TRIGGER WARNING – THIS IS ABOUT EATING DISORDERS (ANOREXIA)
This account is purely about my own experience of anorexia. This disease affects all sexes, not just women. It can also affect people of any age group. In my case, I was in my forties when it began. Treatment these days may well be different; I don’t know. If you are struggling with an eating disorder or suspect you may be, please seek help from your doctor or any of the helpline numbers given at the end of this post.
Anorexia isn’t about the food; it’s about control. I wanted to control my life but thought if I could control my body and weight, I’d start to feel better. How wrong I was.
It started with me cutting out fats and carbs like many people on diets. I began to lose weight and felt like I was achieving something. As I lost weight, I still wasn’t satisfied, though, convincing myself I was overweight and needed to lose just a few more pounds. I lost more weight, but I still wasn’t content. I began to develop rituals around food, such as cutting food up into tiny pieces to make them last longer or seem more and, weighing everything I ate, then totting up the calories. I stopped drinking coffee with milk and drank only black coffee and Diet Coke. Still not satisfied; eating salad wasn’t enough to control my habit. I began to weigh the lettuce, water well shaken out of it, and work out the calories in three thin slices of cucumber. The weight started to drop off me, but I couldn’t see how ill I was.
I need to make it clear that anorexia is not a choice, a fad, or a diet; it’s an extremely serious and dangerous illness, which is nearly always caused by significant trauma in childhood, as was the case with me.
More rituals developed, and the weight loss continued. I’m not going to go on to describe all those habits and routines because I DO NOT want this to read like an ‘instruction manual’ for anorexia. Suffice it to say; I ended up in the local psychiatric hospital on the eating disorders ward at a very dangerously thin weight of five and a half stone! I was confined to bed and only allowed to use the bathroom with a staff member present. It was so embarrassing.
My first meal there was presented to me two hours after I’d arrived. It was, to my horror, vegetable curry and rice followed by bread-and-butter pudding and two scoops of ice cream. It wasn’t a small portion, either. I don’t think I’d ever felt that sense of panic before. A nurse sat with me and insisted I ate every stone-cold mouthful. I cried, I sobbed, and I begged, all to no avail. I was made to eat all that food despite having terrible pain in my stomach. It seemed barbaric to me. It took me nearly three hours to force the food down. Other than that, they threatened to tube-feed me, and with my phobia of choking, I couldn’t bear the thought of that.
The eating disorders ward had strict rules. Everything was done on a reward and punishment basis. To begin with, I wasn’t allowed phone calls or visitors, not even my family, and I wasn’t allowed out of my room. Weeks passed, and as I gained weight, albeit reluctantly, I was ‘rewarded’ with a phone call to my daughter, then my son and my Mum. They were all worried sick about me and dreadfully upset that I was going through all of this at the same time, realising I was very ill and needed help. There was no way of ‘cheating,’ although some of the people there tried. We would have lost a reward if we lost weight, which was impossible with every mouthful being supervised. It was such a thoroughly miserable time. At the time, I thought it was tortuous; it certainly felt like it.
However, there are only three ways out of anorexia in my mind. One is to get better despite it being painfully hard work (but well worth it); the other is that you spend your life battling with your illness for, possibly, the rest of your years (and believe me, that’s pretty awful), or you die!! It’s as simple as that!
I began to make good progress and started to feel better physically. I was allowed to eat in the dining room with the other inpatients on our ward; I could go to activities and learn about the basic psychology of eating disorders. We were taught about CBT therapy and offered other forms of treatment once our minds had started to recover from the starvation. We were basically given another chance at life, and I was grateful for that.
Finally, after being in hospital for six whole months, I was allowed day leave, and then weekend leave etc. Eventually, I was allowed home but had to attend the day hospital every day.
I don’t think you are ever really ‘cured’ from an eating disorder, but for me, it’s like being in remission, and I never take my life or health for granted. Anorexia is an addiction as well as an illness. Like any addiction, you have to consider yourself in permanent recovery. Now, at the age of 65, I’m making the most of my time and intend to live the rest of my life without harming myself in this way. I’m happy in my life with two adult children and four gorgeous grandchildren. If anyone is reading this and recognises themselves in what I have written, please, please, seek help.
UK HELP: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
US HELP: https://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/eating-disorders.htm
AU HELP: https://au.reachout.com/articles/support-services-for-eating-disorders
(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)