*** Trigger Warning ***
When you see the words eating disorder you straight away imagine a vulnerable teenage girl struggling to find her way in the world and the stereotype of eating disorder that many people hold comes into your mind. I was once that girl but that was nearly 40 years ago and I am now a consultant teacher and a mother of three grown up children.
This is my story…
My childhood was not a happy one and I was abused physically and emotionally on a daily basis. Chaos ruled my world and I was constantly on high alert, dodging abuse aimed directly at me as well as witnessing domestic violence and alcohol abuse. My earliest memory was me sitting in a highchair being force fed egg by my Mum. I remember her screaming ‘SWALLOW IT’ and me gagging and being unable to do what she said. The next thing I knew she had hit me so hard that my highchair had toppled backwards through a glass door and I lay there strapped to my chair covered in shards of glass but luckily unhurt. As I lay there my Dad rushed into the room and began to beat my Mum; leaving me lying on the floor in shock.
So I guess because of my disordered childhood experiences I that is when my eating disorder began. At one point I was threatened with being taken into hospital. I felt lost and alone and anorexia had taken hold of me. With the support of my extended family and my tutor at school I slowly began to recover but no one ever dealt with the underlying issues that had made me get to that point and thus began my lifelong unhealthy relationship between my emotions and food.
Fast forward 40 years and I’m still struggling. Last year various adverse life events coupled with my youngest child leaving home left me severely depressed and suicidal. I rang my mental health team for support and we devised a plan with my CPN [Community Psychiatric Nurse] where I would receive some additional support to help me cope. Later that week after not hearing from my CPN at all despite leaving him phone messages I finally got to speak to him and he said that he had changed his mind and wouldn’t be able to offer me the support I needed after all. In an instant I was back to that hurt little child. My whole world seemed to be falling in around me and I felt that I had no control and was all alone again. In a moment it was like a switch turned on and once again food was the only thing I could control in my life.
I spent Christmas and New Year on a mental health ward being treated for a depressive episode. In that time my eating disorder had taken over once again and I learnt tricks on how to avoid meal times and during my admission I felt that no one cared or noticed. Since being back home I've spent most day in bed still consumed by my eating disorder but I feel the because I don't stereotypically "look anorexic" I'm struggling to get any support.
I desperately want to get my life back on track and get back to work. I know that having a routine and being around people helps me and today I finally found the courage to speak with my GP about my eating disorder. It was difficult for me to admit what I was doing but I really wanted some help and support. My GP rang me and refused to see me face to face. I described to him how I have been feeling and my behaviour and he said that I hadn’t got an eating disorder but my not eating was a symptom of my depression. He lectured me about the importance of having three meals a day and the effect of low sugar on my mood. He then said that he would not help me and would not be able to refer me for any help but it was up to me to sort myself out.
I put the phone down and cried. He had not heard me. If I had rang to say I was in pain he would have told me to take a tablet three times a day to stop the pain but would have tried to find the underlying cause of what was hurting me. I feel that my eating disorder should have been treated in exactly the same way. I am an intelligent woman and I am not stupid. However he made me feel small and stupid. I know I need to nourish my body to be healthy and I know that I need to eat regularly but at the moment I am struggling. A few days ago I walked around the supermarket for the first time this year and I hoped that something would jump out at me that I would fancy to eat but nothing came to me.
I am not your stereotypical person with an eating disorder - but the what is a stereotypical person with an eating disorder anyway?
I don’t have a disordered reflection of my body in the mirror and I am happy with the way I look and I don't obsess over numbers. I am simply emotionally lost and hurting and punishing my body in the only way I know so as to deal with all the thoughts and emotions going round and round in my head. I have never been taught any other way to cope and inside I am still that tiny child lying on the floor watching the chaos around me.
My initial thought today was ‘I will show you’ [to the professionals that I am struggling] but I know that the only person that will suffer the consequences of these actions is me. I want to get back to work and I want to get healthy and happy again. I realise that I need to not give up and to keep shouting until I get the support I need and deserve. I will go and see another doctor at the practice tomorrow and if I need to see all the doctors available before I am heard then so be it. I am worth better than this I deserve to be listed to and be supported to thrive.
For information about different types of eating disorders click here.
For help and support form Beat, the UK's leading eating disorder charity click here - this can be online or over the phone and is open to those struggling with eating disorders of those affected such as carers, family and friends as well as professionals. They also have a directory of local support services.
For Beat's recovery information click here.