My Mental Health: Eating Disorders

When I first started thinking about creating a blog, I wasn’t sure as to what theme I would have – would I keep it strictly vintage fashion as originally intended, or would I branch out? I then thought that while this blog is personal to me and supposed to be something to be enjoyed (and hey, if it leads somewhere bigger, that’s a sweet bonus), it’s also out there on the internet for anyone to read. So in this regard, I thought it would be a good platform to write about my own experiences. It’s a good exercise for myself, and if there’s a possibility that reading my blog could help someone else, then all the better.

(This post will be discussing my experiences with eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and BDD. If you are in any way triggered by this, please stop reading here.)

For a long time, I’ve lived with an eating disorder. My first recollection was when I was around 8 years old, I had been dealing with a sudden move to a neighbourhood that I hated, which also meant a new school, and a lot of things in between. I spent a lot of time alone, and found myself eating a lot, and it wasn’t until years later that I realised that I was depending on food for comfort in place of people. This continued on into secondary school, and around the time that puberty reared its bloody, acne-riddled head, I developed anorexia, being 100% convinced that I needed to lose weight and I needed to lose weight now. In hindsight, I wasn’t especially overweight, I’ve always been tall and a lot of my weight was ‘puppy fat’ that left in its own time. But as anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder will know, it doesn’t care what size you are – it only cares about whittling you down to nothing, both physically and mentally.

Anorexia is a great deal about control, often sufferers will have difficulty with aspects of their school or home lives, especially as it is so common in teenagehood, when you’re losing the freedoms of childhood, but haven’t yet gained the freedoms of adulthood. By no means am I claiming to speak for everyone in this regard – everyone’s experiences are different – but it certainly applied to me. I didn’t have a lot of control in what was going on around me, and when I first started cooking for myself at around 14, working out what I could and couldn’t eat, it felt amazing. Finally, I thought, something I have total control over. That’s how it starts. It takes a long time before you realise that you never had any control at all.

So I began cooking for myself. I’d make a routine of it – I’d come home from school, put on the radio and make something like soup or pasta. Small portions, but not so small that it would be noticeable. It started well, I felt more grown-up with this new responsibility, and I began losing weight fairly quickly. I started feeling happier. Of course, this only lasted a short time. Anorexia is like a loan shark, you start “paying your debt” and you feel good, and then it gets greedy and wants more and more from you until you can’t control it anymore. At my worst, I was living on a handful of crackers and 2 little pots of custard each day. I dropped from 10st (a healthy weight for a 5ft 8 teenager) to 8 1/2st in a disturbingly short amount of time. I was always tired, my school work suffered, my friends were concerned about me, and I was forced to face it when one of them sought out the school counsellor. To my anorexia-controlled mind, this was a total betrayal of trust – there was nothing wrong with me, shouldn’t someone with actual problems be here instead of me?

It took a while for anything to change, and it wasn’t until my mother found out that I was now making myself sick that I started getting better, however slightly. I was brought to see a dietitian and was told the risks of what I was doing to myself involved.

But I’m not ill, I kept telling myself, I just want to lose a little weight.

Occasionally I would wake up, the real me, and realise what I was doing to myself. I’d try to eat a little more, and that little more would be quickly thrown away or flushed with the rest of it. It was as if I was living with an evil stepmother who didn’t want me to be happy. It would probably have been easier to process that way, if it were someone else making me do it.

Eventually that small part of me realised that I had to keep pushing myself to wake up to the reality of what I was doing to my body and that I was going to kill myself if I kept it up. I moved schools after suffering a near-breakdown, and this helped immensely. I felt a little more at ease and made new friends, and eventually I put the weight back on.

When I had finished school in my late teens, I had no idea what to do with myself next. I ended up sitting around the house a lot alone, and as a result, fell into depression. It was around this time that my eating disorder reared its ugly head again in a new form – chewing and spitting. Let me be clear that my eating disorder had never fully dissipated – I had stopped making myself sick and I wasn’t restricting my eating as much, but the thoughts were still there, the negative, harsh thoughts towards both food and my own body. This new routine sounded great – I could buy all the food I wouldn’t ever allow myself to eat – chocolate, cakes, anything not too messy – and chew and chew until I’d gotten all the satisfaction of the taste, then I would spit it into a bag and throw it out. No one would be the wiser, it sounded perfect. My only concern was my teeth, but I reasoned that I’d just brush more often. This worked for a while, but chewing and spitting has a similar effect on your body as chewing too much gum – eventually your stomach is going to start expecting that food to come down so it can be digested. I started feeling very sick, and my digestive system certainly didn’t thank me for it.

I realised that if I didn’t start doing something with myself, I would be stuck in this cycle forever, so I started thinking of what I could do with myself. My impulsiveness can be both a blessing and a curse, and on a whim, I found an old sewing kit and pillow case and clumsily sewed a little plush doll. Within a few days I had a pile of felt fabric and different colours of thread, and this took me away from depression and eating disorders for a short period of time, distracted me enough to start getting better. I was gifted a portable sewing machine and began taking my new hobby further, making hats and parts of costumes. Within a few months, I had found volunteer work with a theatre company, and working there on a regular basis really helped to keep me motivated and distracted.

I wish I could say that I found the miracle cure and magically got better, but unfortunately it often doesn’t work that way. Thanks to bulimia, there are certain foods that I used to enjoy that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat again, a restaurant I used to love visiting with friends that I can probably never sit comfortably in again. For me, it’s been a lot of hard work and trial and error, and I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t had a few relapses, but I don’t beat myself up like I used to, I use them as a learning experience and I keep moving forward. Thankfully, they’ve gotten less and less frequent over the years.

It was only a few years ago that I found out about Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. A lot of me began to make sense. It’s like looking at yourself in a funhouse mirror, and seeing all of these weird versions staring back. It’s the belief that something about you needs to be fixed drastically and that everyone is staring at you because of it. It often goes hand in hand with anxiety, which is true in my case. Although it’s not something I want to have, knowing that this is a real condition and that I’m not the only one that lives with it has helped a great deal in my recovery.

I’m certainly not in love with my body, but I don’t want to cause it harm anymore, and honestly that’s the best thing that I could ask for right now.

If anyone has any queries or comments regarding their own experiences, please feel free to leave them below.

~Tanja~