Nobody understands. Including me; I don't really understand either. Writing this is probably the first time I have properly accepted I have an eating disorder.
In recent weeks I've been settling for calling it 'eating issues' – it sounded softer somehow. Previous to that I just told people I was on a diet, and that was only if people asked.
I haven't been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, but the professionals who are supporting me in my recovery from childhood abuse and domestic abuse have used the term 'eating disorder' more frequently over the last few weeks. I told them they were wrong. They told me denial was part of the illness. I told them I wasn't ill. I found every reason why they were wrong, that I was in control. One said “but it's not in control.” I shrugged off their comment as wrong. They couldn't know how I was feeling. I felt in control, and to me that meant I was in control. I'm beginning to realise that feeling in control and actually being in control can be two very different things.
It's like I have a little person is sitting on my shoulders and gagging me, preventing any food from entering my mouth, and hissing at me if I dare eat...leaving me scared of eating. I'm scared of eating. I'm scared of putting on weight.
I'm also scared of saying that I fear putting on weight. Eating disorders are so stigmatised and I don't want people thinking I'm some girl obsessed with being size 0 after the latest Hollywood fad. I don't want them to think I'm being stupid, when I'm not. “You don't need to lose weight, you look great,” or “well, you know what I think” in a dismissive tone, or “just don't talk to me about weight. You know you don't need to lose any.” I've had all of those said to me, multiple times, by many people.
So if it’s not a diet, what is it?
I was abused as a child, and in an abusive relationship last year. I want to explain how being a victim of abuse has been the cause of my current eating disorder. I hope that by explaining, people will realise how things link together, and not only understand more about eating disorders, but also more about the impact of abuse itself.
The most dangerous and powerful thing about abuse, to me at least, is the secrecy.
Trying to carry that such a big secret and live life normally is exhausting and crushing. At times it felt close to impossible. It also meant my reality became secret, which meant my own reality was being undermined and invalidated. The reality I put on as a show wasn't the real story, and so the act of carrying such a secret meant I was living a lie. Living such a lie gradually broke me.
This level of trying to manage living with such horrendous secrecy and a double-life seems to have manifested itself, to a degree, in my eating. On the one hand I so desperately want to lose weight, and on the other hand I try to cover it all up with layers and deny to anyone that there's a problem. The illness is a secretive illness. The damage, again, from living in such a secretive double-life is extensive, and it fuels the eating disorder. In short, it's a massively vicious cycle.
Control is a huge aspect.
Living such a double-life between trying to be a normal student/child/teenager whilst being abused in secret has made my life frequently feel far beyond my control. Eating felt and feels like the only thing completely in my control, that nobody else can take away from me. Every hunger pang I get, every wave of dizziness or heart palpitation, or every time I throw up...these make me feel in control. I get a kick each time. I feel relief each time. Sometimes if I've had a horrendous day and I then feel dizzy, I actually cry with relief. Why? Because I feel like I am therefore in control. Maybe that sounds crazy. I don't like the feeling of stomach pain or dizziness. I don't like it at all. But I like what it means; to me it means I'm in control, and that feeling is addictive when for so long my life has been beyond my control.
And ultimately, if the only time you're called 'good' is when you're submissive and let people use your body, then where else was my self-worth and sense of body image going to go? I hear their cruel words when I feel I've put weight on or when I eat. The memories haunt me and frighten me.
So please...don't tell me to 'just eat.'
It's never that simple; I'm not stupid, if the solution was to simply 'just eat' then don't you think I would have managed that? I'm terrified of putting weight on because of what happened to me. I'm scared of losing control because of what happened to me. Secrecy traps and damages me so much, because of what happened to me. I can't see my body in the way people around me seem to see it, because of what happened to me.
I am a student. I am a musician. I am a singer. I don't identify myself based on my mental health, but I can't deny the fact my mental health impacts on my life quite substantially.
There's too much stigma surrounding mental health, and eating disorders specifically in this case. I feel like people are judged before they get the chance to speak, based purely on what they look like. The damage that needs healing are all psychological scars of the abuse, for me. It's those scars which need addressing, and more people need to understand that although the symptoms of eating disorders may well present themselves physically, most often the causes are psychological. We need help, not judgement.