About a year ago I was told that I had an eating disorder. I later found out my psychiatric report, done over three years ago stated “eating disorder” as if it were as clear as day, known and openly discussed amongst myself and the doctors treating me. Looking back I’m not sure of how aware I was of what was happening to me. The human mind really is incredible and for such a long time I told myself my behaviour stemmed from external issues. There was no way I’d could conceive the issue as being in my head and yet out of my control.
I was sure that my health, every little pain or sensation or even thought was a direct result of my diet. I would frantically research nutrition. I’d search for what foods helped and hindered certain ailments and while this would momentarily make me feel somewhat more comfortable, as time progressed I came to a point where I had found a reason for avoiding almost every food, living on little more than bananas and water. I assumed, by default that all foods were bad for me, and I needed evidence to convince me that eating something wouldn’t be a complete detriment to my health. I’d be dizzy and weak, nauseous with stomach pains and I’d tell myself it wasn’t because I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t eating because I didn’t feel well and in my head I truly believed that eating would not only make it worse, but was the reason I was unwell in the first place.
Everything about food was so overwhelmingly disturbing to me. When I would try to eat I’d be flooded with thoughts and images of food contaminated with germs. I’d see a million different ways of my food becoming contaminated, I was sure that it hadn’t been stored properly, or prepared properly, or it had come into contact with any number of germ ridden surfaces or people. I’d Google what food is supposed to look like, smell like, taste like, how it was supposed to be stored or prepared. It was like I had never eaten before. All of a sudden something that was once so natural and even enjoyable was completely foreign and incredibly terrifying to me. I’d look around in awe of just how unaware people were of their choices and I’d feel anxious and ill just seeing ads on TV or watching people in the streets mindlessly shovel rubbish into their mouths.
Early November last year I was hospitalised. My bloods and bone scan showed results consistent with serious malnutrition. I found this so hard to hear or believe because I didn’t look as sick as the girls around me. For the most part I put this down to the doctors being over dramatic, in an attempt to scare me into eating. All of my meals were monitored and when I failed to eat enough on my own I had a nasal-gastric tube inserted. Every night I’d check to the date on the feed that would be pumped into my stomach as I slept and it took all the self-control I could muster to not look at the nutritional tables on the feed bottles. It is so hard to explain how it feels to realise that you have lost control to the point of not even being able to manage one of the most basic human needs. The tube was bitter sweet. Despite being an anxious, moody mess I felt so relieved. The battle wasn’t within me anymore; it was released into that hospital room and shared amongst my doctors and nurses. My head fought against everything, but at that point I had no choice, it didn’t matter what I thought about what was going into my body, I was going to be fed, no amount of obsessing over that would change the situation, and honestly that was a relief.
Today I am at my highest weight since I became ill. I usually manage to eat three meals almost every day. Every day is a battle, and there is not one that passes that I completely feel free of this disease. I am constantly confronted with these thoughts and sometimes the smallest stresses or disturbances can throw me back into that dark space. I have learnt skills through therapy to help me challenge these thoughts and to avoid obsessive behaviour as much as I can, and on good days, I surprise myself at just how strong I can be. There is no quick fix for mental illness and most people who have suffered will carry the scars forever. I am not free, but for now I am just strong enough.