It’s taken me nearly five years to be able to openly talk about my struggles with anorexia. Last week charities throughout the UK spread the word about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week and in light of this, I decided to take a deep breath and write about an issue I usually avoid. I believe it’s important to point out every eating disorder is vastly different, so I am, by no means, claiming these are feelings experienced by all sufferers. That said, I have and will always argue that the more we discuss these issues, the less controversial and misunderstood they become, so here goes.
It’s not about the food
Surprisingly, restricting what you eat, counting calories and weighing yourself constantly often have nothing to do with food. Eating, or not eating, can be down to a number of complicated and often deeply personal factors, and what may start as a diet becomes an overwhelming obsession.
You lose your identity, as well as your hair
Anyone who has spoken to me for more than ten minutes will have heard my hair growth woes. On a quest to get Rapunzel-like locks, the baby hairs on my head remind me of my previous hair loss. More devastating though, is the lack of confidence you experience during this crippling disease. Every girl is prettier, thinner and more beautiful than the distorted reflection you see in the mirror.
People don’t know how to react
Even since writing this blog, I’ve found work colleagues and Facebook friends react in a number of different ways. From shock, to an awkward inability to deal with the subject matter, it’s true that eating disorders are a controversial topic. As a sufferer, I experienced everything from anger to tears and soon learnt anorexia is almost impossible to understand until you have lived through it.
There’s a lot of rubbish on the internet, if you know where to look
Perhaps one of the most terrifying developments in the world of eating disorders has to be the online forums. Thankfully these were not something I came across when I was 17, but even today, reading ‘pro-ana’ forums is soul destroying. Disguised as a ‘network’ for sufferers, these are used as a place to swap weight loss tips and tricks – something that my anorexia driven mind would have adored. Something I, like many others, urge MP’s to help shut down, it’s a sad fact that these days it’s not only blogs like this that exist online.
It’s not all about models
Something my own father found impossible to understand, but for me, my disorder had nothing to do with the models I saw in magazines and on catwalks. At five foot two, I was never going to be the next Kate Moss, so found my destructive influences in other places. My point here is that it’s far too easy to shift the blame and generalise this deeply personal problem.
It’s a lonely place to be
Anorexia makes you a different person. A hostile version of yourself, who truly believes everyone is against you. With vivid memories of throwing plates of food across the dinner table at home, and shutting out friends for years, my heart goes out to those watching loved ones suffer. My only advice is just to be there.
It can return when you least expect it to
Despite being medically recovered, it probably took another few years until I truly felt I was out of the grasps of this all-consuming disease. (My anorexic self would be horrified that I now eat cheese and chocolate).
You won’t recover until you really want to
No matter how many hospital rooms I sat in and scales I stood on, until I decided to recover, my weight did not increase. For an outsider, this is an important part of understanding anorexia, as I don’t believe any girl, boy, man or woman strives to become so unwell – it is not a conscious choice.
It can take a long time to be able to talk about it
A point I can’t reiterate enough, it might take weeks, it might take years. I’ve read some amazing blogs of those in recovery, and received some tear jerking comments from people who have never been able to open up about their disorder. Every single person experiences something completely different. As a writer, keeping notebooks was extremely cathartic, so I’d urge anyone to find their own outlet and embrace it.