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Today I’m going to talk about my eating disorder in more detail than I ever have before. The reason I’ve decided to do this is to hopefully help those who may also be suffering from similar issues. I’ll try my best to describe how I’ve managed to overcome these issues in the past. I want to make it clear that I am in no way trying to glamorise or promote eating disorders. Quite the opposite in fact. I really don’t believe that anyone can find happiness through abstaining from food because it’s such an unhealthy thing to put your body and your mind through.
Like most teenagers, I thought that being fat was the worst thing that could happen to you. I had always been quite a slim child and I don’t ever really remember a time in my life when I was chubby. But when I was about 14 or 15 I had a massive growth spurt. As I grew upwards, I also grew inwards, but this was just another aspect of puberty for me. It didn’t really matter to me, until people began to point it out.
I suddenly got all of these comments and compliments. Teenage girls marvelled at the fact that my bones were sticking out at weird angles and my wrists were tiny. People began to treat me as though I was delicate. And because of the patriarchy in my life, I thought being delicate equalled being feminine. I was addicted to being skinny and it was because of how people treated me when I was. This is one of the reasons I believe that it’s extremely toxic to comment on a person’s weight, even if it’s complimentary.
I had friends, family, teachers and even some strangers pass comments on my body as though it were completely normal to do so. I already had body image issues, but this sudden obsession with what I looked like terrified me. It’s hard to explain but I think it brought with it a certain pressure to maintain my weight. I felt like people had certain expectations from my body that I must work hard to adhere to.
The main way this pressure manifested itself was somewhat strange. I became addicted to making my own smoothie style drinks. I’m not going to share the ingredients I used to put in them because I think that would be harmful, but they were all ingredients that I thought would help make me slimmer. I brought these “shakes” as I called them, everywhere with me. I invested in a number of litre bottles to bring around with me and it worked. I began to get skinnier and skinnier but my quality of life really suffered.
I really don’t think this pressure was just in my head either. I remember once being held down by two of my male friends while they pulled up my top to “see if I had a six pack.” I was extremely laden with body image issues. So this was a really traumatic thing to happen to me. People were obsessed with me and my weight. I still don’t really understand why.
During this time I was permanently exhausted and grouchy. Starving myself made me quite an awful person to be around. I constantly had headaches to the point where I actually taught myself to overlook and ignore them. I struggled to stay awake all day and to keep on top of my school work. I struggled to maintain my social life and to wake up on the weekends to go hang out with my friends.
While I lived on these “shakes,” I often skipped meals and ate only as much as I needed to, internally congratulating myself when I managed to successfully ignore my hunger. Here are some common misconceptions about eating disorders that I need to put straight.
I never looked at myself in the mirror and saw a fat person. Some people may experience that symptom but I always knew how skinny I was. I was never under any illusion as to what my body looked like.
I also used to have days where I’d binge. I might wake up on a random Sunday in the mood for food and I’d eat a full fry up. Or I’d be in school and I’d eat a massive lunch out of the blue, just because I felt like it. Granted, I’d feel extremely full and sickly afterwards but I never bet myself up for it. That mightn’t be the case for everyone but it was for me. There is no one way to suffer from an eating disorder.
So how have I overcome these issues in the past? For me, I think it was a combination of a lot of things. I got more comfortable in my own skin. I stopped monitoring what I ate. I stopped caring what size I was. I stopped seeing extremely “skinny people” as the ideal weight. Part of that was growing up and maturing while part of it was making a real effort to improve my mental health. I recognised that a healthy mind just doesn’t starve itself and worked to overcome that.
For probably the entire 2016, my issues around food just didn’t really rear their head. I still had a voice that encouraged me to abstain from eating, but I was a lot better equipped to ignore it. I began to only speak about my eating disorder in the past tense. And to act as though I had recovered completely. And I truly believed that I had.
But in December of last year, I started going through some issues. I was spending time in the countryside to work on a new project. I was completely out of my routine, and I was suddenly spending a lot of time alone.
Out of nowhere, my old patterns of thinking returned. My ability to ignore the inner voice that criticises me for doing something as basic as eating a meal was diminished. Suddenly I found myself replacing meals with my old shakes and walking around the house with a completely empty stomach. I have to acknowledge that my body was going through a lot of hormonal changes at this time too, which couldn’t have helped.
I don’t believe that when it comes to our mental health we should ever say that we’ve gone backwards, but the current reality I’m working with is that my eating disorder has returned. It’s not as serious as it once was but it’s there. The way I’m now dealing with it is by being open with the people around me. I tell my friends when I haven’t eaten, so they can try and help me to get something. I’m open about the thoughts and the desires that are leading me to this state of mind and I think it’s a really good method of combatting this.
I’m not annoyed at myself for trying to resist hunger, because I can’t help that. The most dangerous thing I could do right now would be to hide these thoughts from people, but I refuse to do so. I’ll always be a work in progress. I fully believe that, but I also believe I can overcome this disorder again. And I’m going to try my hardest to do so.
If you’re suffering from similar issues, my advice is this. Be open with those around you. Tell your loved ones about how you’re suffering and try to get to the root of the problem. I know it’s not easy to open up like this and it’s even harder to analyse where these issues have originated from. I’m not even sure I know why I have these issues. But there’s a saying that I constantly repeat when I’m suffering this way.
Eating disorders aren’t an option, but recovery is.