**Warning for discussion of my struggles with an eating disorder **
So, I asked my Mum to send me some honest questions that she wished she had asked me when I was ill. I thought this would be useful to give a raw insight into how I was when I was really unwell, and also maybe to help anyone else who may have a loved one struggling with a mental health issue. Just a little note that this is all my own personal experiences with an eating disorder and I am in absolutely no way an expert on mental health or recovery. This is simply what I have been through and I have felt.
When did it start?
I think I started to noticeably have an issue with food during my second year of college in 2016. I started overthinking how many calories were in things, doing everything I could to avoid having lunch with my friends and began really working out what I was “allowed” to eat. I started wanting to exercise more and food was all I could think about. However, even when I was younger there were sometimes moments where I would get weird about food and eating it. Even occasionally checking nutritional content and trying to restrict. But it became more consistent in college.
Why did it start?
That’s a good question… I don’t even know. I hated the way I looked and everything about my body, but honestly I have had body image issues since I was a child so I don’t think that solely caused it. But I think to some extent it began as me trying to feel better about myself. I would CONSTANTLY compare my body to others and wished I could look different. I also think it stemmed from the amount of problems I have had that were out of my control. With all my medical appointments, constantly feeling low and also very socially and generally anxious throughout High School and College, I think I believed that at least if I thoroughly controlled what I ate, I had something to focus on and something that I could change myself.
How did it start?
It started with small issues – starting to restrict and focus more on what I was putting on my plate. It built up with the exercise and I got myself into a disordered routine. It got worse when I came back from Thailand at the start of 2018. I think that’s because I had such an amazing time there, that suddenly being back and jumping into a full time job just made me feel underwhelmed and low. I wanted some control again.
Should I have realised?
I was a stubborn 17 year old who literally did not want anyone to notice. I didn’t want you to realise because I was so dependent on my eating disorder. I didn’t want help and couldn’t expect you to realise. To be honest, I was in denial for so long that anything WAS wrong. So in my eyes, there was nothing to realise.
What should I do and what shouldn’t I do?
This is difficult to answer. I think that talking about anything diet related or nutritionally related is a big avoidance. I mean, I don’t think people should be discussing this anyway; It does way more harm than good. I think just keep doing what you’re doing: normalising food in all its glorious shapes and sizes. I still sometimes have days where my eating disorder is prominent in my mind and things are difficult for me – just having someone to support and listen to me is always helpful. I think one of the worst things you could have done when I was ill was make my irrational internal thought externally irrational. It does no good telling a person with an eating disorder that their thoughts are ridiculous or irrational – it just makes them feel alone and worthless. The best thing to do is listen and propose alternative options. Make their thoughts seem valid but not the only way to think.
And/ or why can’t I help.
You have helped me a lot without even realising it, but sadly mental health issues are (shockingly) all in an individuals brain. Although recovery is something I personally have to work for, all your support and kindness makes the work a lot less straining. You help in so many ways and don’t make me feel on my own. I don’t think you realise that whilst you felt helpless, you were saving my life.
What do I do/ say that makes it worse.
If I have ever felt worse from something you’ve said, I can guarantee you that you’ve not said it to be spiteful or cause problems. You’ll have said something normally that me and my dumb brain has taken way out of proportion. I think I am still trying to figure out what a ‘normal portion’ is, and sometimes I get stressed when I feel like you’re eating less than me, because then I start to fear that I eat way too much (which I know deep down is all bullshit). It’s weird, and honestly I don’t even know how you could resolve this because I would never want to make you change how much you eat, but as I’m still trying to figure the norms of food out, I do look for you for guidance. It may be worth just assuring me that I can eat as much as I want and the amount I put on my plate is okay.
Is it my fault?
This makes me really really sad. Not it’s not your fault at all. You’re the best Mum. Mental Health problems sometimes don’t have an underlying cause. No one could help me; it’s not mine or anyone’s fault that I became ill. You’ve done nothing but be amazing.
Do you care about yourself?
When I was ill – yes and no. I thought my eating disorder was caring for me. I thought restricting all these foods were cutting out everything that was bad for me, not understanding moderation and how all this restriction was making me unwell. Perhaps I cared more about looking better and feeling good about myself than the actual detrimental effects I was putting my body through. But I was never going to be satisfied. I was working towards something that was unattainable and would kill me if I kept going. I think when I was at my lowest point, I didn’t really care about myself. I wanted everything to just stop and recovery felt pointless and unattainable. I now do care about myself a lot. I wanted the energy to explore and do amazing things so I knew I needed to try and get better. And now that I am exploring and doing amazing things, I know that I need to keep taking care of myself.
Did you think you had an eating disorder?
I think by the time I started my gap year, I knew. But all the little subtle disordered things I did were just brushed under the carpet. I didn’t ever think I would develop an eating disorder until I started to realise that I couldn’t eat normally with my friends or family. But I never thought it would escalate to the extent it did, and I did not anticipate how much it would affect the people around me. I thought it would be something I could manage and live with. I didn’t think at first that it was bad enough to need help as I was a healthy weight, not realising that I needed help for my brain, not my body.
Did you think you were in control?
For a long time, yes. I had lots of changes going on; I wasn’t at University so felt like I was just existing whilst all my friends were forwarding with their lives, I constantly felt low and worthless, I felt awful about the way I looked, had lots of medical appointments and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life (I mean, I still don’t but hey, does anyone really?). For a long time my ED made me believe that I was in control, but in reality, it was my eating disorder controlling me. I feel more in control now when I make decisions that my eating disorder would not like. I feel in control with all the other values and priorities in my life.
Thank you to my Mum for sending me these questions and being honest with what she wanted to know. I guess I wanted to add a final note to her to say thank you for always being there for me. I love you more than anything and having your support has meant the world. xx