I was debating about whether to address or talk about this situation at all until I remembered that I created this blog to document the highs AND lows of recovery. Unfortunately, recovering from any mental illness is never a straight road and it would be naïve of me to not address the bumps and slips that are inevitable to happen – it’s all part of the recovery process. For those who have kept or been in contact with me recently will know that the past 5 months have been an absolute rollercoaster from hell. So much has happened and changed since I last posted and due to a number of key and traumatic events accumulating, one day I just broke and I have relapsed.
Though the situation I am currently in is not great, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try and shine some light on the illness and what it’s like from a sufferer’s point of view. As everyone is unique, everyone’s relationship with their disorder is unique so these points are not facts, just my own views and feelings from my personal experience with the illness. It should also be said that understanding anorexia is not straight forward. Even after having it explained to you, most people still don’t really understand and some people never will. But I think that’s a good thing; I don’t think people should be able to easily comprehend why you’d starve yourself to the point where you’re lying on a hospital bed with a tube up your nose. A rational mind should not be able to make sense of it, but hopefully this will be an eye-opener to some of you:
- It’s not all about the food. This may be surprising to a lot of people, but for most anorexics, the cause behind their illness is to seek a sense of control or purpose, rather than to just “look skinny”. We know that people would find us more attractive if we put on weight, but this illness is not spurred on purely by vanity, even if it was at first.
- Anorexia isn’t something that you suddenly wake up with. It’s not something you have one day and it’s gone the next, or visa versa. I personally believe that anorexia is something that once manifested, stays with someone forever. The effect to which the illness affects you can vary, e.g. someone could happily live their life without anyone suspecting they have a previous history of anorexia, but I do think that it’s not something that you can ever ‘fully recover’ from. The demon will always be sitting there, it just depends how much and what impact that demon has on your current situation. So some advice would be to refrain from ever asking someone if they’re ‘all better now’ after having a tough time with their mental health problems – it’s not that simple.
- Anorexia is also not something you choose. You don’t wake up one morning and think “Hey! I’m going to be anorexic today!” It’s a deceiving illness that creeps it’s way into your life without you even realising. It acts as your comfort blanket but is also a snake of poison that you can’t get away from.
- It’s not that we don’t WANT to eat, it’s that we don’t feel like we’re ALLOWED to eat. We’re going against the voice inside our head that is telling us not to eat and that we are failures if we do. We can’t “just eat”. It is like saying to someone who is afraid of heights, “just jump out of the plane”. However just because we won’t eat the food, doesn’t mean we don’t want it, crave it or have been thinking about it all day. In all honestly, we probably think about food more than you do.
- Anorexia goes hand in hand with other mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. It is also very common for sufferers of anorexia to suffer with body dysmorphia, which is when a person is preoccupied with an imagined physical defect that others cannot see. This is why we usually perceive ourselves to be bigger than we actually are.
- No one can help if you don’t want to get better yourself. Makes sense right? But people may be confused as to why you wouldn’t want to get help in the first place. Surely if you’re ill, you want to get better? This is where it gets complicated. As I said before, the illness usually stems from the need to feel in control and therefore getting help means losing what made you feel in control and safe in the first place. It’s letting go of your best friend (and enemy), the one thing that made you feel safe and losing something that gave you a sense of purpose. It’s scary.
- You do not have to be underweight to suffer with anorexia. This is an extremely common misconception and is so far from the truth. You can be ANY weight and suffer with anorexia. Anorexia is a MENTAL health problem with physical side effects. The misconception that you must ‘look’ a certain way to suffer from the illness is extremely harmful as it makes sufferers feel as though if they don’t look underweight, that they are not ‘sick enough’ and can prevent them from seeking help sooner. This is just wrong on so many levels. It’s awful how much weight people lose to just feel like they’ll be believed, so please get the imagine out of your head that you have to look like some emaciated skeleton to suffer with anorexia.
- You cannot ‘look’ like an illness. You would never say, “she looks cancerous”, so why is is so normalised to say things like “she looks anorexic” or “you look depressed”? Mental health disorders should not be used as adjectives.
- BMI is bullshit. People have died from the effects of anorexia with a higher BMI than of someone who has a lower BMI and is still active. BMI does not take into account one’s bone structure and natural functioning weight. For example, Person A has a natural BMI of 19 and Person B has a natural BMI of 23. Both patients develop an eating disorder and lose weight as a result of this. Person A goes down to a BMI of 17.8 and Person B goes down to a BMI of 20. The effect and power anorexia has is more dominant in Person B, but because they are still classed as within the ‘healthy range’, they are not considered to be as ill as Person A. It’s literal bullshit. You cannot base the seriousness of a MENTAL health problem on a PHYSICAL number, however this is how our system works.
- Weight restoration or reaching a healthy weight doesn’t mean you’re recovered. In fact, this is where it get’s really hard. Due to the above misconception that to suffer from anorexia you should look a certain way, people feel as though because they have now gained back the weight, that everyone suddenly expects them to be ‘better’. Just because someone is physically recovered does not mean they are mentally recovered. So comments such as “you look so much better” are the worst. As you know, anorexia is a mental illness with physical side effects, thus you saying that we ‘look better’ for us implies that you think we’re now recovered just because we’ve put on weight. It makes us feel that for people to realise and understand that we’re still struggling, we have to ‘look’ a certain way. We know it is not said with these intentions, but eating disorders aren’t very good at the whole rationalising thing.
- Every day is a battle. Everyday you are fighting your own mind and I think that’s the hardest part. You’re fighting the irrational half of your brain that’s telling you to do the opposite of what your rational brain is telling you to do. It’s a absolute mind fuck and it is exhausting. With it also being January, you are bombarded with all the “new year, new me!” sayings and the word ‘diet’ being hurled around like a boomerang which makes fighting the thoughts in your head even harder. *Side note: I will hopefully be getting round to do an anti-diet rant/post soon but if you haven’t already, check out my blog post here, about what being ‘healthy’ really means.
I know I have only really talked about anorexia rather than eating disorders as a whole, or any other mental health illnesses for that matter but it is something I would like to do as there are a myriad of other eating disorders that most people don’t even know about and there are lot more myths and misconceptions that I want to get busted!
Anyway, I hope that these points were helpful or at least insightful and please spread the word if you have learnt anything that you think would be beneficial for others to know. We need to change our attitudes towards talking about mental health and be more open – I am passionate about removing the taboo and stigma around mental health disorders so please never hesitate to get in touch or be afraid to ask any questions.