A guest blog on eating disorders by Student Run Self Help.This blog is an exploration of the feelings and emotions everyone is entitled to when they are battling an eating disorder; that feeling that you have hit rock bottom and can’t sink much lower. I am guest blogging on behalf of a national charity, SRSH www.srsh.co.uk who run self-help groups for students with eating disorders across UK universities but I have also recovered from anorexia myself. I have never been in an inpatient unit like LifeWorks community but I would imagine for some self-referred patients, they enter a treatment facility after that moment of realisation when they see that things really have come to a head and they can’t go on any more.
Sometimes when you hit that point, the prospect of treatment can see just a little bit less scary; if things can’t get any worse anyway then you might decide treatment could be a plausible option. It might be that a relationship has broken down because of the eating disorder, or the physical effects have become unbearable or you just can’t go on anymore thinking eating disorder thoughts because they have taken over your life. Whatever the reason for getting there, the lowest point is pretty tough. But sometimes it acts as a catalyst for making the first step towards getting help.
My lowest point came about three months after my anorexia diagnosis. I had spent the three months after that day trying to persuade people that I could cope on my own ; that I had all this under control when the reality was that I was frightened I was dying. There were pains emanating from my chest and heart which made me wonder if I was going to collapse and I couldn’t write for very long because the joints in my hand were so sore and swollen. But I didn’t want to tell anybody in-case I made them even more worried than they were already.
I felt as empty as a hollow shell and entirely cut off from everyone around me. Food and calories was the only thing I could ever think about; and how to lose more weight without anybody noticing. I felt like a filthy addict; I knew I was killing myself but I couldn’t stop. It was degrading. Family were flocking down from all over the UK to visit me but I felt nothing when I saw them; I was entirely numb, blocked out and blunted. Depression had set in, taking with it all ability to actively engage with what was going on in life. I found just simply being around people exhausting and I spent a lot of my time alone, crying when I had the energy to cry or sitting in silence when I didn’t.
One Saturday morning, my parents drove me up to see my counsellor, but they never stopped outside the counselling centre and instead drove straight on up to the local hospital without warning. They asked me if I wanted to get out here and go get help or drive back home and ‘pretend’ I was getting better yet again.
It was a bleak prospect; face hospital and being forced to gain weight or go back and live in this hell for another week.
Eating disorder screamed at me so loud I was sure my parents could hear; ‘you’ll be massive-they’ll feed you til you’re enormous and they won’t let me exercise anymore!’ It is scary how easy it is to believe irrational lies like this when you are very unwell with an eating disorder; I actually agreed with this blatant misconception at the time.
But luckily I was completely desperate; desperate to try something, anything which might bring me out of this at least for a short while. I also knew that if I wanted to get better I couldn’t do it myself; I would never allow myself to eat enough to recover. I knew I needed to be forced. And so in I went.
It feels a bit like you’re giving up sometimes-or giving into eating or recovery if you seek help. There can be a lot of guilt involved but you have to ask yourself if it is actually ‘giving up’ or is it in reality, the bravest, hardest choice you can make? For me, my biggest fear was that I was going to lose control, or that I would regret getting treatment if they made me gain weight. I think these are probably two of the most common fears for people with anorexia or bulimia and when you’re sick it’s very difficult to rationalize them. But the reality is that treatment is there to give you the opportunity to re-gain control over your life and your eating disorder. I say give you the opportunity because sometimes it isn’t as straightforward as that; I relapsed very quickly after I left treatment for the first time and it is not uncommon to need more than one attempt at recovery. Your first attempt is the beginning of the end of your unhappiness though.
The fear of weight gain is one which unfortunately can only be eliminated by exposure; if weight gain is necessary then it is up to your treatment team to ensure it happens safely and with you having as much control as is safe. It is not in a treatment team’s interest to make anybody overweight because this only creates more work for them trying to get you back down again and of course they would have to deal with your psychological distress. It is hard to cope with gaining weight though; I know how it feels as your body changes and it can be very upsetting.
Eating disorders aren’t something you can choose, but recovery is.
Check out SRSH on Facebook or Twitter at @SRSHforEDs