When I was 15, my mum noticed my behaviour changing towards food. I thought she was overreacting, being stupid and that there was nothing wrong with me, but she took me to the doctor regardless.
“We were told that it was just a teenage phase. In my mind, this confirmed my belief that I was fine.”
I didn’t know it but I was well in the grips of anorexia by this stage and denial was a huge part of that. I remember my mum was quite switched on and we had lots of arguments. I knew I was breaking her heart, but I just couldn’t see what she could see.
At school I don’t think anyone twigged what was going on. I used to give my lunch away to my friends but I never said why and they didn’t seem to wonder why either. This meant I could easily avoid food, when I wasn’t around the watchful eyes of my family.
Mum and I would go to the doctors another three times, only to be dismissed. On the fourth visit, my mum said she wasn’t leaving until I was treated. I was referred to a specialist and I was given just two weeks to live unless something drastically changed. Even then, hearing that I was going to die, I didn’t think I was ill enough for all the fuss.
I lost a lot of my friends, and my social life along with it, during my illness. Anorexia is a very isolating illness that makes you not want to participate in social situations, or anything that may confront your new behaviour. A lot of people also do not know what to say to somebody who’s unwell and that can mean losing friends as a result.
I’ve had relapses since then but I am always able now to recognise when the anorexic voice is stronger than usual and what to do when this is the case.
“People tend to trivialise eating disorders, particularly women. You hear the term anorexic thrown around.”
I’ve definitely heard people say they went ‘a bit anorexic’ because they dieted for a day, or you might hear someone being called anorexic because they are thin.
There isn’t the understanding that it’s an incredibly serious illness, with the highest mortality rate of any mental health problem.
“I’ve also been asked for diet tips and questioned in detail about what I used to eat. It feels a bit like it can be glamourised by some people. But I was literally on the verge of death – that’s not glamorous.”
When I do speak out, I also find people can patronise me. There’s often a head tilt and they say they feel sorry for me. I don’t need pity, I’m still a human.
Having said all that, I don’t shy away from speaking out. Even when people are ignorant, I like that because it gives me a chance to challenge those opinions.
Now I’m working on sharing my experiences to help others. I created an Instagram account and wrote a leaflet called Life As It Is Now. I wanted an alternative to the pro-ana websites and accounts, promoting anorexia, that are so easily accessible these days. I also go into schools and share my story - I find I get lots of questions from young people, particularly boys.