Trigger warning: the following content includes eating disordered and destructive thoughts.
I know in the past it’s helped me to know someone else ‘gets it’, that someone else has been through the same thing I’m going through, and this knowledge has saved my life many a time. Now it’s my time to be that ‘someone’, if just one person reads my story and it changes something for them, then it is worth putting pen to paper – or fingers to keys.
#timetotalk is trending on Twitter; an opportunity for the thousands of people living with mental health to come out of hiding and be honest about how cruel that life can be. My mental health caused me to develop an eating disorder that threatened my life.
Looking back, I know the pinnacle point of my transformation from happy successful teen to anorexic mentally-broken twenty-year-old was my success at work. I’d risen through the ranks of management quicker than anyone anticipated, and the pressure built and built. I was too afraid and ashamed to show it at work, so I turned in on myself, my brain started to decay and I let my body rot too.
At my worst, or as we the eating disordered say – at my best, I weighed less than 7 stone. I vomited every hour, on the hour, starved for days and felt utterly ashamed about any crumbs I did consume. My dress size was a UK 4 (USA 0). My hair fell out, my periods stopped, I had nose bleeds, constant throat infections and I collapsed multiple times. Eventually, I wasn’t allowed to walk further than the end of the street, and I had to check in with therapists every two days so they could keep me alive.
I did everything I could to destroy myself. I deliberately sabotaged every inch of the thing I hated most – my life, and the vessel that carried me through it. As I starved my body of food and nutrients, my brain became starved too. It lost the capacity to separate normal life to disordered survival. I became tormented by voices, shapes, dreams and visions. I didn’t know what was real, I trusted nobody and began to think my life was a play, with my friends acting their parts, all the while smirking at the unseen audience.
I became convinced that my life was a pretence, the paranoia so strong I would argue for hours on the phone with my best friends, accusing them of hating me. I would still try and hold down my job, even push for promotion, yet all the while convinced I was failing and that everyone was waiting for an excuse to fire me.
For a long time, I kept it hidden. I’d vomit in the staff toilets, draw blood, wash my hands and walk into a staff meeting with a smile on my face. As I shrank, my uniform would need reordering monthly, until I had to start buying my own clothes because the suppliers didn’t make trousers small enough. People commented of course, but I took that as encouragement; like someone at the side of a race track begging you to go further, to do more, to be better at it. I was dying, and I wouldn’t stop.
It took six months for me to ask for help, in fact ‘ask’ isn’t quite accurate – it took six months for my friend to drag me to a doctor’s and hold my hand while I sobbed to a stranger, and admitted that I had lost control. I’d love to tell you that the doctor understood perfectly and offered me help straight away… Instead, I was asked to try to rest more, get more sleep and come back in two weeks. Those two weeks could easily have been my last, I had finally confided to a professional and they hadn’t listened. Nothing felt worth it anymore, there was no fight left in me, I was ready to fade.
Of course, the fact that I’m here typing this nearly ten years on shows I did get help, eventually I got referred to specialists, started medication for my head and therapy for my body. It took years for the recovery to even begin, and every day it kills me that I’m now so large nobody would ever believe any of this had ever happened.
It’s 1pm and I’ve already had granola for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, it wasn’t long ago that a sandwich would be food for two days – or rather what was left of it after I purged. It wasn’t long ago that I would spend every other day in a room with strangers trying to keep me alive. It wasn’t long ago that I would sit and stare at the floor as my therapist tried her hardest to get a response from me, I just didn’t care, I didn’t know who I was and I was afraid of finding out.
Now I take tablets every day and every night, I fight with every meal I eat and I refuse to make any decisions because I’m so scared they’ll be the wrong ones. Buying food in the supermarket is excruciating for me, I am the one standing in the aisle for 40 minutes comparing the calories of milk and soya, debating whether my dairy allergy is worth risking the extra 30 calories. Yet, I am also the one who will meet you for coffee and cake and buy two slices because I couldn’t choose between the Victoria sponge and the red velvet.
I am irritating, confusing, clingy and I am incredibly emotional – but I’m still here. I was terrified of dating, of letting my barriers down and opening up to someone. I met my first partner whilst I was still in therapy, and his presence made the world of difference. Now I explain my past to each potential partner, because they need to know what they are taking on, and I need to know I can be myself with them. Only one person has ever had an issue, and stupidly I didn’t take heed of this warning sign as early as I should.
Therapists have told me that my mental health issues have been with me years before they came to such a catastrophic climax. If I’d just spoken out earlier, asked for help when I was in my early teens, I could have lived a very different life. I used to sing all the time, performing solos on stage and appearing in musicals. I wanted to be a star, but now I’ve damaged my throat so much I can’t make out a line without it cracking. I am 30 this year and just beginning to ‘get better’, that’s so much time lost, so many experiences I denied myself because I was too ashamed to admit how weak I had become.
So please, learn from my mistakes. Take the #timetotalk. To a friend, to a stranger, to a professional – whoever you need at that time, but don’t hide away. Believe me, you’re here for a reason and you’re too precious to hide. Be proud of every day you get through, and be proud of each breath you let pass your lips – because each time you breathe you’re giving yourself a chance to live.