I remember laughing when doctors first shared their concern that I was suffering from anorexia. Were they stupid? Anorexics were those people who were skin and bone, those who had the will power to last days without food.
I wasn’t strong enough to be like them or at least, that’s what she told me. I was weak because I had to eat half a banana to stop my tummy rumbling while sitting a GCSE exam. Long story short, it was now three years since I lost my dad. I was due to receive exam results in one week’s time, and I was admitted to Beechcroft Hospital in Belfast. That was my home for the next six months and so I had to take a year out from school.
You’d think that would have been enough to make me realise something was wrong, but it wasn’t. She told me I didn’t belong in hospital, I was a fraud, and most of all, I was pathetic for getting myself caught.
My recovery didn’t kick start for a long time. Much to everyone’s dismay this wasn’t something I could switch off. I would eat, the number on the scales would creep up, she would cripple me with guilt and the only way to pacify her was to exercise at every opportunity and return to starvation mode. This vicious cycle continued long after I was allowed home and to this day, I cannot pinpoint a particular moment when things took a turn for the better.
That’s probably because there wasn’t one though, it was such a gradual process. Battling anorexia’s constant criticisms throughout recovery was one of the most exhausting things imaginable but somewhere along the way I came to accept that nothing in my life would ever change if I didn’t battle to break the cycle she had me so cruelly caught up in.
She offered me the control that I so desperately craved but in doing so, she made me miserable. Not only did she rob me of my teenage years, she robbed me of the chance to properly grieve the loss of my dad, she robbed my mum of her daughter and my brother of his sister as I became a secretive, manipulative, withdrawn and deceitful shadow of my former self.
Nowadays, my mind is at peace. I don’t go to bed at night and lie awake recounting every mouthful of food I’ve consumed throughout the day nor do I feel the need to exercise after every meal. In recent years, I have been able to deal with setbacks using much healthier coping mechanisms. I’ve come to accept that it’s okay if someone doesn’t like me, not everyone will. It’s also okay if I don’t ace every exam I ever sit. I’m not perfect, but no-one is, and so I no longer get lost comparing myself with others.
I am currently a final year Psychology undergraduate whose ambition is to work with children and adolescents affected by eating disorders in order to help them along the bumpy path to recovery. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I was lucky to be admitted to Beechcroft and I was lucky to have the most amazing nurses take care of me in the community.
Nonetheless, the services available for young sufferers in Northern Ireland are by no means ideal and in the future, I hope this is something I can help change. I have fought hard to be where I am today and I’m not ashamed of being a former anorexic because throughout my struggle I’ve discovered a strength I didn’t know I had, I’ve learned to stop being so hard on myself and I have given myself permission to be happy. To anyone reading this who feels suffocated by anorexia’s tight grasp, you deserve to be able to do the same.”
Advice on anorexia and other eating disorders is available on NI Direct, and information is also available through eating disorder support groups, such as Eating Disorders Association NI
Courtesy of Patient & Client Council