Erín shares her experience of anorexia and describes how recovery is possible, and what she is doing to support others affected by eating disorders.
“Anorexia crept slowly into my life following the sudden death of my dad when I was just thirteen. Up until this point, I had what most would consider an idyllic childhood. I came from a close-knit family, was a straight A student, and was both healthy and active for my age. You can imagine therefore the shock and disbelief when my world turned upside down, that moment when I came to the realisation that one of the people I had assumed would remain a constant in my life was gone and wasn’t ever coming back. I felt so out of control. That’s when she (Anorexia) made her appearance.
The first thing I recall is developing a fear of taking a heart attack like my dad so to avoid this I cut all fatty and sugary foods from my diet. Weight was never my worry, I just wanted to be healthy. Then she became my best friend, she realised I was vulnerable and used that to her full advantage. She was nice initially, showering me with praise for refusing that bar of chocolate my nanny offered with a cup of tea, reassuring me I was making all the right decisions. Quite quickly however her true colours became apparent and the strict rules she enforced became increasingly difficult to obey. She would ridicule me constantly, ‘You’re not good enough… you don’t deserve to eat’, and make promises that were too tempting to resist, ‘everything will be better if you just lose some more weight.’
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.”
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