Eating disorders don’t affect men. They are for girls. Right? Until recently I thought likewise. Truth is, I’d probably think so too, had I not recently been awarded my Blue Peter anorexia badge.
I’m hesitant to use the phrase rock bottom, I’m one of the lucky ones. I can lean on a wonderful network of friends and family, people who have supported me through thick and thin (literally). I had a cracking new job to fight for – and the benefit of private medical care. Most aren’t that lucky. Nevertheless, I dipped pretty low. As low as I’ve ever been. Lower than I ever want to go again. I did a stint in the Priory. A dystopian and terrifying place, while at the same time eye opening and highly beneficial. But that’s another story for another day.
I also lost the love of my life. There’s still a chance we may one day be together again. But not until I am better and in a good place. Not until she’s had time to recover. The most heartbreaking thing, the thing that keeps me awake at night, is that I just couldn’t see it until it was too late. I just couldn’t see the hurt I was causing. I couldn’t see how I was withdrawing from society or the misery I was bringing to those around me. I couldn’t see how my relationships with people I loved and cared for were breaking. It took losing it all for my eyes to open.
It seems so simple now. Laughably so. Despite being advised on countless occasions by so many medical professionals, I honestly believed that they were all wrong. I was right. I was healthy. I was just losing weight and getting fit -what’s wrong with that? It enraged me that I was in the best nick of my life, putting everything into my body shape and sacrificing all that is bad, and all people would say is, “you’ve lost weight…you look too thin”. My body was a temple. Everyone else had the problem.
Image: Demeter Attila (the author is not pictured above)
I didn’t know it at the time but the more deprived my body, the more I wanted to be on my own. I didn’t want to interact with people. Everything had to be exactly as I had planned. I wanted to run and run and run some despite my body crying out that it couldn’t take it. Thrice daily trips to the gym would be followed by a slow walk home, unable to muster the energy to get from A to B. An hour on the treadmill and then I’d go to the supermarket just looking at food. Picking it up, checking the labels and then putting it back. Then off to at M&S; then Tesco. Day after day; time after time before ultimately settling on my pre-arranged mountain of broccoli and cauliflower. There were rules and they couldn’t be broken. If there was a chance I would be put in a situation I couldn’t control, I’d spend the day fretting.
I turned down social invites for fear of food and eventually, the invitations dried up. That was a good thing – it saved the fretting. There was no sense to my rules either. If the food was not okay, heaven forbid anyone who tried to get me to eat it. Gradually I cut out more and more – it was a sort of game. A game I had to win.
When I was fit, strong, healthy and eating what I wanted, I was happy. I laughed. I could be spontaneous. I had friends. I could love. I could relax. I could think straight. I could enjoy a bit of cake or a plate of curry. I could drink cider in the park. I enjoyed being in the company of others. That all went. I was no good to anyone. I managed to hide it to such an extent that the entire burden fell on the person I care for more than anything on this earth. She was a rock. She was amazing. She tried to warn me. I fought it off. There was nothing to see here. All was well. I was just under pressure and could snap out of it whenever I wanted. It was just that time hadn’t come yet. But the excuses kept coming. Something had to give.
Image: Antonio Quagliata
At my worst I would spend an hour on a treadmill and then deny myself an apple for fear of the sugar. I’d walk for hours in a sort of daze – I didn’t want to do myself damage – but I would cross the road knowing that I would be helpless if I had to get out of the way. Once a target weight was reached, i’d push a little further. First I cut carbs completely. Then I tried a high fat diet, but then I cut fat entirely. I trekked in the mountains for four days living off tomatoes and lettuce. The rest of the group laughed and talked. I couldn’t join in, even though I wanted to. I was terrified that if I did, I’d come back from holiday having gained a pound or two and that simply couldn’t happen.
After my relationship ended, I thought for a while and decided I wouldn’t go into treatment. I thought I could still snap out of it when I started my new job and after all, I would be much better off saving the £200 health insurance premium. This was even after seeing a consultant psychiatrist and being warned I was very ill. Then I went back to the flat I’d previously lived in and suddenly my eyes were open. What had I done? Where had I gone? Who had I become? Like a dementor, I had sucked all the joy and laughter out of life and replaced it with nothing but misery. That’s when I checked into The Priory.
Zayn Malik has recently opened up about his experience of an eating disorder
Thing aren’t fixed, they never will be. Like alcoholism it will never go away completely. And I don’t want it to. That reminder is needed to keep me on the straight and narrow. There are good days and there are bad ones. Trying to still eat and not running myself into the ground isn’t easy but I will get there. I have to rebuild my life for myself first and foremost. I still often doubt myself. Do I want to go to the gym, or is it the illness? Am I really full, or is it the anorexia? I can’t describe how that feels. No one should have to go through it, and I hope to god you don’t. I don’t have the answers and I never will, anyone who tells you they do have an answer is a liar. There isn’t a quick fix, recovery takes time and willing and we all have it within us.
For what it is worth, my advice would be to keep busy and keep talking. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be able to talk openly, you realise that people are understanding and people care more than you think. My family is closer than ever. I am rebuilding friendships all the time. These days, if I am down, I pick up the phone and I’d recommend that you do the same. There’s no shame in crying and not you, nor I can help being ill. In time, I have wrestled back to rationality and logic and although it doesn’t stop the guilt, I take comfort in it.
It’s like the old saying, “we can get better because we’re not dead yet.” Whoever said that’s got a point, you know.