There was a time when I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was, I mean really truly understood. I think the limitations of my understanding went as far as to say you didn’t eat and got really thin. Well even that’s wrong isn’t it? Because eating disorders are not just anorexia. There’s bulimia, binge eating disorder, eating disorders not otherwise specified… and more. Thinking back I can even remember making a joke about anorexia. Sadly now, I can’t imagine a life without knowing what it’s like. It changed me forever.
I hear people all the time saying they don’t really understand, or that too many people take pills now, or it’s not really an illness. Well my response every time is, it could happen to you, and then you’ll change your mind. They are illnesses just like anything else. You wouldn’t deny medication for cancer would you?! Eating disorders and the psychological problems that come with them do not discriminate! Just because you don’t feel ill now, or have never had any kind of psychological illness, doesn’t mean you are immune.
I can’t be too mad at people who don’t understand eating disorders, make jokes about them, or who just don’t get it’s an illness. I was that person once…
I had a change of heart regarding eating disorders in December 2000 when I was diagnosed with anorexia. I’d been ill for a while so various tests were done. I remember my consultant sitting back in his chair and saying, “Well what do you think it is?… I think it’s anorexia.”
This is probably my most vivid memory of the whole of my illness, which spanned fourteen years of treatment. I didn’t feel scared, or even relieved that there was an answer. I felt ashamed!
It couldn’t be anorexia; I didn’t want attention, or to be skinny, or to starve myself. I wasn’t like that. I couldn’t tell anyone that I had anorexia, they would think I was selfish and shallow and that this was all my choice. What was I going to do?
Perhaps if I hadn’t been so adamant that I wasn’t suffering with anorexia, I would have responded to treatment earlier. I remember the first person I told; I cried, had a massive hug, and felt like I had failed at everything I wanted to achieve in life. That was it. I never uttered the words, “I have anorexia” again, but it was quietly understood by my close family and friends that I did.
Every day was a struggle. Being left alone was like being left with a bully inside my head. I was terrified. There were times as it got much more severe that I was scared to close my eyes, just in case I never opened them again.
The problem with mental health issues is that most of the time nobody can tell you’re ill, well until it’s too late and severe. Getting help or understanding often relies upon you saying something. The other problem is that there remains a massive stigma surrounding these issues. Both of these things contribute to the constant struggle.
I never thought I would develop an eating disorder, or the post-traumatic stress, or depression that followed. I had my life all planned out from about 13 years old. I was going to work in media, be a journalist, work in London
It’s not that you can’t do these things after an eating disorder. I have done all of those things, and had opportunities I never believed possible. But it was harder, and without support I never would have got there.
If you know someone who is struggling, please try and be there. It’s not a choice, and can happen to anyone. It’s still the same person, just absent for a while.
Let them know that they can talk to you if they want to.
If you don’t know much about eating disorders, research
Remember, an eating disorder takes over a person. This is not them, this is the eating disorder
Encourage communication – It doesn’t have to be talking. Little notes can be just as effective.
I remember that time as the loneliest and feeling the most misunderstood I have ever been. If nothing else, just let them know that they are not alone and that you love them.Share