It was around three years ago.
I had moved out from my family home, I was free to make my own choices and look after myself more independently than perhaps I was ready for. I had no idea at the time that the biggest struggle I'd face wasn't waking up in time to get to a lecture or figuring out how exactly you use a washing machine or remembering which days I had to roll the bin to the curb.
It was meal time.
It started off slow, counting calories and becoming more aware of the nutritional values of what I was eating. Sounds fairly healthy. Nothing to worry about.
Within a few months, I was missing meals. I applauded my efforts when I ate only one meal a day, especially if it was a small slice of brown toast and a spoonful of low sugar beans. Then a 'meal' became a snack, and a handful of grapes would suffice.
By the time I'd been living away from home for a year, it got far worse than I could have ever imagined. And the terrifying thing is that I didn't even consider it to be a problem. This was just my diet. It's just what I needed to do if I wanted to remain the weight I'd accomplished. Missed meals became a daily occurrence, and would often turn into two, three, sometimes even four days of no food whatsoever. Just a few coffees every now and then so I had the energy to make it to the toilet.
Then began the binge eating.
I hadn't eaten for three days. The room was spinning and my complete lack of control over my legs encouraged a panic attack, one of many I'd experience. I remembered there was a pack of biscuits in the kitchen, so I proceeded to eat them all.
One after the other, it felt like I was becoming addicted. To a fucking biscuit. I couldn't stop and before I knew it, I'd eaten an entire pack in well under five minutes.
I could talk for hours and hours about what I went through over the two years I lived away from home. How I'd vomit up every bite. How people around me considered it funny then I had 'no meat' on me. How I felt I couldn't leave the house if I was even a little bit bloated. How my bones becoming visible made me feel happy and accomplished. How I was terrified of consuming more than 200 calories in a day.
The main thing that I've taken from the whole experience is what I've learned since recovery. And it's still a massive struggle.
I think (well, I know) it's INCREDIBLY important to be educated when it comes to mental illness. I never could have imagined that I'd be so public about something that I've still not come to terms with. But I think if this post helps just one person, it's worth my discomfort...
1. It never, ever goes away.
So, something I noticed was that once I became healthier, a lot of people were happy that it was all over. I suppose it's so easy to think that way. I had my energy back. And my tits. But it doesn't go away. Once the thought process plagues your mind, there's no cure. The way I feel about food and the struggles I face are a daily occurrence.
I didn't used to have anorexia with bulimic tendencies. I have anorexia with bulimic tendencies. And it fucking sucks.
2. It's so easy to return to old habits.
Even now, if I go a day without eating, I go to bed that night with an undeserved smugness and a genuine hope that I keep it up for the day ahead. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to remind yourself to stay healthy, and to not let the little whisper in your head that tells you not to eat become a shout.
Since my recovery, I have had some down falls. And I will again.
3. Being unhealthy becomes a positive thing.
So, you know that little angel and devil you get on your shoulders when you're considering something a little risky? In the case of eating disorders, that little devil is a massive bastard. He loves to tell you just how good you're going to look after your third day of starvation. He reminds you constantly of your bravery and consistence. Who else can go so long without food?! Well done, you. Can you make it four days?!
There is nothing worse than your own self pride coming from slowly harming your body. There isn't anything positive about losing the ability to have a normal period, or walk for longer than 10 minutes without needing a break. But these things become goals. And when you've finally reached these goals, you've won the battle between you and your own mind.
4. A lot of people can't understand it.
Ok, I'm definitely not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. If you don't understand it, it's because it has affected you. Which is awesome! But it makes it hard for me in so, so many ways.
I have a huge problem with control. I have to control what I eat and I simply cannot let someone else cook for me or buy me food, unless I know exactly what it is and if I can even stomach it.
The worst thing I think I've heard from someone is 'I don't know how you do it, I love food too much!' I don't do it for fun... It's not because I just can't be bothered eating. It's not because I hate food. It's because I have a mental illness.
Also, side note: asking me if I've eaten today DOES NOT help. Don't remind me. If I haven't, I'll see it as a positive. If I have, I'll be angry and upset with myself. It's probably best to just leave that question out of the way. Don't get me wrong, it comes from a place of love and concern... but it just doesn't help.
5. Guilt, shame and disappointment cloud my emotions.
So, I've just had a well balanced meal. It's a normal thing to do. You eat to live, I know that.
But hey! What if... I hadn't had that meal. That would have been even better. And the guilt that follow is more overwhelming than I can even put into words. I can't count the amount of times I've cleaned my plate and actually said in my head 'well done, you fucking idiot.' And there's no going back in time and stopping yourself from eating it. So being sick is always an option. It's an option that is considered more times than I'm willing to admit.
6. Catching a glimpse of my own reflection? No thank you.
Genuine fear right here. I try to ignore it. I try not to stare too hard at myself in the mirror before a shower. But often the train pulls up in front of me, I see myself in the window's reflection, I'm unhappy and BOOM, there's my mood for the rest of the day fucked up. How did I let myself go? And once again, the internal debate of whether or not to eat that day begins. I've gotten so much better at winning this debate and pushing the horrible thoughts to the back of my mind. And for that, I know I'm a stronger person. However, sometimes my own self image needs mending. Self love is important, and something that has become somewhat of a mantra for me.
7. Another fear I have is certain foods.
There are still certain things that I shy away from. White bread, full fat foods and drink, cheese, chocolate, potatoes, pastry. The list goes on.
8. You're left with some permanent changes to your body.
Turns out, forcing yourself to be sick every day for an extensive amount of time can change certain physical aspects of yourself. The acidity of vomit has caused my teeth to change, and there are still certain foods that I can't even be around because I spent too long ejecting it from my body. Which is a shame, because I really like falafel.
Also, my periods are different now. They're not regular and I barely bleed.
9. Having to explain your eating habits becomes monotonous.
Some days I just don't want to eat and I get a lot of people asking me why. I've become accustomed to just coming out and saying 'I have an eating disorder, so sometimes I'm just not up for it.' It's easier than having to come up with excuses.
I think the more open you are about it, the more people relax around you and are less likely to give you the third degree when your meal isn't maybe as hearty as theirs. Educating people on something that has become a massive part of my life is so important to me and encourages understanding for an illness that is often so misconceived.
10. Accepting help was a MASSIVE step.
They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. It took me two years to come out and say it. It felt like a dirty admission and it felt like I was doing something wrong. I didn't want to tell anyone, because then I'd have to recover and all this effort I'd put into not eating will have gone to waste. All the meals skipped, all the hours spent crouched over the toilet seat - for what? And now they're going to want me to put on weight. The thought of it was just terrifying. I couldn't imagine not being able to see my ribs or having to face the guilt of eating every day on an even larger scale. This had become my life now and such a huge change is nothing short of daunting.
I think the appreciation I have for those who did help me goes unnoticed. I'm so grateful for what support I had and I'm grateful for my health. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I will continue doing what I'm doing now. I'll continue with my recovery, but everything written in this article is more relevant than ever.