I am currently 43 years of age but I first developed anorexia as a teenager
I was the stereotypical teenage girl anorexic – food avoidant, hiding under baggy clothing, compulsively exercising in private in my bedroom whenever possible, weighing myself constantly – very much focused on losing weight at all costs, weighing any food that I did agree to eat. I dropped out of school.
Eventually, very underweight, I was taken to the doctors. My parents had noticed and were doing everything they could to persuade / bribe / coax me to eat and they were at the end of their tether. Unfortunately by the time they noticed, I was too far entrenched in the eating disorder mindset and admitted urgently to the local hospital.
Despite being almost 18, I was put on the children’s ward as there were no beds available at the local psych unit. There I was treated as a waste of a bed space by the staff (who to be fair had no training in the understanding of eating disorders). I was made to feel a nuisance, not helped by being placed on complete bed rest so they were having to bring me bed pans, etc as well as generally checking and caring for me on a full ward.
I still refused food (tepid hospital food is not appetising to anyone, let alone someone who actively doesn’t want to eat) and after a day of this my parents were told the hospital would not provide food for me unless I would eat it (fair enough, but not helpful for my parents who lived a half hour bus journey away and now needed to try and persuade me to eat in hospital when they had failed to do this at home, as well as looking after my sisters, work etc). I remained on this ward for 6 weeks until a bed became available on a psych unit 40 miles away. This was a mixed general psych ward and there were no other eating disorder patients whilst I was there.
I was kept under constant observation on bed rest and in seclusion for two weeks before being given my own room. Food was no longer negotiable, if I didn’t eat what was put in front of me I was given Fortisip and if I refused that I was tube fed.
I was given antidepressants and had to attend group therapy (though was allowed not to participate so I never did). I was both physically assaulted and had my room trashed by other patients during manic / psychotic episodes.
Treatment was only concerned with weight gain, I was observed washing and toileting for the first month and even once that stopped was accused by staff of vomiting post meal (something that suffering from emetophobia I would / could NEVER do and this led me to totally distrust the staff and to my taking an overdose of the antidepressants they were prescribing me).
I remained on this unit for 12 months – determined by weight. As soon as I hit my target weight I was discharged to outpatients which involved my attending the hospital (40 miles away) once a week to be weighed. Six weeks later my weight had dramatically dropped again and I was told I risked being readmitted, so I totally discharged myself from the services (without any questioning by the hospital).
Needless to say I went downhill rapidly, but somehow stabilised at a certain level, and spent the next few years existing in my own world governed by my eating disorder.
For some reason, I then decided I’d had enough.
It was either die or get myself better and live. I chose to live and over the course of a year managed to get myself, with no outside help at all, back to a healthy weight that my body maintained itself with me no longer thinking or caring about what or when I ate – i.e. I hit my set point weight and I RECOVERED.
I now know from the likes of Tabitha Farrar that I essentially rewired my brain.
Then followed 15 years of normal life. I met and married my husband, life passed with it’s usual highs and lows (some very low, such as discovering our first baby had anencephaly on my 5 month scan; my Mum discovering a lump when she went on a diet prior to our wedding and many years, much treatment and several periods of remission later, eventually dying from the cancer; my Dad suffering a stroke and dying 18 months after my Dum). During this time I showed no signs of relapse or gave any thought to my weight or food. I really was 100% recovered.
However, 5-6 years ago, I inadvertently went into what I now know, in hindsight, was energy deficit. I gradually started noticing what I was eating and a little voice chimed up in my head. Eating disordered voices had returned and I really got a buzz from it. This time my downwards spiral was slow and the eating disorder made me devious and manipulative but became incredibly ingrained in all my passing thoughts.
When I eventually hit rock bottom last January, I made a desperate cry for help in the form of a middle of the night email to my boss and my sister. They were both shocked (I had kept it that well hidden and had managed despite losing a lot of weight to keep up appearances of being ‘normal’ around food in the presence of others). They eventually persuaded me to see my GP, who despite being understanding herself, insisted on weighing me and later had to inform me that the local eating disorder services had refused her referral as my BMI was not low enough (despite being ‘underweight’). She was very cross about this, but all she could offer me was to go on a 6-8 month waiting list for counselling.
Following being weighed (despite refusing to know my weight) I then became obsessed with wanting to know my weight and struggled for weeks not to buy some scales for the house.
After breaking down and finally confessing all to my husband, who was also shocked as he had noticed I’d lost weight, but as I’d managed to maintain an appearance of normal eating during meals where others were present, he had no idea I had a problem.
He enquired at work and discovered his family were entitled to private medical care through his employer. He arranged for me to see a private eating disorder specialist. Unfortunately this psychiatrist was very ‘old school’, again insisted on weighing me, making sure I knew my weight this time, telling me ‘yes, you look thin, but you’re only just underweight!’. His recommendation was that I took anti-depressants, saw a local counsellor for 10 sessions and saw a dietician to address my calorie intake.
The dietician wanted me to follow a specific meal plan which would involve me eating set amounts of specific foods at set times, no fitting in with normal family mealtimes, no eating more than what was suggested. I refused – This isn’t normal eating in my opinion.
I was told to find my own counsellor and that 10 sessions would be covered by my husband’s employer.
At this point i was more focused on what and when I was eating then ever, and more paranoid that I was being watched constantly as some people now knew I had a problem. I had no energy left to find a counsellor, I refused anti-depressants as I knew what I needed was food. To eat (and feel I had permission to eat) what I wanted and when I needed it… I have not been back to my GP since, having lost trust in the local NHS eating disorder provision.
Slowly with my sheer stubbornness and determination, and with the help of the incredibly supportive recovery community on Instagram / YouTube – both of which I found myself after looking for ‘help’ with my eating disorder 😦 , I am getting there.
I am eating so much more and better (tackling ‘fear’ foods and shame concerning my hunger) and rewiring my brain with regards to food and exercise compulsions.
It’s bloody hard work, but as I improve I am getting crosser and crosser with my eating disorder voices and managing to use my frustration and fury to go full on #EDbashing! But it’s taking constant vigilance both in making sure I don’t get complacent about my recovery and making sure I am very careful about who I am following.
Everyone is on their own journey and plenty of others have helped me, but I have to remain honest with myself daily as to whether or not someone is still helping me, or whether they are enabling my eating disorder to get it’s grip on me again by making me feel like I’m doing better than I am, etc through comparisons with them…
If I want to get better, AND I DO, I HAVE to do this for myself which means really being honest with myself.
There are ups and downs, but I’m getting there. I have no intention of attempting to access any eating disorder services again as every time I’ve tried I’ve felt ‘not ill enough’ and my eating disorder voices have become louder and louder.
Please follow Helen on Instagram: @ymaohyd2
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