This time was different. I knew the dangers of my disease, I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t control it. I wanted to get better, but I couldn’t; I was trapped. I continued to starve myself, interspersed with binge eating, and developed depression with self-harming, stemming from my loneliness and despair. Also, my family were in pieces, with my Dad living in Edinburgh, my sister in Stirling and my mum left alone to desperately help manage my disorder. Due to various age limits, I wasn’t getting any professional help, but on 1st May 2013, I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sent to another specialist hospital. This was the worst day of my life and always will be. I still get flashbacks of that trauma. But as soon as I was admitted to hospital, I fought hard to get out. I had an advocate supporting me, and I proved to the staff that I could eat properly and rest and take care of my mental health. My family had decided to move to Edinburgh later that summer after my exams were finished, so my consultant had no choice but to relieve my section. I was lucky to be able to start afresh in a new place, with sufficient outpatient treatment and a chance to reinvent myself. I had a taste of freedom for the first time in my life.
The next few years were a complete rollercoaster. I moved countries, made a bunch of new friends and started studying at a new place. I got various different part time jobs and immersed myself into fashion and blogging. The trouble was, I never dealt with my issues by distracting myself with real life, and the disordered eating continued. I maintained a low weight for a couple of years, but after launching into a more independent lifestyle without my parent’s support, some travelling abroad I did in the summer of 2014 pushed me over the edge. This time, I had lost weight, but through bulimia, and on my return medical professionals encouraged me to take a break from work and recover. I intended to go to university that year, but it was clear I wasn’t ready so I took a gap year.
steadily re-gained my weight from that relapse, and got back into the swing of life, but my bulimic behaviours and depression continued, despite adult outpatient treatment, sufficient diet and medication. It was early 2015 that things finally started to look up. I met someone I am now truly in love with, and I finally felt happy and stable. However, during that summer I travelled alone again and things slipped downhill, with constant bingeing and purging. When September came and I was a fresher at university in Aberdeen, it was clear I wasn’t going to last long, as my physical and mental health went rapidly downhill when living alone, despite being well over a healthy weight. Along with many other factors, this led me to defer my studies and I am now back in Edinburgh attempting recovery yet again, with the help of therapy and loved ones. I have a long way to go yet, but I finally feel more positive about the future.
I hope my story shows that no matter how many times an eating disorder knocks you down, as long as you never give up, you will get there.