Thank you to our wonderful contributor for a look in to how they cope with living with an eating disorder.
What is the mental illness that you have or are suffering from?
Anorexia Nervosa, Depression and Anxiety
Do you know where or how this started?
It started with persistent nail biting and occasional palpitations at school whilst I was studying for my GCSEs. School exams were stressful and I felt like they completely took over my life. I started getting ED symptoms when I was about 17, it was something to control and something else to think about and focus on.
How does it affect your day to day life, including your relationships?
I came distant from my parents as I struggled to contend with telling them and my numbness made me much less interested in socialising. Having an ED affects every moment of your day, you can’t stop thinking about food because your body is in starvation mode. Sometimes I physically couldn’t hear someone talking to me because I was so focused on a slice of cake or a chocolate bar in another room. You also don’t really notice how bad it affects you until you’re in recovery – like I am now!
The depression, which I still sometimes struggle with, just makes me feel distant and separated from the entire world. On a bad day you can’t get out of bed or face leaving the house. I’m often tearful and can think myself into a big old rut.
Do you feel you can be open with everyone with what you are going through?
At first it was really tough, I didn’t want to have let people down or upset them. But eventually, as I opened up, I realised how healing sharing my experience was. Friends were the easiest to talk to and they knew just to sit with me even when I didn’t feel like talking.
Do you have any tips or tricks to stay on top of your mental health?
Routine, keeping busy, hugs. Medication shouldn’t be underestimated as well, for me medication felt like the dark cloud had been lifted and I then had the strength and energy to work on getting myself better. I had the energy to arrange numerous medical appointments, I had the energy to clean myself and my surroundings properly, and I had the energy to work out what helped me out of a bad day.
When I’m feeling low, the first thing I reach for is my night time routine where I dim the lights in my room, have a long steamy shower to wash away the day (I often practice mindfulness in the shower too), get the comfiest PJs on, and finally read my book until I’m super sleepy.
Is there anything that those around you could do to help you if you could give them any advice?
Just sit with me, hold me, cry with me. Sometimes talking is too much but you have to know that just a reassuring presence is helping. Also, sometimes the person you’re trying to help doesn’t know what will help them, be patient and follow their lead. Simple gestures like helping with chores around the house is good too.
Dealing with someone with an ED is extremely difficult and confusing. For me, the things that helped were not discussing weight or dieting, being around people who were comfortable in their own skin, and having portions served for me so I knew what was normal. I’d recommend specialist advice though, depending on the person/patient!