Anonymous: How did your eating disorder develop? Can you tell just kind of your whole experience with it and how you went about recovering?
Oh god, triggering question is triggering.
And the answer will be just as triggering, so anyone reading this just… be wary if you have/had an ED.
My ED first sort of, started up, when I was 16 turning 17. I decided to diet. I decided I needed to lose weight. Now, I have never, ever been overweight. I’ve always been on the lower end of a healthy BMI. I’ve never really thought of myself as fat [outside of this disorder] and I’ve never been called fat by anyone. Basically, I never need to lose weight, I never needed to diet. But the reason I wanted to diet was because of my sister.
Now, I feel horrible because my sister is oblivious to what triggered my disorder, and it’s in no way her fault. My sister is less than a year older than me, we’re the same age for 6 days in March. I love my sister to pieces, seriously, she’s irreplaceable. She’s an amazing individual. But I’ve always grown up in her shadow. I mean, thinking of all those american sitcoms with sisters, there’s always one sister who’s the attractive one, and one who’s smart. Or one who’s attractive and one who’s talented. My sister, Catherine, she got it all. She was/is incredibly beautiful, she has talent coming out of her ears [she can paint, she can act etc.], and she is extremely intelligent [she came 2nd in the country in 2 of her A level subjects]. And when she was 16 she got very ill, lost a shit load of weight and had to be held back a year.
Now, I was used to being compared to my sister but now she was in my year, she was in my classes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having her there, but the comparison was so direct. I became excruciatingly aware that I was the ugly one, the fat one, the stupid one, the untalented one. Now, I have a very distorted sense of comparison because of this, I was performing above average in all of my subjects in school, but I wasn’t looking at that, I was looking at the fact that my sister was doing better. I may have gotten all A’s in my A levels, but my sister was one of the smartest people in the country. And I fell short.
You can’t really control your IQ, how talented you are, how your face looks. But the one thing you can change is your body. Your weight. I just wanted to have something, something for myself, something I could say I was best at.
So I started skipping meals at first, cutting down on what I was eating, substituting smaller portions etc. I then overheard my mother mentioning on the phone something about needing 1000 calories for bed rest [she was talking about my dietary needs of my grandmother at the time]. And I just thought, right. I have to eat under that, because then I’ll definitely lose weight. It really escalated from there, I cut down, and cut down and cut down. And then started fasting. I would rationalise, saying it was okay if I didn’t go longer for a day without food, if I didn’t go longer than 2 days.
I remember one day I was out for my friends birthday, she took a bunch of photos of us and posted them on the internet. My mother looked at one of them and just said, ‘Claire, you look anorexic in that photo.’ And that sort of… hit home.
I had a friend growing up who was ‘pro-ana’ [she grew out of that phase but it was incredibly obnoxious, annoying etc. at the time, she never developed an eating disorder]. I’d always thought anorexia was this stupid girls disease, that only shallow, vain people developed. So I stopped counting calories, I stopped trying to restrict, and I gained back the weight that I’d lost.
But once you get sucked into that world, you’re in it. There’s no getting out. Everything made me miss it, adverts on TV about healthy eating, friends talking about diets, hell even drinking a glass of water made me miss fasting. The next… two years I’d say were very episodic. And every episode would get worse. It got to the point where I’d just fast. I got fed up of counting calories, it was exhausting, it was preoccupying, so I just would cut out food every so often to see how long I could go. It became so much more about not eating as opposed to weight loss. Not eating made me feel good about myself. It made me feel like I was capable of doing something that so few people could do. I could go for a week without food and not complain, for 10 days and not complain. I was strong willed, I didn’t let my appetite rule me. It made me feel happy, it made me like myself. Any time I needed to feel better I’d stop eating and I’d be happy, and then when people started noticing weight loss I’d just start eating again.
When I was about 19 I met a girl in work who became one of my closest friends. She made me feel good about myself, we did a hell of a lot together, we had so much fun and I had a year, a perfect year, where I went without fasting. We ended up moving into a flat with another girl she was friendly with from work when I turned 20 and it all went down hill from there. Despite living with her, about May 2011, she cut me out of her life. She avoided the apartment, she rarely spoke to me, and I felt loss. I had lost my closest friend without knowing why, I had assumed I had done something horrible, I had done something to make her hate me, and I hated myself.
At that time my other friend told me about these diet pills she was taking. She had lost a lot of weight and I thought, hey, I could diet again. I won’t mention the brand name because they’re dangerous. I used to take diet pills when I was fasting on/off but the ones I used were pulled because they caused liver damage. Anyway, I started taking them and restricting. Within 2 weeks I was fasting again.
I didn’t eat for another 2 months.
It was a way to make me feel better, it gave me something to focus on, something to feel good about. I was going SO long with no food and that was all that mattered. I was good at something again, I was accomplishing something. I developed OCD tendencies, I started to get horrible leg cramps, every time I stood up my sight would go, I got light headed and dizzy. My lips kept going numb. My mouth was dry all the time no matter how much water I drank or gum I chewed. I was constantly shaking. I stopped getting my period.
I remember seeing how small I was getting and at that time it genuinely upset me. I think I had a weird sense of clarity because I didn’t feel fat until I started eating again. While my stomach was empty I felt thin, and I felt too thin. But I couldn’t bring myself to eat again, I had made it too far. I remember crying in changing rooms because the smallest size wouldn’t’ fit. I remember having to pull away when people hugged me because they would feel my bones. I remember I just stopped doing anything but study and work because people would tell me how worried they were.
My mother was the worst for it. Every time she saw me she mentioned it. She told me she was worried, she told me I was losing weight. I remember she told me up front I looked like I had an eating disorder. The last straw came whenever she called me on it in front of my sister and my father. She placed her hand on my shoulder and just went ‘no, that’s not good, your shoulders shouldn’t feel like that.’
The next day I sat her down and told her I thought I had an eating disorder. I couldn’t take it anymore, I’d wake up in the morning in agony because of the cramps in my legs, I’d sit and cry because I couldn’t bring myself to see my friends and hear them tell me that I needed to eat something. In work I’d had too many awkward conversations about how I needed a smaller fitting uniform but they didn’t have any.
The next day I was at the doctors. Within a week I was at ED services. My blood tests were awful, my weight was dropping at a ridiculous rate [I didn’t actually weight myself during those 2 months], I was fast tracked through the system because my weight was free falling and they told me if I couldn’t stabilise my weight I’d be hospitalised. I managed to do that because I did NOT want to miss the start of university.
The first few months of recovery weren’t pleasant. They were horrible. I didn’t really feel like I had a disorder, like I was sick, until I tried to recover. It’s hard to describe refeeding… it makes you horribly depressed, I had panic attacks when eating, your weight goes haywire because of rehydration and your metabolism [I remember I gained 2kg in 2 days once, and then lost 4 kg in 3, that’s over half a stone!]. I have never felt fatter in my life. And my hair started falling out… oh god, that was the worst part. I had literally just been allowed back to work [my GP had told me I wasn’t allowed to work because I’d always used it as an excuse not to eat] and I had to explain to mymanagers that I couldn’t work with food because my hair was falling out in clumps and kept getting into it. It was humiliating.
I don’t know when things started to turn around. It was slow at first, little victories kept happening, then a few set backs. I remember my grandmother, who I lived with for 7 years, got very sick and died in October, about 2 months into treatment. I reverted right back to how I’d been during her dying [there was a two week period where she knew she was on the way out and just had to sit with her] and her funeral. But it was how I coped, there was no way I would have managed to stick with recovery at that time. But I got right back on the horse once it was over.
I got through it. I’d consider myself mostly recovered, but I do consider it, at least in my case, more like a drug addiction. I will always miss that feeling that I get from knowing I haven’t eaten in days, that rush you get, that high. But I never want to go through refeeding again, I never want to feel that awful, I never want to be at the point where I’m unable to work and have to debate whether or not to take a year out from education. It was awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but I’d recommend it to everyone with an eating disorder… recover. There’s a life beyond it. And it’s a beautiful one.