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Adult onset of anorexia - My story

15th May 2014

Unlike many sufferers of anorexia I did not develop the eating disorder until I was almost 21 and since then the illness has had its peaks and troughs. I have also had numerous bouts of bulimia but I have also had lengthy periods, where I have been afforded the luxury of freedom from obsessing about food. I feel that I am lucky in this respect,as my teenage years where not blighted by disordered eating and I developed and went through puberty normally. This is perhaps the reason why even at my lowest weights I have never missed a period. I do however suffer from osteoporosis in my hip, so far my spine has not been affected.

I was a fussy eater as a child though and I still am to do this day. I have a ridiculous amount of food dislikes, many of which are not because of my eating disorder. It infuriates me when I tell therapists and medical professionals that I don't like butter or cheese and they say 'oh well that's your eating disorder' er no it bloodywell isn't. I know this because when I was at college and during my first couple of years at University when I lived on convenience foods and pints of lager, I never once ordered a pizza or ate a sandwich with a smidgen of butter or margarine on, simply because I don't like them. After having been slim as a child and all the way through High school, I reached my highest ever BMI aged 20, a BMI (although I didn't know it at the time as I had no interest whatsoever in weight and calorie intake) which was in the overweight category. It really didn't bother me, unfortunately it seemed to bother other people, my Mum amongst others was concerned about my unhealthy eating patterns. Admittedly I was overeating and much of what I was eating was junk food. The only time that the reality of how unhealthy my diet had become hit home, was when I went shopping to buy an outfit for a wedding and I had gone up a dress size in 6 weeks. This unsettled me, but as I was the life and soul of the party at the time, I quickly got over it and felt no real desire to do anything about it, I was way too busy enjoying student life. Boy, how things changed.

There are a few factors which could have sparked off my eating disorder but I honestly believe that my long term boyfriend's infidelity was the true catalyst. We had met when I was 15 and I fell completely in love with him. At this point my Mum had finally found the courage to leave my sorry violent excuse for a father and all hell broke lose. It was as acrimonious a split as earthly possible, due to my Dad's psychopathic antics in an attempt to get my Mum back, so my boyfriend was my escape. Their divorce was inevitable and the whole situation was very upsetting. I spent 8 years in total with my first love, during which time he cheated on me twice (the 2nd time just before I sat my A-Levels) but naive and like a lovesick pup I forgave him. He delivered his final deadly 'coup' in the middle of my finals (gotta love his timing) and that was when I knew that the person who I had grown up with and devoted 8 years of my life to had to go, permanently. All of this had caused irreparable damage to my self esteem. We met when I was 15 when I was skinnier and younger looking than other girls of my age, I was ridiculed at school and called 'pancake chest' so I was desperate to go shopping for that first bra, basically boys only seemed interested in curves and I wanted them. So as is natural when a girl is becoming a woman I filled out, it just so happened that my first love chose to betray me and cheat on me with girls who were much younger than me and who were rail thin.

Finding out that somebody who you completely adore has cheated on you is the pits, as rather than blaming them, you can end up feeling that your partner has chosen to be with someone else because of your inadequacies. This was certainly true for me. Intimacy between us was often strained as a result of his actions and I started to feel fat and ugly. Moving into University accommodation with a girl who was following a Weight Watchers diet plan, only highlighted my shortcomings still further. She seemed so disciplined around food and I felt embarrassed to eat the high fat sugar loaded fast food that I had been living on in front of her. I therefore took the plunge and asked her to help me. She was the same size as I had been when I met my ex and I wanted back into clothes like hers pronto. My 21st birthday was also looming, I had seen a dress that I wanted to buy and so this was another incentive to slim down. I lost my first stone quickly, as the minute that I ditched the really calorific stuff, the weight just fell off. I lost a stone and a half in just over a month and the compliments came flooding in. It was great to have everyone telling me how good I looked but I was still about a stone away from reaching that ideal weight i.e the weight I had been when I met my ex. In my mind regaining the figure that had attracted him to me in the first place would make him want me and only me and stop him from playing away. I never stopped to think that if he had really loved me, he wouldn't have done it in the first place, that would have been too difficult to face as I would have had to contemplate life without him and I was sure that that would be impossible. Another stone down and the positive reinforcement got more and more frequent and I was gradually gaining back some of my confidence. It was at this point with hindsight that I should have stopped. I had hit my target and I was back to a normal healthy weight but all of the attention that my weight loss had evoked had got me on a bit of a high, so I thought to myself 'do you know what, you can do better.' This is how my eating disorder managed to sneak up on me. What started out as a healthy diet plan to lose a few excess pounds was becoming an obsession. I had never been big on exercise after having been traumatized on a weekly basis by the sergeant major drill instructor I had had as a PE teacher, but I had learned to swim at a young age and I could use the University pool free of charge. I started to go swimming 3 times a week and bit by bit my meal portions became smaller and smaller. Within 3 months I was skipping breakfast most days, lunch almost everyday and having a bowl of soup or 2 rice cakes for my evening meal. I had lost 4 stone in just over 4 months and I was more than pleased with myself.

Around this time I started to feel unwell. I had constant stomach cramps and I was having a lot of diarrhea. I went to my GP who dismissed me as being anorexic, but still gave me a lethal combination of antibiotics, in case I had contracted a gastro intestinal virus that was spreading around the campus. I lost a further half a stone in 2 weeks on these and when I went back she made my first referral to the local Eating Disorder Service. I remember this day clearly as it was a long trek to get there and I was there all of 15 minutes. I was told that there was no way that I was thin enough to have been referred there and that my GP was incompetent. The latter bit is probably true, because after months of consistently bad digestive problems I demanded to be referred to a specialist. At the age of 22 I was diagnosed with coealiac disease and from that point onwards I have followed a gluten free diet. My symptoms soon went away once I knew which foods to avoid but I had the opposite problem to the one I had had before, I simply couldn't go to the toilet. Most of the fibre in my diet had come from gluten and without it I was extremely constipated. This is when I first started using laxatives. Again this started off as a practical way to solve the problem but soon became a really destructive habit. If I could change anything about my life, it would be ever having started with these evil little blighters. I am now dependent on them as my bowel just does not work on its own, my overuse of them has made my bowel lazy, so I am stuck with them and all the horrible side effects that they bring with them.

I was worryingly thin at my graduation and this prompted my Mum to take action. We found a new GP and she insisted that I was re referred to EDS. After my initial assessment I was granted funding for CBT and nutritional support. My weight remained low until I met my second long term partner. He didn't like my skinny figure and he wined and dined me for a good few months, so my weight crept up and my outpatient appointments were decreased to every 6 months. We were together 3 years and lived together for 2 of these. During this time my weight was consistently within a healthy range. It dropped slightly when we split but nothing too dramatic.

I dived head first into another long term relationship only a few months later, for some reason I fear being alone. Again I moved in with him, but he was very controlling and after just over 3 years the 3 year itch had set in and I wanted out. He took this really badly and he took a long time to accept that it was over. While we had been together I had had a particularly tough time at work, so he had suggested that we join a local gym together. The point of this as it turned out, was not so that we could go training together, but so that he could spend his weekends indulging in one of his many hobbies, safe in the knowledge that I was in the gym and not in the pub with my mates. This stressful time at work had caused me to drink too much, so I would overeat when drunk and comfort eat in the car on the way home. I picked up bulimia from someone else and this seemed like a good way to get rid of this food I hated myself for starting to eat again. After a particularly gluttonous Christmas I made the cliched New Year's resolution to lose weight again and I did. I left my stressful job and I had a few months before I started my new one. I spent these months in the gym and counting calories. Once again I was back to an anorexic weight. I had relocated so I needed a new GP and this is when I met my current absolutely wonderful Doctor (how long this poor man has had to suffer me!) and I was back to more regular out patient appointments. Another break up contributed to further weight loss, I was slipping but I wasn't overly worried as I was working and functioning fine. I was still attending infrequent out patient appointments but I was managing to dismiss those as just routine check ups, no cause for concern.

I had managed to restore my weight to a more manageable level when I met my current partner and again for a while things were fine. It was when work got stressful that I began to force myself through daily rigorous workouts in the gym to take my mind of it and the calorie counting started again. By 2011 my life was hurtling towards meltdown at a rate of knots. I was overworking, exercising excessively and under nourished. Add to this a whole new level of laxative abuse and burnout was fast approaching, problem was that I didn't see it coming. You never do until it is too late. I was dragging myself to the gym and eating 300 calories a day. The rest of the time I just slept, I was exhausted, emotional and depressed. An untimely virus landed me precariously in front of my GP who said 'get on those scales' in that precise moment my fate was sealed and back I went to another assessment at EDS. This out patient appointment will be engraved in my memory for ever, as yet again I was totally oblivious to the dire state I was in. I was told that, no bones about it (no pun intended) that I was going in. One look diagnosis. I was horrified and cried my heart out. I went home that day and I felt that my life was over. Luckily for me there was a 3 week wait for a bed so I was referred to a counseling service in the meantime. Desperate to stay out of hospital I managed to get my BMI up just enough to stay out. I attended numerous therapy sessions with this service but my heart wasn't in it. I was busy at work and I resented having to take time out to sit in therapy. After a half a stone weight gain I discharged myself and focused on work.

My weight remained low but not critically low, until about a year and a half ago when I lost too much to be able to cope with my job. I left work to concentrate on my recovery, little did I know that things were about to get a whole lot worse. Over the past year my weight has dropped dramatically and I am currently at my lowest weight ever. My GP is climbing the walls in frustration and I am attending daycare. The threat of inpatient treatment hangs over my head like a guillotine. I am petrified of it as I can't bear the thought of having no control over what goes into my body. I was very resistant to more therapy, as I feel that when you are an adult with this illness people expect you to know better, you should have more sense. I was also worried that everyone else in treatment would be young, I was wrong they are not. I don't know why people class anorexia as a young person's disease, it most certainly is not, some of the worst cases of anorexia I have seen are in older people, most probably because the longer that you let this illness rule your life the harder it is to take back the control yourself. Anorexia is also classed as being a female illness, again this is so untrue, many men suffer with eating disorders and these generalizations make it harder for men, or those of us who are not children or adolescents to come forward and ask for help.

No matter who you are and the level of chronicity of your illness if you need help, go get it. Do not be fobbed off by people who don't understand the severity of eating disorders. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness, so its power should never ever be underestimated by you or by anybody else, particularly those whom we entrust our care to.

If I had never allowed myself to sink this low I wouldn't have the uphill battle I now face to conquer this horrible, debilitating illness. My advice to anybody who feels that they are spiraling out of control, is to try and nip this thing in the bud as soon as earthly possible and get back to your life. Anorexia is not living life it is existence and that just isn't enough for me anymore.