Retracing my footsteps

Those with ED’s are encouraged to look at the reasons why we find ourselves battling the demons we have. Many factors will be considered either by the sufferer themselves or their care givers, everything from genetic predisposition, media influence and peer pressure. Depending on the articles you read surrounding the subject, we can be depicted as victims of environment or circumstance one moment and narcassistic the next, the latter descriptive sparking fury among ED charities and spokespeople when suggested by Joan Bakewell in 2016. I remember reading through the war of words after that particular article was released in The Telegraph, like a child head down between opposing parents. Yes, it did make me question for a moment, does this mean I’m all about vanity? Is she right? Is this about me wanting to be pretty? The heated, furious debates that blew up in defence of ED sufferers pacified me slightly and Joan Bakewell making her ignorant remark propelled the subject into public awareness once more. Streams of positive reinforcement came from her negative generalisation.

Her archaic view is one I’m already well accustomed with. ‘You wouldn’t be fucking anorexic with a war on’ I’ve been told. ‘They had rations and if you didn’t eat it, you didn’t eat’. I can’t argue that. I’m sure my gluten intolerance would have been null and void as well. I can’t explain that either. All I know is regardless the origins of disease itself, it’s a part of our society, it’s a part of my life and the last thing I’ve ever managed to feel as a result of having it, is pretty.

My particular path into it, I can track back to my first summer in infant school. I can’t imagine most 5 years olds being so self aware and I have very few memories from that time in my life. It’s literally a snapshot 3 second memory, looking over at my friend while we played under the oak tree in the sunshine after lunch, studying how her summer dress fitted losely around her delicate frame. I remember for possibly the first time thinking, why can’t I look like her? Why am I so big? In an instant, I felt different to all the other girls around me. I can’t remember many specific moments from childhood that were weight related after that because they all rolled into one, but they were always negative. I grew up in a time where being different wasn’t a positive thing as it seems to be now. I do know I felt almost honoured to have any friends because I was fat. When arguements happened or I found myself the target of bullies, I took it very personally. I felt resigned to the fact I deserved it, because of how I looked. I took up football and hung around with boys, not to get boyfriends, but because they were rarely as bothered at my appearance. They were more bothered I’d chosen to support Tottenham.

My childhood environment I have no doubt, contributed to my self loathing. I don’t blame my parents anymore, as I used to. Both came from abusive homes and both fought against their own demons and eachother, relentlessly. My dad, ex-military, left the army and tried to settle back into civillian life unaware of the severe PTSD he was carrying with him. He’s a proud man and unemployment, loss of respect and unit solidarity reinforced the low self worth he’d joined the army with. Only worse. Some things he experienced and would relive in drunken, emotional outbursts I can’t even bare to think about. I couldn’t have survived it. In true military fashion however, he was a true believer of tough love. A podgy daughter was a failure for him, I was representing our family and he wanted me to be more. He wouldn’t hold back when telling me all the reasons I had to lose weight, even with as much detail as no man would ever actually want to be with me. Men would sleep with me in secret and I’d spend my life chasing love. I’d had the lecture so many times the words washed over me after a while, and I’d grab the asda bag of broken biscuits once he left the kitchen. I was a smart kid and my sister was next level stunning. Blonde, busty, big blue eyes and athletic. She didn’t get the grades I did, but my dad idolised her. She’d happily get up early on a saturday morning to go and help at my dads gardening job in the rain, he stopped knocking on my door to go with them. I’d lay in bed, relieved, yet hurt.

My mum sits and stews over how her lack of knowledge when I was a newborn, must be the reason I have my ED. She sits, face pained as she describes how she missed that when I was being breastfed, she wasn’t producing any milk. She agonises that my then childless uncle held me and watched me guzzle down a bottle of water, inisiting to mum that I was starving. ‘He didn’t even have kids and he could see you were starving. How could I have missed it?’ she explains with teary eyes. Once picked up, I was then given formula, which I spent a long time immediately projectile vomiting back up. ‘Maybe thats where it began?’ she says. ‘I really don’t know mum’ I say sympathetically. I don’t want my mum to blame herself. I feel guilty enough as it is, bringing my ED into our family. Only I wasn’t the first. My mum herself, suffered a period of anorexia during my childhood. I remember the sheer joy on her face when she fit into and then bought a pair of boys aged 12 sized jeans. I remember her dinners were often no more than 2 ryvita. I remember how quiet she was, unless she was arguing with my dad. It never worried me as a child, I didn’t have any kind of concept of ED’s or mental health.

By age 20 I’d been the winner of slimmer of the week so many times, I was distinctly pissing off the other members of our wednesday night group. I’d been diagnosed with PCOS when I was 17, I had maybe 1 period every 6 months and I was told I would struggle to have children, if at all. When I was told I’d find it very difficult to lose weight by my gynae doctor, I took that and thought ‘well there’s no point trying’. Things changed when I had my first love. I wanted children. I wanted to lose weight. Slimming World helped me shed 3 stone in 6 months and I was soon pregnant with my beautiful son. After his birth, things changed. I could have gone back to group, I knew it worked, so why not? Instead, I became Bulimic. While my boyfriend worked nights and when my baby was tucked up asleep, I repeatedly binged and purged. Maybe I was lonely? Maybe I felt isolated? I don’t know. My boyfriends mother had an ED her whole adult life and so when I progressed to just eating my dinner in the bathroom, he let me crack on. I was being stupid and I was beautiful he said, but I looked at my reflection and was convinced he was lying. He looked at every other woman and that settled it, he was lying. I stopped while carrying my daughter, as I gave myself permission to eat.

A year after my daughters birth I’d finally reached a breaking point, enough to go to my GP and ask for help. Everything that was wrong with my life, would be fixed if I were skinny. My boyfriend would stop looking elsewhere. I’d be a better mum. My parents would be proud. I’d be happy. I sat and sobbed as I explained my daily binge/purge routine. I was overweight, I asked for help to either break the depression cycle or lose weight. My actions replused me but I couldn’t stop. I was so unhappy, yet the happiest I’d been in my life as mother. I wanted to be more for everyone around me, obsessed with the fact I was letting everyone down because of my weight. My very handsome, military GP didn’t even look at me. Exasperated, he explained I wasn’t heavy enough to get help with losing weight and not in any apparent danger to warrant any kind of intervention. He slid a matchbox across the desk at me and while still staring at his screen, said ‘this is the amount of cheese you should be eating a day’. In one action he confirmed everything I then believed of myself. I wasn’t worth the time.

That day in my life, I could have chosen a different path from the one that would eventually lead me here. I could have gone about my day, sought a second opinion and rejoined a slimming group. I’d done every diet going, it all lead me back to where I stood. I needed to do something and it needed to be right then. I was fixated on the idea that my whole life depended on it. I went home and rang the number I’d written down a few nights before while trawling through weight loss surgery sites on the internet. I extended my loan and booked myself in for gastric band for a little under 2 weeks after. I refused a consultation in London before travelling alone to Belgium for surgery. This was for 2 reasons, the first being I wanted it immediately. I wanted to stop. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to be happy. This was pitched as the answer I’d been waiting for and I clung to it with every inch of hope I had left. I’d be skinny and I’d be loved. The second reason, I wasn’t actually heavy enough to have the band. If they saw me in London, they could tell me no I thought. I needed a BMI of 30 with an accompanying health condition or 35 without. Mine was 28. I turned my insulin resistance into type 2 diabetes on the health questionnaire. I set about eating everything I could in the days before surgery and resisted the urge to purge. The assessment nurse in Belgium argued with the surgeon the morning of my surgery that I was not heavy enough and I argued back that I wasn’t leaving without my band. I won. I rejoiced in my own tenacity.

If anyone ever wanted to know what happens to a Bulimic when given a internal tool that makes them regurgitate food with frightening efficiency… well it seems blindingly obvious this side of it. In my defence, that wasn’t what I thought I was letting myself in for. Just 6 months and minus almost 6 stone later, I’d successfully traded in one ED for another. Binging and purging albiet alot easier to now do, no longer gave any satisfaction. After realising how little calories I needed to survive on, the intake got smaller and smaller. Then fasting began. I felt euphoric. I ran to my scales even in the middle of the night and felt waves of happiness as I watched the numbers plummet. The target weight shifted lower and lower. It took a few months before I started to feel physically awful, by which point I realised I’d lost all control and didn’t know how to get it back. I didn’t want to. I remember my now husband telling me if you don’t stop starving yourself you are going to die, and me responding with genuine honesty, I’m ok with that. I just had to be losing weight.

I still have my band, although now, it lays dormant. My port reminds me of its presence most days having been sewn into muscle thats now wasted away. Surrounded by fat thats not there to support its awkward structure anymore. On a bad day, I can eat things to deliberately block it and I’ll be ‘sick’ (the food never makes it way below the band site, so it’s more rapid regurgitation) hence the Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) diagnosis. I can’t be sick on my own anymore. I wretch till my eyes stream, but if its gone passed that point in my stomach, it’s not coming back up. Gone are the days I had it tightened to the point I couldn’t keep fluids down till I’d been upright for a few hours. I don’t have to visit the back street nurse in the London clinic, ignoring my jutting ribs above my port site as she made it tighter still. There’s such a market for people like me, that put money in her pockets, no questions asked. I haven’t been to that clinic in almost 2 years, after I had some resistance removed. ‘Why are you having fluid removed?’ she asked, ‘You’ll put weight back on quickly’. ‘No I won’t’ I thought. I won’t allow it. And I didn’t.

The origins of ED’s maybe a topic of hot debate and everyones story is different. Some may genuinely have no reason they can think of, no catalyst, no pivotal moment. There are many reasons I can see in my own footsteps down that road. My hesitancy to go back to a GP or reach out comes down to the blame I lay on myself for where I am. I can’t shake the anger at myself for the decisions I have made. It feels as though it was all my choice, even though I remember too well how much I believed I was out of choices. The healthcare professional in me, tells me it wasn’t. Another continuous row in my mind. All I know is regardless of how, it’s with me, and I can’t see a way forward without it.

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