Anorexia recovery blog: Looking back at my anorexia journey
I thought I’d do a slightly different post today, the first part of an anorexia recovery blog. I often get messages and responses when I put up posts that show an insight into our family life, the more personal side of our adventures and travel and life in Bali, and there’s something that is very much a part of my life that I haven’t yet covered. I’ve been hesitating for a while as to whether or not to write this; whether it would be a “downer” or too personal but actually it’s about something that is extremely common and something that I approach very pragmatically, so it’s not so much an emotional thing for me any more.
Mental health is something that has been an “issue” for me for longer than I care to remember, and in a serious way on and off since I was 11. My mental health problems encompassed (encompass?) various aspects, but overwhelmingly manifested as anorexia, bulimia and depression read my post on why I’m GLAD I had these problems, here).
I remember thinking a while back that really the only good thing about going through things as utterly shite as those is that you can use your experiences to help others. It’s basically that or die, which is really easy to do if you have anorexia or bulimia; they are illnesses with a very high mortality rate.
Mental health is still, in 2018, a fairly taboo subject- one that is uncomfortable and awkward and avoided. So I thought I’d foray into that area; maybe my experiences can help others to relate to people in their lives going through it, or give some hope to those who are.
So, to anorexia, the absolute bitch.
Anorexia recovery blog: My Story
I’ll start with my story. There is no one reason why someone develops anorexia. My case was a combination of a lot of factors, as I’m sure most are, and some are more painful to think and talk about than others.
I was a normal sized kid; average height and weight, gaining some puppy fat around age 8. I don’t remember feeling chunky, even though looking back on photos I was definitely a bit podge. I don’t remember it bothering me, or even noticing it until one day an acquaintance who we hadn’t seen for a while said to my mum:
“Hannah’s put on weight, hasn’t she? But I mean, she looks good like that.”
I remember exactly where I was and how I felt when I heard that. It was mainly confusion, like “oh- that’s a thing that people do, notice body size?” There was a vague understanding that I must have done something in order to put on weight, because if it was something that just happened to people it wouldn’t be worth commenting on.
I gave it about ten seconds’ thought and then forgot about it and carried on with my seven-year-old day.
The next time I remember anything notable to do with food or weight was the night of the Millenium. I was in year six, aged 10. Our friends had a party and most of our class attended so we were having a lot of fun running around and playing with our mates.
Somehow, a few of us managed to get hold of champagne, and I downed a glass in one go. Nausea followed pretty quickly and I wanted to throw up. I went to the bathroom, put my fingers down my throat and threw it up. I felt half-relieved that I’d got it out, and half weirded out that you could actually make yourself throw up. I remember feeling like I should probably bank that knowledge in case I needed it later, but there was no real link as far as I can remember between that and weight.
Then came high school. I got into a top grammar school, where we were reminded from day one how lucky we were to be there, how we were the “top 1%” of the country academically and how “if we were getting As we should be asking why they weren’t A*s” and “if we are getting 99% we should be asking why it’s not 100%”. I kid you not, I remember one of the teachers saying this to us and thinking “I’m pretty sure that’s not healthy.”
Generally the school was great, with a ton of strong female role model teachers, some of whom became extremely influential and supportive throughout my teenage years. However the pressure was insane- I went from sitting easily in top place for everything in year 6, to fighting for the same places in year 7. Competition was intense and it was an elbows-out kind of environment; put 180 high-achieving teenage girls together, show them something to compete for and see what happens. It’s an invisible bloodbath.
This school also happened to have a spectacularly ugly uniform. I mean seriously, if you were designing something to really hate, you would come up with this. Bright green jumpers with navy blue kilts was what we had to wear, and it was vile. We quickly sorted ourselves into the girls who wore the uniform as it was supposed to be, and the ones who rolled up their skirts and tore holes in their jumper sleeves to stick their thumbs through. It was something else that added to my general feeling of being unattractive.
In year 7 I worked hard, behaved, and quickly realised that that behaviour got me seemingly nowhere. By year 8 I was basically only interested in English, my skirt was cut and I made no effort to pretend in other subjects. I found the pressure and lack of control too much, so I started skipping meals. It was a way of numbing out a bit, like drugs but without the drugs. If you’re hungry you can’t really concentrate, or think too much- you certainly can’t feel emotion as strongly. It also had the added bonus of shifting the puppy fat, which quickly became a fixation.
Skipping a few meals turned into days without food- I made my own competition with myself to see how long I could go for without eating. I loved getting skinny. I became an amazing liar, carefully tearing the crusts off my sandwiches to take home in my lunchbox to look as though I’d eaten most of it, and then binning the rest. I’d say I’d had chips on the way home from school so I wasn’t hungry for dinner, or if my parents were working I’d claim I’d eaten before they got home. It was easy, for a while.
Anorexia recovery blog: When bulimia kicked in
I started making myself sick. At first it was just “when necessary”- if I’d had to eat in front of people to make sure they didn’t know what I was doing, or if I felt I’d over eaten. Soon though the hunger took over and I started to binge. I would stay up long after the rest of the family was in bed and literally gorge on all the food I wouldn’t allow myself usually. I could easily down five or six bowls of porridge with cream and sugar, a couple of packs of super noodles, half a family-sized cake and a 24 pack of crisps. That’s in one sitting. I would do this after the rest of my family were asleep and spend hours, well into the early hours of the next morning, throwing up to make sure I’d got rid of all the food I’d eaten. Then I’d collapse exhausted into bed, get up at 6am and go to school.
Anorexia recovery blog: Treatment, and avoiding it
A few times my problem was flagged up; once when I decided to go to the doctor about it, and a few times at school when friends told teachers I wasn’t eating. At the end of the day eating disorders are not something you freely admit to and so as much as I wanted help, I also didn’t. Getting better would mean putting on weight and to someone with anorexia weight gain isn’t an option. Years later in treatment, I would discover that this is normal and that the only way to get out of this cycle is to eat so that the brain can function normally and make healthy decisions. Kind of a Catch 22.
I starved my way through high school and was too ill to go to University straight after sixth form. I was in and out of various treatments, therapies and hospitals and I can’t say that any of them “worked” to “fix” the problem- you can only get better when you decide to. Various things helped in various ways but none of them made me think “right I’m going to get better!”
Anorexia recovery blog: Deciding to get better
There was a point at which I decided, once and for all, that I was not going to starve to death, and I remember that point quite well. I will post again part 2 of my anorexia recovery blog, about that point in time and about what happened from there. I’ll also do a more detailed post about bulimia, what it is and how it took over my life.
If you are experiencing anorexia or supporting someone who does, feel free to get in touch. BEAT is also an excellent resource for people in the UK struggling with eating disorders, or those caring for them.
How’s life now, ‘after’ anorexia recovery?
Life now is amazing; I am currently living in Bali (find out why here) with my family after a period of full time travel across Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bali. For more travel posts and stories, click here.
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