13th October 2014
Looking back, I have always been able to control food. When I was younger I used to eat what I wanted when I wanted to. Sometimes this would mean I would go long periods of time without eating but I would always make up for it at my next meal and never felt any anxiety about the food itself. I think this was the beginning of my eating disorder; the pure ability to control my hunger, I could switch it on and off. Left independently to my own devices, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten in what would be considered a ‘normal’ way. At secondary school I would go through phases of skipping breakfast or lunch.
I think anorexia is largely down to needing a sense of control after the loss of it in a certain area of life. This loss can be completely unrelated to food but as food is a basic human need it is easy to tamper with it. I have a very controlling personality. I am neat, I like routine and I always try to be on time. It was only when I started to feel like I was losing control that my relationship with food and exercise started to control me. My anorexia stemmed from an unhealthy obsession with the gym which in turn influenced my food decisions. At first I worked out moderately and ate enough but the more I worked out the more obsessed I became and the less I ate.
2009 was the year that anorexia began to take a real hold of my life. 2009 was an important year. I had my A-Level exams and I have never dealt well with scholastic pressure. I had broken up with my boyfriend and I was seeing my friends less and less as we all had school work and they all had jobs. I was starting to lose control of my life and I needed something to focus on, something to control as I couldn’t control what was going on around me. I started going to the gym. I really enjoyed the euphoric feeling it gave me and by summer I was going to the gym five days a week and going for walks the two days I didn’t go.
I was burning a ridiculous amount of calories but I was addicted. Addicted not only to the sense of release, power and happiness it gave me but the feeling I was that I was finally good at something. I had become obsessed with being what I had come to deem as ‘healthy’. This is when my eating began to fall away. I think my relationship with food had turned into a form of punishment. I was existing on fruit and vegetables with small amounts of protein and very little carbohydrates. To me, carbohydrates were the enemy even though I had loved them before. I think this is one of the reasons I stopped eating them; to punish myself.
At school, people had noticed that I had lost weight and that I wasn’t eating very much. People started to whisper and talk about me. “She’s just doing it for the attention,” they said. It got so bad that two of my teachers reported it to my Head of Year. He called me into his office to talk to me. Scared, I asked if my twin, Georgie, could come in too. He asked me if everything was okay and I told him it was. I actually meant it because I couldn’t see what I was doing. He told me he wanted to speak to my Mum but I told him everything was fine.
When we walked out, I promised my sister that if she didn’t tell my mum I would sort myself out. I didn’t lie to her, but I couldn’t do it. My mind just couldn’t and wouldn’t see what was really happening. At the time, I didn’t care what other people said because to me I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But looking back, it must have been really frustrating for my sister. People were talking about me and what they were saying was true.
I had lost a lot of weight and my Mum begged me to stop. I couldn’t, I told her. I genuinely couldn’t see what I was doing. In my mind I was still the size ten I had been at the start of the year. I was being healthy, I told myself, I was exercising and eating what I thought was healthy (one the main problems I think this country has is that we are not well educated in food). Still believing I wasn’t doing anything wrong but wanting to please my Mum, I went to the doctors. My Mum had been asking me to go and after another tearful fight I finally agreed. The doctor would tell her there wasn’t anything wrong, I thought. But that didn’t happen. I was diagnosed with anorexia. And that was it. “Well, what can you do?” my Mum asked. The doctor couldn’t do anything. That hurt my Mum. I think she wanted the doctor to have the answer, to help, but she didn’t.
Even though I had been diagnosed, I still didn’t really believe it. I was being healthy, I wasn’t anorexic. I got into my first choice university option but I was so exhausted on results day that I couldn’t go out with my friends that night. The next day my Mum drove me to the gym. Still exhausted, I told her to take me home. I knew if I went in I would be coming out in an ambulance. I was so tired from everything. For a year everything carried on. I was still working out but trying to eat a little more but it was still super healthy and still not enough. Every so often I would get a fleeting moment of realisation that I did have an eating disorder and eat a bit more and exercise a little less but it never worked.
I found university tough. I had made friends but they weren’t to last and my degree was really hard. By September 2010 I was really doubting everything. By Christmas I was starting to feel so depressed that the gym was my only saviour. However, the gym was to close for two weeks as it was having a new floor fitted. What was I going to do? I thought. It had become my life. I was the gym.
My Dad was a member too and found out we could use another East Riding gym. So I went there with him. However, my Dad would work out longer than I did. He went for at least double the amount of time I did. My Dad would stop, stand, drink water and spend ages chatting to people and this was why he was always longer.
I have some deep-rooted issues with my Dad and I used the gym to vent them. I worked out the whole time we were there, not stopping after my usual work out. I knew what I was doing and I knew I would get thinner but that’s not why I did it. I wanted to prove to my Dad that I was good at something. I wanted to hurt him for hurting me and my sister, for being an absentee father and making us feel like we weren’t good enough. I wanted him to feel it. I knew that if I got thinner it would hurt him.
I lost more weight which ultimately hurt me more than it hurt him. I hated myself. I was too skinny, I was disgusting. I fell into a deep depression. I hated university and I had fallen out with all my friends. It was too hard for them to be friends with me. I had nothing, except the gym. I was tiny and when my Mum asked me to see the doctor again, I agreed. I knew by now that I was small but I never realised just how small I was. All the doctor could do was weigh and monitor me; the rest was up to me.
I knew I needed to change and I decided I would. On 25th February we would be going to go to Spain to stay with my Auntie and some family to celebrate my Auntie and Uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. I wouldn’t be able to go to the gym and would miss four of my usual sessions. I decided that once we returned from Spain, I would go to the gym less and eat more. But on 8th February my world ended. I was banned from the gym. The manager walked into the fitness suite and I knew what he was going to say. I had seen him say it to others and now it was my turn. “Laura, I need to talk to you,” he said and I followed him outside. “We are going to have to ban you. It’s just not safe.” I went with him and a member of staff I trusted to the seating area. Please, I begged. I would come for less time, I told them, I would only do classes, they could watch me, anything to let me stay. They refused. Deep down a part of me died. But even further down a part of me was relieved. The gym had become my demon. It had made me obsessed with being healthy which had affected my eating because that is something in my life I have always been able to control.
I had started to see a counsellor at university, Jan, and I went to her the next day. I told her about my ban and she told me she was surprised I could make it up the stairs I looked so weak. That night, sat at the dining room table making a birthday present for my twin (we were to be twenty on that Sunday) I told I her I felt like I was dying. When she asked what I meant, I shrugged it off telling her I was being silly. The next morning I was determined to sort this. My mind all of a flurry I decided to order a pizza for tea. But then my heart went. “Dad! Dad!,” I screamed. My dad was in our office, working from home. He opened the office door. “I’m having a heart attack!” I said. He ran to me and I collapsed in his arms. I wasn’t having a heart attack; I was having a panic attack.
He needed to ring for an ambulance so he carried me to the bathroom, put me down on the toilet seat, ran to the phone and called nine nine nine. He stayed with me until the ambulance crew knocked on our front door. “Up here,” he shouted and they came upstairs. I was so weak I couldn’t open my eyes or hold myself upright but I was perfectly aware of everything around me. They put me on the floor so they could check me over and it was decided I needed to go to the hospital. They put me on a stretcher and took me to the ambulance. “Laura, I need you to lift your finger for me darlin’, can you do that?” One of the ambulance crew asked me. “Can’t,” I murmured. I was so weak.
We went to the hospital and my Dad went to ring my sister and my Mum. He then went to fetch my sister. I remember she walked into the room I was in and walked past the bed I was in. “Georgie,” I whimpered and she burst into tears. When my Mum arrived she walked in and saw me, screamed and walked back out. Her daughter lying lifeless in bed was too much for her to take. By lunchtime I was feeling better and had gained some strength; I demanded something to eat and I was able to go home. Before I went we talked to a doctor. He said I wasn’t having a heart attack and that in fact by working out so much I had made my heart muscle strong without which I probably would have been dead. Ironically working out nearly killed me but it had saved me too.
That afternoon I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. I had some tea and a bath. I decided I couldn’t keep doing this, couldn’t keep hurting everyone, I was going to fix it. I went downstairs to tell my parents who were in the kitchen talking about me. I started to tell them that I was going to sort myself out but then I heard the sound of a tap dripping. I asked my Mum if she had left a tap on but she hadn’t. I collapsed and fell unconscious for several moments. My body just couldn’t deal with the physical and emotional stress I was putting it under. I had been put on the sofa and the ambulance was on its way. “Toilet,” I murmured and my Mum took me to the downstairs toilet. She had to wipe my bum and pull my trousers up once the ambulance crew arrived and to hospital I went for the second time that day.
We waited in the hospital corridor for hours and then I was taken to AAU. That night was the worst night’s sleep I’ve ever had. At one am we were told I could go up onto ward one. My Mum wasn’t technically allowed to stay but I begged and she was allowed to sleep in the chair next to me. I left after breakfast that morning.
By this point my mind was in complete turmoil. I had realised that I had an eating disorder but now I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t take it anymore but I didn’t really know how to fix it. I decided to put university on hold and intercalated my studies. I had started to have panic attacks because I couldn’t take the pressure or responsibility of getting myself better. I wanted it so much but I just couldn’t do it. At first the attacks just happened randomly but then they started to come on just before I ate. I would question what was in the food, would it be enough to help me gain weight?, was it the right thing eat?
Me, my Mum and sister went to Spain for my auntie and uncle’s wedding anniversary. We went out for tea one night but because there was so many of us it needed two separate car journeys to take us back. We stood outside the restaurant waiting for my uncle to return from taking the first car trip and it suddenly got cold. He had got lost and it was getting later and later. I was absolutely freezing and I was beginning to get hysterical. The cold on my skin made me cry but knowing the reason I was so cold was because of my anorexia made me cry even more. My uncle finally came and took us to the villa. My mum and my sister and I had the whole of the downstairs to ourselves – a bathroom, two bedrooms and a living room and a kitchen.
I had a massive panic attack and told them I wanted to die. I told them I was going to go to the kitchen and get a knife. I kept telling them “I’m going to get a knife” over and over and I truly meant it. I wanted it all to stop. I wanted to stop hurting them and myself. I wanted to get better but because I was so mentally and physically low I couldn’t take that pressure. The only way that I could see that happening was if I just killed myself. Then I couldn’t hurt them anymore or myself. Georgie stood in front of the door and my Mum forced me into her double bed and my sister got in the other side. I was physically stuck, I couldn’t move, and that night their presence and love stopped me from doing something terrible.
When we came home my Mum and Dad tried to get me help. But no one could or was willing to offer it. My panic attacks were happening every day now and I really did want to end my life. They would go on for hours with me thrashing about, screaming and shouting. I was barely eating anything so I lost more weight. It was suggested that if I could change how I dealt with things then I could fix my anorexia. My Mum and Dad paid ninety pounds an hour for me to see a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, John. I had been seeing him for about a month and gained two pounds but my doctor thought that that was just water retention.
Someone suggested I try eating little and often but this not only made me uncomfortable because of my anorexia but because I had never been a snacker. On Monday 28th March I gave it a go. By four pm I couldn’t take it and had another panic attack in the shopping centre St. Stephen’s toilets. I was on the phone to my sister for forty-five minutes and she was amazing and talked me down. That night I went to see John and had one of my worst panic attacks. I just couldn’t do this anymore, I told him I wanted to die and he told me he didn’t know what to do. Exhausted, my Mum had the next day off work and after breakfast I had yet another panic attack. That evening I told my Mum and Dad that I just couldn’t do this anymore, I wanted to go into hospital and I wanted to go as soon as possible.
The next day my Dad drove to our local GP surgery at eight-thirty am and we waited for them to open. He demanded I see my GP. We were told he was doing the drop-in at another surgery but we could go and wait to see him. At ten-thirty he saw us and I explained everything. I explained that I couldn’t take this anymore and I was killing myself, that I had tried to fix it but couldn’t and I wanted help. I told him that if I didn’t get any I was going to end up dead. My doctor said that he would see if he could do anything. We went home and waited.
At two-thirty pm he rang and said he had got me a bed at Hull Royal Infirmary. My Mum and Georgie asked if I wanted to stay at home longer but I asked to go straight away. By four-thirty pm me and my Mum and sister were sat waiting outside AAU. By six pm I was put on Ward One and at eight-thirty pm I was moved to Ward Seven where I would stay for the next four weeks.
At first I had my own room but I asked to move onto the ward as I am naturally social and just wanted to be around other people, not locked away with my own thoughts. To conserve calories I was not allowed to leave my bed unless it was to go to the toilet and if I wanted to go outside for fresh air I had to wait for a spare wheelchair to become available. As I had gone into hospital feeling mentally unwell I had an hour’s visit from the hospital’s crisis team every couple of days.
I saw the dietician and agreed to her rules and stipulations. I was on a vitamin drip for the first few days with checks every four and six hours. I think being on an open ward with other people helped to normalise food. At first eating was really embarrassing but I told myself that food was my medication and to just eat it, all of it, no matter what it was or how awful it looked. By the time I left I was eating three meals a day, any snacks I could manage, three Fortisips and five Calogen shots. It was really hard and I was constantly full and constantly feeling sick.
In hospital I saw and learned a lot. Mostly about other people but also about myself. As anorexic I had become heavily dependent on my mother. I had even signed a document stating that if I wasn’t able to make any medical decisions for myself that my parents could do it for me. But being away from my family showed me that I could do this, I could get better. There were some really hard times in hospital. I missed my old life, I missed the old me. I didn’t have a life anymore and it was all because of food.
It’s strange to how anorexia slowly destroys you. You lose your concentration, you lose your thoughts and ultimately you lose your soul. Some good things came out of me being in hospital – it helped to prove to myself and my family that with time and effort I could so this, it reminded me just how much I adored my Mum and sister and how much I must have hurt them and it also gave me an amazing best friend whom I will cherish for life. Every day their sheer brilliance makes me step up every day to be the person I know I can be.
It should never have gotten that far. I should never have had to admit myself into hospital and I should never have wanted to end my life. My family received no help or support. Two years after leaving Hull Royal Infirmary, I am blessed to see a wonderful dietician without whom I wouldn’t have got this far. I owe her so much. She has really helped my thinking around food change and evolve. She helps push my boundaries and to see the bigger picture. I also see a fabulous Mental Health Nurse who I am working with to build my confidence in order to get my life back. However, I know I only have these people because I forced myself onto the NHS’s books. You really have to push for very little back. It took me awhile to find people who worked for me. It is important you like, respect and trust any medical professional you get the chance to work with because otherwise it will mean nothing.
There are certain things I believe about anorexia:
1. Everyone’s experience is different.
2. It is linked to wanting control and a lack of confidence.
3. It steals all confidence from you.
4. If you mess with your body it will mess with you right back. I am yet to meet an anorexic in recovery who does not have some body function issues such as IBS, food intolerances or bowl problems.
5. That it is a mental illness and should be handled like one.
6. More help needs to be provided.
I still feel terrible guilt and shame for my past. I refer to it as ‘the naughty thing I did’. This all stems from my lack of confidence which now I’m working on it I can see that that’s not right. I think lack of confidence plays a huge role in developing anorexia. I believe it is probably the main factor in why it happens.
I was anorexic and it was awful to see my family hurt so much but it was also a learning experience for me. I’m not trying to make excuses, I will be forever indebted to them for their help and support and will forever regret hurting them but I think it is better to use my experience positively and not as a form of self-sabotage. Anorexia robbed me of a lot of things; my soul, my confidence and my looks. It robbed me of my friends and some of my most important teenage years. But it doesn’t have to define me or reduce me.
My advice would be to must up as much momentum as you can and run like the wind. It takes strength, courage and confidence but it is possible to overcome anorexia. The more you work on your mind the easier food becomes. Create food plans and stick to a certain eating pattern. Your confidence will be low so you need something safe and reliable. Food plans really helped me as I knew what I was eating and when. This may be another form of controlling food but you have to start somewhere. It’s hard to give up that control so it’s much better to use it in a positive way.
Everyone likes different things so don’t try and emulate anyone else’s diet. Really think about what you like and try different things. Make a well-balanced, nourishing diet and don’t be afraid of any food group. I have learned that fat, carbohydrates, sugar, protein, fruit and vegetables are all part of a balanced diet. I would encourage you to be as open as possible and don’t be afraid to ask for help. My biggest pitfall is portion sizes – after years of food restriction it is really hard to know what the ‘right’ amount is but I’m nearly there. I also eat the same foods a lot so I know that it really is important to get variety at the start because the longer you eat the same foods the less confidence you have to try different things. I’m working on both of these areas.
I wouldn’t advise you to become obsessed with certain amounts of food but would say that you work your way up to ‘good’ amounts of everything. Use positive phrases and encouragement around food in order to help you build a good relationship with it again.
I will be honest – it does take a lot of food to gain weight. At first any weight gained will probably be water retention. After that any weight gain will go in one place but then it will spread and even itself out. You have to repair your insides before any lasting weight appears on your outside. It still shocks me how much you have to consume to have any lasting effect. Even with three meals a day and supplements it was a long and hard process for me.
Everyone has the strength to succeed. But it is a hard, long fight and every day you have to try. You have to really want it and on those days when it is too much you have to keep pushing and not revert back but stay in the now. These are the times that food plans really help you stay on track. It is a personal battle but you don’t fight alone. Everyone needs an army and everyone needs the confidence and belief that they can and will succeed.
There really is truth behind the saying that life is ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration. I think to overcome anorexia you really have to work on yourself and not be scared. Fear won’t keep you safe from getting hurt; you have to smash fear in the face.
So every time you are tempted to act in the same old way ask yourself, do you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future?