The Loss of the Eating Disorder by Vanessa
This week long campaign to raise awareness for Eating Disorders. It is an illness that affects millions of people worldwide and sadly 20% of those suffering will not survive. It has the highest mortality rate of any other Mental Health problem and recovery is a battle that is not easily won. It is not a simple disorder, it is not rational and it plays to win and by win, I mean it plays to kill. There is nothing innocent about an Eating Disorder and that is why it is so important that we start to talk about them.
I am still learning how to do this. I am still learning that I have nothing to be ashamed of.
I did not invite Anorexia into my life or wake up one morning and decide that starving myself half to death was how I wanted to spend my life. I did not choose to lose years of my life to this disorder. No one does. It climbs in to your life and begins to dismantle it; for a long time you aren’t even aware that there is something that has taken root inside of your mind and bones. It makes itself comfortable and shows no sign that it has any intention of ever leaving again. It pushes you further than anything has ever done before and by the end, it will make you curl up, too tired to even cry anymore and it will make you wish you were dead. It consumes you.
Of course in the beginning it doesn’t start like that. In the beginning it seemed like the answer to everything I had been struggling with. All those fears, all those doubts and inadequacies seemed to become less important when I was fixated on finding ways to lessen myself. I kept telling myself that all I needed to be happy was to be thinner, to reach a specific number. If I reached this magical number I could stop because I would be ok then. I could stop hating and punishing myself. I could stop feeling so damned wrong all the time because I had been feeling wrong for too long. I was looking for something that had a solution, something that I could change, be in control of and that thing happened to be my weight. I started a war on my body because it was the only thing that I had any power over.
It was simple enough at the start. Take away the things that were seen as ‘bad’, increase activity levels and repeat day after day. At a certain point the people in my life started to make comments but I didn’t want to hear them. I didn’t want to acknowledge anything that they had to stay and so I made excuses that I was tired or under stress and then I made myself believe those excuses too. I couldn’t see that maybe I had begun to take things too far; all I knew was that I couldn’t stop because I still wasn’t happy. I was unprepared to admit that I had an eating disorder. I saw it as something that other people had, not me and what’s more it seemed like those words blew the entire situation out of proportion. I told myself that it wasn’t that bad, that I could stop at any point if I wanted to and the reason I hadn’t was because I didn’t want to. I had developed some strange sense of loyalty to the disorder and the only thing worse than the misery I was feeling was the idea that someone would try to take the disorder away from me. I shut out the people around me because it was too tiring to continue to make excuses. I stopped going out or having any kind of social life. I could not work or study. I lived in this little bubble that consisted of various appointments, my living room and the gym. It’s hard to explain the type of sadness that is in you at that point.
In the summer of 2011 it was decided that I was no longer safe enough to be out in the community. I was placed on a section 3 of the mental health act and transferred from a day unit to an acute psychiatric inpatient ward. I was absolutely furious and all I kept saying was that they were wrong, that they couldn’t do this to me. I had already lost months at a time staying on those wards and I was not prepared to do it again. Unfortunately at that point I didn’t have a choice. I can’t tell you what that does to you and it doesn’t get any easier no matter how many times they take away your freedom. It still hurts. It still makes a part of you burn with hate, even when you know that they are doing it because it is the best thing for you. During that stay I refused to have an adequate oral intake and was moved to a medical unit to be fed through an NG (naso-gastric) tube. It broke me. That’s all it did. I had lost the only power that I ever thought I had. After a few weeks and another transfer back to the psychiatric ward I was discharged. There was no plan. I still refused to admit I had an Eating Disorder.
A year passed. I lost the weight I had restored and more. I didn’t trust anyone and I was so close to giving up. My body wasn’t coping very well either; my heart palpitated, little black spots constantly clouded my vision, I was dizzy, fainting. I ached all over and I could never get warm. It felt like death was living inside of my bones and still I did not stop. I forced myself through my door and spent hours at the gym, running nowhere and silently screaming at the mirror in disgust about how fat I was. It was such a dark time and I think if I was still of capable of feeling anything then I would have been scared of what I was doing to myself. I had turned into this person who was nothing like who I had been raised to be. The day it changed was based on an ultimatum. I was given the choice to voluntarily admit myself into treatment or be detained again. I took the week to think about it, talked to some people and then said “Let’s do this.”
Going to treatment was the hardest thing I have ever done. I had to get real. I had to admit that I had a problem and that I couldn’t just click my fingers and turn it off. I had to learn how to eat again and talk instead of restrict. I had to feel. Most importantly though I had to acknowledge that I had an Eating Disorder and that if I carried on then it would end my life. I didn’t get off to the greatest start in my recovery because I constantly had one foot still in the doorway, waiting to flee if it ever got beyond my capabilities of coping. Yes I had gone into treatment but I was terrified that they were going to take away my Eating Disorder. I loved it, needed it and hated it in equal parts. I underestimated how much power it had over me and how long it was going to take to fight my way back from Anorexia. I had to accept that there was no going to be quick fixes to it, that even if the staff wanted to take away my disorder they wouldn’t be able to, I had to be the one to step away from it. I had to stop seeing it as the answer for why I was so unhappy. I stayed for 5 months and that was only just the beginning.
It’s been a year and a half since I left treatment and there are days when it feels like not much has changed and then there are other days when I realise that my life looks completely different to what it did before I got the help I needed. Every day is still a struggle and I have to make the conscious decision to do things that are good for me and my body rather than doing what the Eating Disorder tells me to do. I have a life now that I created and that would not have been possible had I not chosen recovery. I don’t want to risk losing that. I’m at University studying for a degree in Psychology and Society. I volunteer with Time to Change Leeds. I have friends who have been there to prop me up on days when I’m not doing so great and laugh with me when things are pretty good. I am daring to dream again and to have hopes for the future. I wasted so much of my life and energy on a disorder that’s only drive was to destroy me. It didn’t. I am still standing.
t have to be how it ends. Swallow your pride or your fear and take those steps in to letting it go. Let that be the final loss. The loss of the Eating Disorder.
Vanessa Feb 2014
With kind permission of and first appeared on Time to Change website http://www.timetochangeleeds.co.uk/