This week I invited people to share their eating disorder stories on my blog. I wanted to gain a better understanding of what it is like to live with this kind of mental illness. Four eating disorder survivors shared their stories, to help raise awareness on Eating Disorder Awareness Week and prove to people that are still suffering, that recovery is possible.
If you’d like to read more people’s eating disorder experiences this is:
This is Arabella’s story…
The word anorexia isn’t part of many people’s mental dictionary, it’s not a word that you come across often and you use it even less. When you think of mental health or illnesses, you’re more likely to think of depression and anxiety, sadly two very common ones that most people experience some form of in their lifetime. People like me however; anorexia is a word known too well.
You damage easily, and your bones and soul will become hollow like those of a bird.
Eating disorders aren’t talked about as much as they should be, most people are uneducated on them and through people’s lack of understanding, things can go wrong. If I were to ask someone to give me three symptoms of anorexia, or any other eating disorder, I’m not sure how many people would be able to give me an answer other than ‘they look thin’ and I wouldn’t blame them.
Until the age of 17 if you had asked me that question my answer would have been the same. It wasn’t until I developed the illness myself that I started learning more about it.
The realities of living with anorexia
The only thing more painful than waking up every morning is going to sleep at night.
You damage easily, and your bones and soul will become hollow like those of a bird. You wish you can just fly way like they do but you can’t. You don’t want to die but you’ll never truly believe that you’re ill enough unless you’re faced by that reality.
Walking through canteens I would hold my breath, convinced that I could gain weight by smelling food.
People no longer trust you, you’ll be watched with suspicion every time you go to the toilet and your friends can’t watch you hurt yourself this way, so they’ll leave. You started this to feel in control but you’ve never felt so out of control in your entire life.
Walking through canteens I would hold my breath, convinced that I could gain weight by smelling food. I was wearing the smallest sized clothing but I was convinced that someone had swapped the sizing tags when I wasn’t looking. The tag said the smallest size, but I was a size 22 in my mind and the tag had been switched just to torture me some more. It sounds nuts when I say it now, but at the time it made perfect sense.
You will break your family’s hearts and you will be angry at them for caring.
There are many reasons people develop eating disorders, but I want to clarify now that it’s not a diet gone wrong. To this day I have never been on a diet and I doubt I will in the future. The illness itself is when someone restricts energy intake (food). They often have a distorted view of themselves, believing that they are overweight when in fact they can be severely underweight, this distorted view is called body dysmorphia. Surprisingly, anorexia doesn’t always start off as a weight issue, it’s about keeping control of something and that something is food.
There was no poetic trigger that caused me to try and gain control. Things at home were turbulent at times, I had just started college and wasn’t coping well with the change so by no means were things perfect. Through counselling I’ve been able to look back to my childhood and realise that I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety from a surprisingly young age. But there was no traumatic event that happened to me, it was simply a build-up of things.
To start with, it was slow, it was little things like choosing not to eat when it was my day off college and I was home alone, or not having the packet of crisps I was given for lunch. I liked the feeling of being in control of that decision and it made me feel better, finally I was taking control of my life again.
I never intended to lose weight, I had an alright relationship with my body at the time, but somewhere along the line things changed.
Recovery is a very slow and personal process but for the most part it is achieved through counselling, medical aid and a good support network.
The feeling of control was always short lived, so to make it last longer I swapped over from controlling the food itself to controlling the number of calories I ate in a day. It was this point that the disorder really set in and soon I was terrified of gaining weight.
How did I recover?
Recovery is a very slow and personal process but for the most part it is achieved through counselling, medical aid and a good support network. My recovery looked a little different, I recovered though counselling, a small support network and my faith.
On average junior doctors are only given 2 hours of training in medical school about eating disorders and for this reason they are not all that experienced on seeing the signs.
It took me several visits to my local doctors to be even considered for help and it took even longer for me to get a referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). I had to fight for help that I didn’t really want to then be told that I wasn’t ill enough to receive it, and sadly that is the reality for a lot of people suffering with eating disorders.
I was underweight to the point where the nurse told me that if I carried on for another two weeks, I’d land myself in hospital, but my heart was strong and healthy so I didn’t fit the criteria for help.
I was tired of living with anorexia and I wanted freedom.
This is where faith came in.
I had been a Christian for just under a year when I first developed anorexia. The full story of how I recovered is a very long one but it’s one I’d love for you to read and you can find it on my blog, Lost in The Story.
But long story short, once I was told by CAMHS I wouldn’t be treated by them, my mum helped me to get a referral for a counselling service near me. I’ve been there for 2 years and it really helped me to understand and work through my problems. I became more honest with my tutors at college and opened up to them about having anorexia and they were able to get me somewhere other than the canteen where I could eat my food.
Through constant counselling, support by those closest to me, and the incredible love, faith and determination given by my boyfriend, I got to a place where I wanted it to be over. I was tired of living with anorexia and I wanted freedom.
Breaking free of an eating disorder is hard work. No matter how your recovery comes about, if it’s through hospital or at home, close friends or group counselling sessions, with or without faith, I want to assure you that recovery is possible for everybody.
Mine came through my faith and God’s grace and I’m thankful for that everyday. Whatever your approach is to getting better, I can promise you it is so worth it and you’ll never regret it.