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Laura reveals how accepting that she needed help with her anorexia and bulimia has transformed her life.
I made up that word, ‘anoremic’ – not that I am laying claim to it because for all I know someone else has come up with it, too. It is basically a combination of the words ‘anorexic’ and ‘bulimic’, which are two things that I found myself diagnosed with at the age of 19.
It came upon me all of a sudden, this desire to get rid of the food that I had just eaten. The food in question being a bowl of profiteroles, something that I had never had issues with eating before, but now something that I can never look at in the same desirous way again. ‘So what changed?’ I hear you ask. Well, I wish that I could tell you. Whatever it was that kept my sanity in check just snapped. All that I can remember is sitting and looking at the empty bowl and thinking ‘you shouldn’t have eaten those’. I wanted to get it out of my system immediately, so something in my brain directed me straight to the toilet. And that one moment would alter the state of my life indefinitely.
Horrified is the only way that I can remember feeling afterwards. What have you just done? I couldn’t quite believe it. Me, who has never worried about indulging in a treat every now and then, what have you just done?
Months went by, as they do, and I found myself unable to quit. The visits to the bathroom became more frequent. It started as once a month, mostly after dinner, and then it became a more regular habit. When I noticed that it was becoming more of a regular occurrence, I booked myself an appointment at my local surgery. But saying it out loud would mean that it was actually real, it would be admitting to it. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that.
“Well it isn’t a regular enough occurrence for us to be concerned at the moment. All I can say is to keep monitoring it, and if it becomes a daily thing then come back to us,” said the Doctor. What the flip?! Needless to say, I was flabbergasted, that wasn’t the ‘help’ that I was looking for.
"Visits to the bathroom became a weekly, then twice a week, then a daily, then twice daily, occurrence."
So I got on with things, and day by day I got worse. Visits to the bathroom became a weekly, then twice a week, then a daily, then twice daily, occurrence. And with each of those days my body lost both fat and muscle, my hair thinned, and my skinned turned ghostly. I had been consumed by the eating disorder.
Back to the doctors I went to plead my case and ask for the help that I so desperately needed. I was seen by a different doctor, who referred me to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Help at last.
"I was in so deep with the disorder that I didn’t believe that I could be helped, or even wanted to be."
The next stage was being seen by my local Eating Disorder Service (EDS), but months went by before I finally got a letter through to say that I was going to be seen. At this point I was in so deep with the disorder that I didn’t believe that I could be helped, or even wanted to be.
My first visit to the Eating Disorder Service was a standard introductory meeting. I had to go through my journey that got me to the eating disorder, and then listen to the professionals talk about how they were going to help me. The one part about this story that always sticks in my mind - the one thing that made me realise how deep into the illness I was - is when my nutritionist told me of a girl that was the same age as me, also with anorexia, who died in her sleep. And there I was, sat in a chair listening to what I had been told, and all that went through my mind was, ‘that isn’t the worst way to go’. I had lost all care.
The struggle with food became real. Going to the supermarket was frustrating and heartbreaking, because I would see all of the foods I used to enjoy and eat without any guilt, the foods that I would just pick up before and put in the trolley without a second thought, but that was no longer the case. I couldn’t even pick up fruit and veg without thinking that I shouldn’t eat it. Don’t eat too many tomatoes because they have a lot of acid in them. Don’t have that banana because it’s full of sugar.
My family would try to encourage me, but the lack of food made me extremely irritable, and I didn’t like anyone talking to me about it. Part of the battle with any mental illness is the isolation. I wanted the help but I was also embarrassed by my problem so if anyone tried to talk to me about it, my shield went straight up. Defence mode.
"I needed to conquer my fears, and rebuild my relationship with food."
I had several months of treatment with the EDS; I had a team of professionals fighting my fight. I had many blood tests, several ECGs, a bone density scan, and a lot of weighing sessions. I broke down on many occasions, and opened up to the possibility of a light at the end of the tunnel. They provided me with the tools and knowledge that I needed to conquer my fears, and rebuild my relationship with food.
The important part of my story is that I accepted help, and I made it through a tough battle.
I have had some degree of mental health problem since the age of 14 when I lost my Auntie to suicide. From that point on my mind had been opened up to the world of anxiety. I look back now and find it so strange that I was completely fine before. In a weird way, I believe that I was destined, genetically or otherwise, to suffer with a mental health problem. The power of the mind is actually frightening. I sit back now, healthy on the other side, and think about how quickly and unexpectedly my mind changed.
"I won't say that my battle scars have completely healed, I still ‘fight the fight’ but I am much happier."
I won't say that my battle scars have completely healed, I still ‘fight the fight’ but I am much happier. I still go to counselling appointments once a fortnight to battle those demons, and I find it so helpful.
It’s so important to not give up, and seek the right help. We can’t be afraid to speak up. I am still learning to like/love myself for who I am, and accept myself for who I am, but I take a lot of comfort in knowing that I am not alone!
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