I’ve only really come to terms with this fact in the last few months, but for a period of time, I suffered from an eating disorder. For a long time, I resisted that label and all of its associations. But I will no longer do so.
I honestly wasn’t aware that I was suffering from it at the time, but in hindsight that’s exactly what it was.
There are a lot of myths about eating disorders that I’d like to put straight. Like any mental illness, eating disorders are unique to the person who suffers from them. It’s important to keep in mind that when I speak about my situation, I am not speaking on behalf of all people who suffer from these disorders. Because frankly, I just cannot do so.
When people think of eating disorders they immediately jump to anorexia or bulimia. I suffered from neither of these. When people think of eating disorders they picture a skinny girl looking in the mirror and seeing a fat girl looking back. I never did this. When people think of eating disorders they think of a girl vigorously exercising and obsessively counting calories. I never did this. People picture a girl flicking through fashion magazines and comparing herself to the models. I never did this.
People don’t accept that a boy could suffer from an eating disorder, although they would have for me because I wasn’t “an average boy.” People also like to blame the person who’s suffering from an eating disorder rather than question what they must be going through in order to have issues with food.
The biggest misconception that I constantly seemed to face during this struggle was that I was making a conscious effort to abstain from eating. I literally had no idea about the damage that I was doing to my body. I had no idea that I was obeying the voice inside my head who was screaming at me to avoid food. Even now I have relations who look at me accusingly if I say no to a bit of lunch (although I’ve yet to decide whether this is just because we’re Irish).
When I couldn’t eat, it wasn’t due to any fault of my own. I honestly just wasn’t able to face putting food into my mouth. I have no idea or explanation as to why I felt this way, but that’s how I felt. I wasn’t being obsessively healthy. I wasn’t being sneaky. I was just sick.
I didn’t have any energy to exercise. I barely even had the energy to go to school. I would go to school, attend after-school study and then arrive home and collapse on the couch or my bed, unable to do anything except watch TV or read.
I knew that I was extremely skinny. It wasn’t any news to me when people pointed it out (they did this constantly by the way). I didn’t ever think I was fat or that I needed to lose weight or that it would be the end of the world if I put any weight on. My lack of eating wasn’t even really about my weight, (although I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy being thin) but rather about my inability to feed myself.
Perhaps it was because I didn’t really like myself. Perhaps it was because I was uncomfortable in my body. Perhaps it was because I felt extremely out of control. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. All I know is that it took me an awful long time to realise that I had a problem and to decide that I wanted to fix it. There’s a quote that I once heard and I think it was from Blythe Baird: “Anorexia isn’t a choice, but recovery is.”
Categorising eating disorders using two scenarios is not only an extremely foolish thing to do, but I believe that it is quite dangerous. I didn’t have a traditional eating disorder and I wasn’t ever in that much danger with it. But because of this I did not know how to ask for help. And those who worried about me did not know how to help me.
Please stop assuming that you know the reasons behind a person’s eating disorder. Please stop acting like it’s their fault. Please stop acting as though an eating disorder is a simple, easily solvable thing. Because I am honestly now of the belief that an eating disorder can only be treated and not cured and that it will never leave you, no matter how good you’re feeling.
Read an essay I wrote after I’d had a nervous breakdown here.
Watch more about my eating disorder below: