This is a first-hand account of living with an eating disorder. A friend of Luminate has very kindly shared their story of Anorexia with us - to help raise awareness, improve understanding, and increase empathy around this often misinterpreted eating disorder.
Anorexia is a serious mental health condition, characterised by restricted eating and/or overexercising in a bid to keep one’s weight as low as possible. This can make individuals very ill because they start to starve.
It is worth mentioning here that Anorexia Nervosa is not the only way in which an eating disorder can present, they can take many different forms.
Please note that this story may be distressing to read if you, or someone you care about, is currently experiencing, or has experienced, an eating disorder – please take care of yourself and consider whether now is the right time for you to read it. Please note, too, that we’ve left out any identifying details about our friend, their place of work, or where they received care.
That morning was normal. I woke up. I had a black coffee for breakfast. I drove to work in my bright orange car. I sat at my desk all morning. I had a black coffee for lunch. I had a black coffee for dessert. I had a lot of black coffee. But when I walked upstairs to start my afternoon of work I realised I felt funny. At first I was in denial that I felt funny. Then I felt so funny I wondered if there was a possibility that I’d had too much coffee. But I drank loads of coffee all the time so that couldn’t be the problem?
My heart raced. Vroom, vroom, vroom. Hammer, hammer, hammer. I wondered if I’d overdosed on coffee and was about to die. Maybe I could go downstairs and sit for a minute, I thought. I started getting sweaty and my clothes began sticking to me. When I sat down, the whole room was spinning. Maybe it’s a sugar thing? I could eat a biscuit? Okay. I decide to have ONE bourbon. No one can see into the kitchen, so I sat on the floor and ate the bourbon. I felt a bit better. I walked back to my desk. I took my seat. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like I was still about to die.
Later that day I found myself in hospital.
I think of Anorexia as a spore. One day it makes a home in your mind and spends months growing into something that, ultimately, overtakes you. Often you don’t realise what’s happening until you’re too far to do anything about it. In the end you’re unsure what’s Anorexia and what’s you. You’re scared to let go of your harmful patterns of behaviour because you have no idea what’s left without that voice. It’s not a choice, it’s a mental illness.
Anorexia makes you weak. It’s makes you fragile. It makes you so emotionless you can’t laugh or cry. It impairs your short-term memory. It makes you so tired you can’t vacuum or wash up. You’re too distracted to watch a movie. Too absorbed in your thoughts that you can’t even have a conversation with your friends. It makes it painful to sleep. Even a mattress is too uncomfortable for your bony body. You stop having periods to conserve energy for more vital organs. It hurts to walk, your feet need flesh on them.
That’s what Anorexia feels like, your life is pain, but you’re too exhausted to care. And all this time your family and your friends and anyone who cares about you is having to watch you slowly kill yourself because their attempts at intervention fall on deaf ears. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. It’s a deadly disease, one we need to talk about and get to root of.
I felt stuck, I felt trapped and I didn’t know how to get out. I’m not sure if I was or wasn’t cognisant of it but I was a deeply unhappy person. I worked a job I hated, which made me very unhappy. It was the very definition of unfulfilling. At the time I reconciled that it was a job in an industry I wanted to be in and I felt like it was a stepping stone to something better. I was also living with my boyfriend, turned fiancé, and didn’t realise that I was miserable in that relationship.
Society had a role to play too; like most girls I’d spent my adolescence reading magazines, watching movies and consuming social media. Even if you don’t want to, even you don’t think you are, in the western world we are all always looking at and coveting bodies that look a certain way.
One misunderstanding about Anorexia is that it’s only about thinness. That is one facet of the very complicated disease that is Anorexia. For most anorexics, it’s a biproduct rather than a driver. Anorexia is more often about control. When your life feels all over the place, it feels good to take control of something: food is one thing that most people have total control over. It very often begins as a subconscious way of turning your spiralling mental decline into something tangible. I was hell bent on sticking with this illness because all of the pain inside me felt too impossible to unravel myself from. At that time Anorexia gave me comfort and it gave me purpose.
Going from hunger to starvation creates chemical changes within you – it starts to release serotonin which makes you feel high. It makes you feel good. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is to make our hunter gatherer selves feel happy and motivated enough to find food. Anorexia has many similarities to addiction because of this chemical reaction in your brain that makes your feel temporarily better.
It can take years of yo-yo-ing between a healthy weight and an unhealthy one before an anorexic truly recovers. I know that’s been true for me. But the time I was admitted to hospital was different. It woke me up. It’s shame it had to go that far and I would encourage anyone with even mildly disordered eating behaviours to seek help while it’s still a seed and not your whole mind.
It’s easy to think all anorexics are thin, but people of all different body types engage in disordered behaviours and stick to a very small amount foods only prepared by themselves. Even if their BMI is not clinically underweight this is still Anorexia. Anorexia begins before you lose weight. The thoughts always come first. If you feel yourself becoming more rigid with eating habits, more scared of meals out, more entrenched in your food routine, it is never too early to get help and also never, EVER too late.
At the point I ended up in hospital I really felt like I’d hit rock bottom. I was literally willing to die to avoid my problems. Somewhere along the way Anorexia stopped being a safe haven and started being a prison. The helpful habit became the new place I was trapped. Recovery is hard but, whilst not wanting to sound trite, recovery is worth it.
I’ve worked so hard to re-build my life. It’s taken confidence and a true will to recover. But I still have bad days, I still have thoughts that are reminiscent of Anorexia. However, with me now giving my brain and body more of what it needs, I’m much more able to deal with those pesky thoughts when they pop up. I’m strong enough to whack them down. Sometimes I have a bad week and that is human. It’s a journey and even if the days are hard, the months are easier, and that’s what recovery is to me. I still take antidepressants and prescribed sleeping pills. My life isn’t perfect, but I take pleasure in the little imperfections now because I can see that the majority of living a life is so beautiful.
Getting help and support as soon as possible gives you the best chance of recovering from an eating disorder.
If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, please do get in touch with the eating disorders charity BEAT. You can talk to someone in confidence by calling their adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or their Youth helpline on 0808 801 0711
Luminate also offer workplace counselling services to support good mental health, and provide safe, confidential places for employees to speak to a professional therapist or counsellor.