My first memory of mental illness began with a severe depression at around 12 years old. Things were very unstable at home and I was being bullied at school badly. I began to struggle mentally. At school I was always a perfectionist, I would stay up in the night to do homework as I had started to develop rituals that took hours such as checking the whole house for things that were out of place, and rearranging my school bag over and over. I don’t think this trait helped me when I developed a problem with food, as I was already obsessive. I used to have to lay out my uniform in a certain way and I would get out of bed if I thought it had moved even slightly – somehow this made me feel safer.
I firmly believe that OCD symptoms can coincide with eating disorders. An eating disorder is never planned or a choice. It grows from day to day and you don’t even realise you’re being grabbed into a deep underworld of deep misery and torture.
I was never fat as a child, however I never saw it this way. I would envy skinny people and think if only if I was like that I would feel so much better. So much more clean and pure. I obsessed over it, until I decided to do something about it. It started off with just skipping packed lunches, I would throw pieces of food in different bins so my school friends wouldn’t notice, or I would say I had eaten earlier or felt sick. I was never one for breakfast anyway as I was always in a rush. When I stopped earring dinner it was very intense as my mum and her partner would be trying to get me to eat but I just refused. I remember one night I was so hungry that I crept downstairs and made a big pan of porridge and ate in in my room and an alarming rate. I was annoyed at myself and ashamed. I spent most of that night pacing round my room to burn calories. Anything I did eat was carefully logged on paper in calories, I was quite clued up on them by now. My mum found these papers, and confronted me, I think we both felt scared. I was terrified that my power was going to be taken away from me and I would lose control. She took me to the GP numerous times with headaches, dizziness and sickness but only one doctor picked up that this might be an eating disorder this was when I was first referred to CAMHS.
“I maintained a healthy weight for a number of years due to the support I had around me and me actively wanting to get better.”
I officially left normal school at 15, and went to hospital and home tuition. By this point I was so behind with coursework I gave in, as I was so sick of everything I would just walk out of school or skip lessons – plus I couldn’t concentrate anymore. I was down to do 13 GCSEs and it was out of my grip now. My teachers predicted me high grades, however my illness had gotten the better of me and I didn’t even have the energy to proceed with any education. I was severely depressed and all my dreams of the future were shattered. I thought this was the end of me. When my exams came I was hospitalised and unable to sit them, I remember the days very clearly. There was no guidance at the time for my family on how to cope or help me, this must have been extremely hard for them.
I began to see a nurse on a regular basis, however I was stubborn and already set in my ways. Things began to get worse and I was unwilling to cooperate with any professional, I truly believed my way was the only way. I went to a day unit every Friday, I was distant and didn’t really speak I would go all day without food. But surprisingly that made me feel like I had achieved something, when everything else around me was falling apart. After that they decided they wanted to do family therapy, this was an utter disaster. It was a waste of time. I saw a psychiatrist quite regularly to monitor my physical health. My weight was going down and he kept threatening me with hospital. I just never believed that would happen – and so I continued.
More time passed and I was eventually admitted to an eating disorder unit in Edinburgh. I was scared and I cried when my mum drove away, I felt lost and alone in a very strange place. I stayed there a number of months. I met a lot of different people there. Some with severe bulimia, some who were being force fed. To be honest it was an eye opener. I was taking Ensure supplement drinks alongside 3 meals and 3 snacks, as a weight gain programme. Once you became a healthy weight again you went onto the maintenance plan. If you left any food on your plate you were made to sit at the table until it was all gone. And I hated them for this. I realise now it was to get rid of bad habits.
When I left hospital I had regular contact with a dietician. I used to water load to increase my weight and lie in my food diary. I began to self harm at this point superficially.as punishment for eating. I was returning to the same situation so it was inevitable that this was never truly going to leave me, Even now writing this as an overweight woman I still have an unhealthy relationship with food, however I am actively trying to change that. In my late teens I had 2 relapses whist I was living alone in London. I once even denied myself water, I collapsed and was on a drip in hospital.
When I lived alone, I started college which I was excited about. Though once again I felt the same pressure and to relieve that I turned to old behaviours. I would walk for miles listening to music until my legs and feet were sore. I would do this pretty much on a daily basis.
Back then there was no such things as calorie apps or Fitbits. I can’t imagine what people currently battle with, when they have access to all this technology. I would make a pan of vegetable soup and live off it for a week. I remember going shopping to Sainsbury’s and everyone staring at me as if they were watching what I was buying. I started to buy drinks as I could control my calorie intake more accurately then. I was weighing myself multiple times a day, and eating less than 400 calories, I was so weak and tired but I closed my blinds always so I could exercise without people knowing. I don’t want this article to trigger anyone. I am clearly warning and explaining that this is no way to live. It certainly does not solve your problems – it creates more. I maintained a healthy weight for a number of years due to the support I had around me and me actively wanting to get better. Surprisingly it has now flipped its head and I struggle with binge eating and being overweight, it doesn’t make too much sense to me how this has happened. Maybe all those years of deprivation have took their toll. I know I don’t have the power to stop people developing this disorder, however I can tell my story and you can probably relate to some of it. Maybe it might make you think – is this really what I want? I send my love to all of you out there suffering, believe me when I say I understand. I know for sure you can break free of it and be healthy and happy. Life is so much more joyful without the ongoing battle with an eating disorder. Find someone to confide in, please don’t keep it all to yourself otherwise that niggling voice will take over you. Choose to be happy.
Beat is the UK’s eating disorders charity