Trigger warning: This post contains references to anorexia.
I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 12, I had three hospital admissions at St Mary’s/QA before finally transferring to inpatient at a psychiatric hospital, where I left at age 17. My lowest weight reached under four stone which brought along various complications in ICU.
They were correct in a way – my ED is always with me to this day - like never being able leave the crime scene - however, I can recognise and manage the symptoms when they come and access support/services to get help.
I found there were a lot of misconceptions surrounding ED. For instance, I did not become ill for vanity - I covered my body as much as possible for fear people would intervene and make me eat. I lost my hair, I could not walk when my legs wasted away, wounds did not heal properly, my eyes and skin were yellow from my organs eating themselves. I have scars all over my body; some from chest drains from where my lungs collapsed and on my legs from trying to stand and falling. My bones are still weak and there was concern over fertility. None of this is beautiful; to be admired or desired. Furthermore, I did not become anorexic for attention – I dropped out of school and did everything I could to hide away so I could continue to be ill in peace.
I loved my ED because it gave me control, accomplishment and it was the only interesting thing about me (after all its all anyone wanted to talk to me about!). The peer support from the other ED patients in psych helped me the most to overcome this. They were the most wonderful people I have ever met; they taught me that I can have a life separate from my ED – one about having goals, hobbies, and some independence away from a mental illness.
Nothing exactly “caused” my anorexia. I was not born with an eating disorder: I think I was born with the genetic ingredients that made be vulnerable to developing the illness. And this is true for most and is important to remember. I put my family and my body through hell and in recovery I felt a lot of shame for that.
I am making up for this lost time by using the same traits that caused an ED into living as best I can. Nowadays my sense of achievement comes from supporting people with mental illness including ED’s.
Upon coming to work for the Solent Recovery College, I was passionate about creating an eating disorders course. All mental health journeys are different, along with the way we talk about them; I am very candid about my experience because I want to remove the glamour depicted in eating disorders that we often see in media or miscommunicated in movies. I hope this course will help dissolve these perceptions along with many other misconceptions around ED, such as people need to look like they have an eating disorder to have one. Most importantly I want to spread the message of hope and living a life separate to an ED. The course encourages people to put the genetic traits that made a person susceptible to an ED in the first place – perfectionism, anxiety - in the service of recovery and positive endeavours instead. Some may never be able to leave the crime scene of an eating disorder like I sometimes feel I cannot - but with help and support it can be cleaned up and new foundations built upon. Stronger, with lots of potential for happiness and a worthwhile life.
In the summer term, Solent Recovery College are running an ”Understanding Eating Disorders” course. The course is 1.5 hours long and aimed at people with an eating disorder or someone supporting a person with one.
The course will cover the diagnosis, symptoms, "causes", treatment options, self-care and self-management, signposting and a peer story where you will hear from someone with lived experience of an eating disorder. The course is designed as an introduction to learning about eating disorders and broaden your knowledge of support and services available. We plan on doing a follow-on course in future.
The course was co-produced by eating disorder therapist, Michael Bartram, along with Shannon.