Hey everyone!! hope you liked yesterday’s What I Ate Wednesday!! it seemed bread won over pasta, which I 100% agree with!
I was contacted by a reader a while ago who asked if she could write about her struggle with an eating disorder and I thought it would be great! She did ask me to put a trigger warning, if you are struggling with an ED right now and can be triggered easily then this might not be the best thing for you to read!
Anywho… I’ll let Johanna take it away!
I can’t remember having a normal relationship with food, or with my body. At the age of seven I was fixated with sitting on the sofa stretching out my legs as long as possible, traumatised that they weren’t as long as those of my friends. It was around the age of eight that I started buying chocolate in secret, hiding it under my bed and eating it late at night; this was the thought that sustained me through days of bullying and unhappiness at school, where I was one of the only strong students academically and was floundering without a friendship group. Food became an entity that filled the hole inside me, a hole that should not have been there at such a young age. I refused any food that was healthy- I was worth nothing, and as such only deserved to be filled with junk, chips, chocolate, crisps, whatever I could get my hands on. I ballooned.
I was already socially separated by food long before this age. At friends birthday parties, my parents would phone the hosting adults to make sure I wasn’t to drink Coke, I wasn’t allowed anything unhealthy, no jelly, no ice cream. For my school packed lunches, I was the only one with dry brown bread sandwiches, which I hated beyond belief. I was the only one about chocolate, without crisps. I was marked out. I screamed at my parents on many an occasion and told them how unhappy I was about my packed lunches, but they didn’t budge; hence, ‘unhealthy’ food was something to be ashamed of, and a method to kick back against my parents. I deliberately ate too much cereal and then bought chocolate on the way to school. And so started the downward spiral.
By the end of Year Eight, I was big- really big. I started my new school, where I was a boarder. I had never had the experience of having real friends, I had no idea how to fit in socially- I am quite far down the Autistic Spectrum (this doesn’t mean I have a named condition, or have a disorder; women are generally on the left of it, men on the right, and I am a woman on the right) and the only way I had learnt to survive was to be defensively eccentric. I was still an outcast.
I began losing weight, not on purpose, but I started to lose the puppy fat I had gained. I became more confident, made more friends, hence weight loss became irretrievably linked to popularity in my mind. I ticked onwards through school, still as unhappy as ever, wearing two pairs of tights to make my legs appear slimmer, wearing a jumper even in blazing heat to cover my stomach. I was already preoccupied with following Gillian McKeith to try and lose weight, and by Easter 2008 I had hit a healthy weight. However, this was when my life suddenly exploded beyond all recognition. I was being groomed and emotionally abused by a close family friend. My parents deduced this, slammed a restraining order on them, and I found myself giving a taped interview at the centre for child abuse investigation. I saw the pain my parents were going through; it was my fault. I stopped talking to them entirely and had a panic attack every time they tried to talk to me about it. I couldn’t hug either of my parents for months. I refused to talk to them; if I was separate from them, I couldn’t hurt them any more. I wouldn’t go home from boarding school, instead, I would stay at my brother’s house. I had to purify myself, purge myself of all that had happened. I stopped eating.
I had no idea what was happening. I didn’t count calories, I didn’t follow a diet plan; all I knew was that if I concentrated on food, I wouldn’t have to concentrate on anything else in my life. I linked weight with everything that had happened- if I lost the weight, I would lose everything bad in my life. I genuinely thought I was eating a normal amount of food, even when I almost passed out. I ate a tangerine, because I sensed it was what I should do to keep consciousness. I loathed myself for that tangerine for hours afterwards.
I arrived back at school after That Summer and rumours flew left, right and centre. “Is she anorexic?” “Did you see that picture of her on Facebook?” I couldn’t see a jot of difference in how I looked, but everyone was up in arms. I couldn’t stop losing weight. In the end, I was marched to the GP by my best friend, who I now credit with saving my life. Mum tried sending me a box full of high-calorie snacks- I opened the box and had a panic attack, quite literally sobbing in the opposite corner of the room to where the box sat. The GP told me that if I came back the next week having lost more weight, he would seriously think about referring me to hospital. He told me this seven weeks in a row, even though I had lost weight every single week. He called me psychotic. The nurses at the surgery told me that all my problems would go away if I “just started eating a bit more.” In the end, I wound up at my local outpatient service.
Treatment just bewildered me. I felt like I was never sick enough, even though I was too weak to open the doors in and out of the appointment room. I realised that if I lost more weight then I would be sent home, and it was vital that my parents didn’t get involved, otherwise they would make me eat- little did I know they were asking to have my mental capacity assessed for compulsory hospitalisation, they were up at my boarding school every week to meet with my GP without me knowing, they were writing to the staff, they were buying book after book on eating disorders. In the end, I was never sent home, and never hospitalised, but the reason was the opposite of good. I drove my metabolism so low that I hardly had to eat in order to maintain my low, low weight, 0.1 of a BMI above the level where they would have had to legally send me home. I made sure I did no exercise, so that I never had to eat more to maintain. As a consequence, my muscles wasted away and I plastered a smile onto my face to deflect attention. My heart thumped every time I stood up, and my vision filled with a black vortex. I starved myself from Monday to Friday, ate on Saturday, and filled with guilt, fell right back into starvation. I often walked along the pavement seriously considering whether or not to step out into the road.
I tried to kick it more than once, but became so ill towards the end of March 2010 that it makes me cry to see photographs. The school now had strong medical reason to send me home but I was in the middle of exams, and they were terrified that my home environment would make me even worse, that I would never come back. I was meant to be taking a trip to Africa in October 2010 on charity work, but I was told in no uncertain terms that if I got on a plane, my heart would give out. And so started the longest and hardest summer of my recovery.
Africa was the second thing that saved my life, apart from that friend who insisted I saw the GP. It wasn’t the fact that it was a trip, or even the country in particular, but it was the only thing I had left to focus on. Without it, I would have been in hospital within weeks- I was kicking up a fuss over drinking a glass of water. My parents travelled with me to meet with my specialist. However, ED was still winning; if I had to eat, I was going to make damn sure I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I denied myself foods I liked the taste of and drowned everything in vinegar and soy sauce. Bread became laced with layers of Marmite, Worcester Sauce, vinegar, black pepper and mustard- yes, all at the same time. If I had to drink liquid, it was water filled with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. I arrived back at school a healthier weight- not the healthiest, but within the BMI boundaries this time. Everyone was overjoyed- they thought I was fine. I wasn’t fine, but managed to maintain my weight until bulimia struck.
It started as once every other day, after dinner. It became every day in the evenings, and when I went home for the Christmas break, I was only keeping down breakfast. To this day I have no idea if my parents knew anything, but I don’t think they did. I cannot listen to the Mars movement from Holst’s Planet Suite without being triggered, because I whacked it on every time I was sick to drown out the noise. I wrecked my metabolism; at 8pm, I was bringing up what I had had for breakfast. I busted a capillary in my nose, and my skin was becoming drier and more temperamental. I spent the last day of my childhood being sick and hiding food in my underwear, so that my parents wouldn’t know I hadn’t eaten it, and my adulthood kicked off the same way as well. If I ate liquid foods, I would be sick because they were easy to bring up. If I ate solid foods, I was so scared they were going to make me put on weight that I would bring those up too. Bulimia was like a hand controlling mine, putting them down my throat. By the end of the Christmas break, I simply didn’t know what to do.
I arrived back at school and covered it up for a while, until I found myself sobbing hysterically on my housemistress. She started supervising me after mealtimes and I had to check in with her every day to tell her what I’d eaten. It worked for a while, but then a meeting was called. I was sat in front of both sets of houseparents and we had a serious discussion about whether I could stay at the school any more. I was told that if I had another bad week at home, there simply wasn’t much point in me coming back at all. I wasn’t being sick any more, but I wasn’t eating either. Anorexia had once again overridden everything else. Food was put in front of me, and I had to eat it. I wanted to give up altogether. I wanted to be put on a feeding tube so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it any more. But somehow, I found the tiniest spark in me to start fighting back- this time, for good.
This was all of two months ago, and I am still fighting every day. I have a place waiting for me at Oxford University, I have the most supportive family and friends, and I am trying to understand that I need to fuel my body to live. On the 16th of April, I skydived from 10,000 feet to raise over £1000 for the National Eating Disorders Association- working name ‘beat’. I put my life into someone else’s hands and although throwing myself out of a plane was terrifying, I knew that I could do it every second of the descent, because so many years of fighting my eating disorder have been so much harder than a mere parachute jump.
To have an unhealthy relationship with food is something sadly common in this society, with 1.6 million ED sufferers in the UK alone, but the fight to overcome it when it becomes life threatening is something that is underestimated in terms of how hard it is. As I plough on through recovery, I know that I will come out the other end as someone who can face anything, because a plate of food has so often been the most difficult thing in the world to conquer. I hold the keys to recovery in my hand, and every day I turn the lock a little bit further. It’ll take years, but I’m ready for that, because it’ll give me my life back.