Concern for what people will think has stopped me from talking about this sooner. But I’ve finally reached a point where I am not only willing to, but feel I have to share my story. Writing is my medicine, so this is as much for me as it is my hope that telling my story will help someone else.
I remember the day it all began.
Nearly 10 years ago, in the summer of 2007, I was tabbing through photos on my digital camera from the previous evening’s birthday party. My camera had been passed around and keenly used by the party guests, naturally I’d been caught in a couple of shots. I stopped dead at one of the photos of myself sitting at the dinner table, it was a profile angle of me, and I was completely horrified by what I was looking at. In that moment, I had such a clear and sudden shift in my perception of myself, it felt like a switch being flipped.
I am so fat.
I know now that my reaction to that photo was the first of what would come to be many instances of my mind playing tricks on me. Objectively, I have never been close to what could be called overweight, or even chubby. I was a healthy – and in many respects petite – 20 year old woman. But on that day, I was suddenly overcome with a unshakable conviction that I was horrendously overweight and to such a degree that I (and surely everyone around me) was absolutely disgusted by my being. The forceful manner in which this “realisation” came to me made it all the more scary. In what my mind was making me see, I couldn’t believe I had let my weight get so out of control.
Deeming myself so grossly overweight, there was only one thing I could do; I decided to go on a diet.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been on a diet. Throughout my teenage years I’d attempted dieting several times, but without much effect since I (thankfully) soon forgot I was on a diet and resumed eating like a normal teenager.
But this time it was different. My diet became my life purpose. Nothing was more important than minimising my food intake and exercising every chance I could get. Those first couple of months were like being on speed. Therapists and doctors would later explain to me that this is a common experience, known as the “honeymoon” period of anorexia. I felt unstoppable. Hunger wasn’t an issue, I could exercise for hours without feeling tired. I was floating through life. And the weight melted off my small frame at such a rate that I soon started to look very sick.
As with any honeymoon, it doesn’t last forever. I remember very little of what happened the months after those initial months of feeling like I was on cloud nine. I just recall feeling like I’d been sucked into a black hole of misery and I saw no way out.
Despite my rapid and dangerous weight loss, exercising for hours every day, and eating very little or nothing at all, I didn’t know that I was suffering from an eating disorder. Since I would occasionally eat or even have binging episodes, and – of course – because I was so fat, the coalescence of myself and an eating disorder was simply not possible.
I remember feeling like I was too much of a failure to have an eating disorder. I felt like I would too easily succumb to my hunger and eat or binge, rendering me a failed anorexic. I know how disturbing that sounds, as if being anorexic is a desirable accomplishment.
Yet, a part of me knew that something was wrong. I was tired, cold, in physical pain, and very, very depressed.
I was desperate for someone to tell me what was wrong with me, hoping that by identifying the problem, I would be able to find a way out of it.
I started seeing one therapist after the other, but it took a long time before anyone recognised the severity and true cause of my problems, and referred me to an eating disorder clinic.
I was riddled with anxiety as I entered the clinic for my initial consultation in the Spring of 2010. My only thought was that I didn’t belong there. I didn’t have an eating disorder, I was way too fat to have an eating disorder, and I was so ashamed and terrified I would be the fattest person there.
I sat down with the psychiatrist and told her my story, just like I’d told so many therapists before her. When I finally stopped talking, she looked at my tear stained face with sympathy and said:
“What you are describing is, without a doubt, an eating disorder.”
I was put into treatment that year and spent several months blanketed in anxiety, working my way back to, well, life. With certainty, those were some of the most challenging months of my entire life. But eventually, things started getting better. I became more social, started enjoying seeing friends again, and I regained the desire to form – and pursue – ambitions other than those pertaining to my control of food and exercise.
When I finished my treatment, I was a long way from where I had been eight months prior. I left feeling nervous about no longer having the safety of my therapist and the support of the group I was in, but ultimately assuming that I was finally better. No more eating disorder.
Or so I thought.
The mind is an expert manipulator.
Soon after leaving the clinic, I joined a gym. I started working out a couple of times a week, and then a couple more. I subconsciously began to control my food intake and my exercise. I say subconsciously, because that’s very much what an eating disorder is like. You do what you believe to be right, healthy, and sane. And I had been through treatment, so I was fiercely convinced that whatever my behaviour, weight loss, or exercising more than your average, I no longer had an eating disorder.
Only I did.
A little over a year ago – five years since last, and nearly ten years since I first got sick – I found myself at the eating disorder clinic again. I started seeing a therapist once a month, and during our inaugural meeting, she suggested I go into the same treatment program I completed so many years ago.
I’ve spent a year telling her I don’t need it, that things aren’t that bad.
“I just need to lose the weight I’ve put on recently and then I’ll be happy. I just want to get back to my goal weight, my magical number, then I’ll be fine. I just need to get control of my eating, eat healthier, exercise more. Then, for sure, my life will be good.”
You can’t solve a problem by using the same method that caused it.
This summer, I finally allowed myself to be coerced into doing a week of treatment. It was only going to be a week, to get me back into the swing of things. After all, I’d done this treatment before, I knew all about it.
That week was like being slapped in the face with reality. From day one my new therapist (and a part of me too) realised a week wasn’t going to cut it.
I’m half way through my treatment now, and it’s taken until now for something small to finally happen. There’s a fire in me now that sees so much potential for this recovery to become not only what saves me, but ultimately what helps save others from these claws too. I want to be the inspiration, not the trigger. And there’s a part of me that thinks this has been meant to be all along.
To quote a speaker entirely unrelated to this post – Margaret Thatcher once said, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”, and that’s exactly what I am doing.
As of right now, I don’t know exactly where I’m going or where I’ll end up, but I’m on my way. The future is my motivation.