Set Me Free… Battling An Eating Disorder
Coping with an eating disorder is akin to being a caged bird. An isolating experience, where you feel like your disorder’s willpower is keeping you under lock and key. How to escape? A huge question which hopefully can be at least partially answered.
You’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder. For some this may be confirmation of something which has festered and taunted them on many sleepless nights. For others it may be a startling blow, unsettling and raw. How to go about fighting this illness? Some – those who are not educated about the struggles of sufferers – may simply look at you and deliver one statement: “It’s obvious, isn’t it? Just eat.”
Don’t worry. They may mean well, and this isn’t your cue to go on the offensive and unleash that hail of sarcasm you’ve been brewing for the deserved occasion (and unfortunate soul). They simply can’t understand, because eating disorders are difficult to comprehend if you haven’t experienced them.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa (a.k.a Ana, living hell, that absolute @%!*£$!) two years ago. There had been signs of it since early childhood, and during my hospitalisation I was told that doctors believed I had a genetic predisposition to anorexia. (Here’s a PDF of a scholarly article from the International Journal of Eating Disorders with recent research from 2012 on nature/nurture in anorexia.) For some sufferers this is the case, and it may be very difficult for them to prevent their illness from surfacing. For others it is acquired. I’ve been tube-fed by a machine named ‘Herbert’, medically known as an NG feed. My recovery process is slow, but I hope that one day I shall be on top of Ana’s wrath.
As these disorders aren’t commonly understood, you may feel as if you’re drowning in a pool with no one to pull you out. You shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. One of the most important factors in breaking free is support: whether from medical third parties or from loved ones. There are charities such as b-Eat and the Samaritans for anonymous shoulders to cry on. There are so many of us out there; banding together helps. You do not have to fight your condition alone. I know for some this is difficult: I for one am resistant to accepting guidance, but once you manage to take this step things will gradually become easier. I promise.
Honesty, known as ‘the best policy’, comes to light with eating disorders. It’s hard to admit things to yourself sometimes, let alone others – especially when there’s something controlling you internally. And sometimes, when it’s overpowering, you cannot bring yourself to take that next weigh-in, to admit you didn’t have meals you said you had, to explain why you can’t find clothing anymore. But the next time someone asks you whether you are okay, I urge you to tell them. You do deserve this, regardless of what that internal voice is telling you. You are a huge part of your own recovery, and honesty will make for a smoother ride. Take time to process and accept things.
The consequences of malnutrition are hard to deal with. For some the symptoms of malnutrition may be worse than the illness itself. Your immune system will be fighting away like a trooper to cope with any infections life throws at you, and you might feel like you’ve been hit by a steamroller. Malnutrition oftens hits bone density, making you vulnerable to injury, and if your ED is of the purging type, your tooth enamel may suffer. I would recommend you take daily supplements of vitamins, either in tablet form, the chewable kind or in supplement drinks such as Ensure (yes, I know they’re undesirable, but they’ll make you feel better). You need to keep those natural defenses up and running so you don’t get really poorly.
When things are becoming difficult, stop. Are you pulling those corset strings so tightly you can’t bring yourself to exhale? We all need time to breathe. If your thoughts are racing more rapidly than an olympic sprinter, direct them elsewhere: find something you can channel your focus into, whether that be sewing, sketching or composing sonatas. A lot of sufferers find artistic outlets help them greatly as diversions – and it might bring you to discover something you adore. Volunteer with an organisation, go for a wander, write for Mookychick. Whatever takes your fancy.
Remember that you can break free. Gradually, but eventually, you can begin to enjoy all of the beautiful things in life you really deserve. Fight for freedom.
Mookychick advice on eating disorders
Mookychick advice pages – “I think I’m anorexic”
Advice on Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
Review of Wasted, the memoir of a girl swamped in today’s obssession with diet, body and gender