I’m not sure what triggered my eating disorder; neither am I certain as to when precisely I started on the harrowing journey to an emaciated abyss. As a thin-to-slim pubescent of a mere thirteen years of age, it just sort of happened.
In most cases, it’s a negative comment, an inappropriate ‘fat’ remark, that is the catalyst for such illnesses. The only thing I can recall is a feeling of being different, of not quite fitting into any social circle. I had several friends, but they all immersed themselves into their appropriate clique with ease. I often drifted between people, determined to feel that moment of belonging.
As an only child, I had everything I could need and want. Love. Support. Encouragement. I lacked nothing, yet a deep, dark void within my inner depths dictated that I felt lonely amongst my peers. I remember having a party for my eighteenth birthday, and I was showered with love from my large circle, but the void was ever-present.
At the age of forty-five, I ask myself what triggered this feeling of emptiness, this black hole. A feeling that I’d lost someone close to me or was, perhaps, about to lose. I realize now that this person was me, and I was about to encounter a traumatic loss.
Like a vicious predator rising from the depths, Anorexia reared its ugly head around this time. As I started to lose weight, I felt empowered. When I disposed of my packed lunch in a dustbin, I felt strong and disciplined. When my stomach rumbled, I smiled, satisfied that my hard work was being rewarded. As my dress size lessened, I felt elated.
You may think that I felt sad, desperate even, but I couldn’t have felt more to the contrary. As I deprived myself of a fundamental need, I felt nothing short of powerful and triumphant. I felt happy, energized, and, at times, euphoric.
As I look back, I remember the feeling of joy as I lay in bed with my empty, flat stomach, starved of its necessary sustenance.
The real problems started when people began to notice; that’s when the real horrors kicked in. When a friend’s mother had a ‘quiet word’ with my own mother, it all took a downward turn.
My darling Mom—who had been quite oblivious to my plight due to my ingenious deception—started to monitor all that I ate. She watched me like a hawk as I flicked the food around my plate. Shortly after, a GP visit confirmed that I was being ‘officially’ monitored. I’d be weighed regularly and referred to a psychologist.
That’s when it went dark. Fade to blackout. I felt and looked haunted. I didn’t recognize my own reflection. It felt like I was possessed. A tiny bite of a sandwich left me feeling disloyal, terrified that I’d gain weight. A glass of orange juice gave me palpitations as I mentally calculated the calorie content I was imbibing.
Recovery was more hideous than the physical aspect had ever been.
I reminisce frequently and consider the long, traumatic battle that both myself and my family faced. Mom supported me like no other. She talked to me daily and encouraged me to open up about my feelings. We never got to the bottom of it, the ‘root cause,’ as the psychs like to call it. But at some point, sharing set me free. It released me from the lonely, dark prison that I had been cornered into for twelve, long months.
My friends were kind and caring, even at such a young age. Kids seemed kinder back then than they do in the present era, and they had their own minds. There was physical contact, lots of hugging, and abundant dialogue.
Much of that is hard to come by nowadays, and I believe that the internet is partly responsible. Personal kindness has been replaced by fruitless likes. Carefully documented social media posts can sway our thoughts and opinions in a nano-second. Led by a multitude of unknowns, we conform more than ever before: if they think that, then that must be the case.
In some ways, I was lucky. My illness came at a better time than it has for those that are suffering presently. At least I didn’t face a barrage of images on a daily basis. In the midst of my illness, I can’t imagine studying websites to see airbrushed women that embody perfection. Experiencing the influencers and their verging-on-sexual, bikini-clad selfies. The constant chatter of diets and slimming pills that can “change your body forever.”
I still have my moments. If I catch an unflattering photograph of myself, I can’t laugh it off like my older and wiser peers can. I analyze it, I think about it, and think about it, and think about it…
While I still do a whole lot of exercise and eat clean, I’m healthy nowadays. I have the presence of mind to turn a negative thought into a more helpful one. Age has a way of doing that to you. You don’t have quite the same privileges that you did when you were a kid. At my age, thin equates to wrinkles, and that’s a whole other issue!
I’d love nothing more than to encourage those with eating issues to talk to someone face-to-face. Talking is what got me through, and I genuinely believe that it can work for many people. Avoid the internet as much as humanly possible, embrace your individuality, stay away from social media, and deny it any opportunity to suck you into its evil core.
You may feel powerful as you starve your body and neglect it of its nutrients, but when you reach your thirties, you’ll experience the long-term pitfalls of neglect. Lifeless and aging skin, muscle weakness, hair loss, and osteoporosis. I could go on.
I’m one of the lucky ones, but I’m in the minority.
Look after your body, allow it to be strong and healthy. Endeavor to be the best that you can be while negating the term thin from your vocabulary.
An eating disorder never truly leaves you, but you can train your mind to overpower negativity in all of its forms.
My heart goes out to the millions of individuals that battle this secret demon every day.
If you or anyone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, contact BEAT for advice and guidance.