In 2013, during my first year of university, my grandad passed away. Although he‘d led an excellent life, he was the hub of the family and his death left a big void. My response, as is a lot of people’s response to grief, was to keep busy and do things that made me feel like I had a sense of control. I found myself balancing 3 part time jobs on top of university. This need for regained control spilled over into my daily life in the form of my diet. I started to become addicted to the control that I had over what I ate and the weight began to drop off. I initially liked the fact that I could now fit into certain clothes and if I’m honest society's harmful rhetoric that a woman’s “value” is linked to her dress size was also at the back of mind.
It’s scary how quickly new behavioural patterns and thought processes can become cemented in your mind and how hard these can be to break. Within a few months the mind-set and behaviours that I’d held previously had altered completely.
Friends and family started to become concerned. However, I initially dismissed their worries and insisted that my weight loss was down to constantly being on my feet at my waitressing jobs. It wasn’t until my periods stopped and didn’t return for a few months that I conceded that I had a problem. I initially tried to put on weight myself as I was reluctant to go to the GP, not really knowing what to say or how to articulate what was going on, as I didn’t really understand what was happening. During this time I was also struggling with depression, which in retrospect I think stemmed from my eating issues – your world becomes incredibly insular. You unwittingly push people away as you’re incapable of thinking about much else because your eating disorder has such a hold on you.
As a result my relationships suffered. I had achieved total control over what I was putting into my body but at what cost? I was skipping social events, missing work, cancelling on and drifting apart from friends and alienating family. Everything else had spiralled as a result of this newfound “control”.
Recovery wasn’t a linear process. Realising that I had a problem was the first step but the process of getting better was a gradual one which took about 3 and a half years. I found it incredibly difficult to silence the voice in my head that was telling me such toxic negativity. As a result I went through periods of binge eating followed by a few days of near starvation as a means of “damage limitation”.
I eventually went to a GP but did the common thing that many people in the grips of mental illness do and downplayed my situation massively. My mam then came with me to the next appointment so that she could explain the situation more accurately. I had a few CBT sessions which equipped me with the ability to recognise destructive thought patterns and better understand the situation I was in. In retrospect I should’ve attended more but didn’t see them as helpful at the time as I still felt a sense of shame and embarrassment when confronting my eating disorder.
I confided in a couple of friends and was extremely lucky that with their support and help from my immediate family I managed to very slowly unpick these destructive thoughts and behaviours, and essentially re-programme my mind back into my old ways of thinking.
I’ve contemplated sharing my experience for a while but was always reluctant as I didn’t want to simplify eating disorder recovery as I know that everyone’s experience is unique. But I decided that if this post helps just 1 person feel less alone then it’s worth sharing. I know that if I’d have known someone who’d been open about having an eating disorder in the past, then it would’ve helped me to feel less alone.
My message to anyone who’s going through or knows someone going through similar would be to keep going. You will get there I promise. Even just admitting to yourself that you have a problem is the first step towards recovery. Your brain had the ability to learn these self-destructive thought patterns and obsessive behaviours, so it’s definitely capable of unlearning them. You are stronger than this and you will BEAT this ❤