I have made reference to my issues with eating disorders in the past and I am (very slowly) starting to open up about it all and share my story, in order to help others. This post is going to be about the here and now, and not so much about the past. I have heard people use the term ‘functioning alcoholic’ before and thought it was quite fitting (not the alcoholic part!) to describe how I feel about the eating disorder that plagued me for years. A functioning anorexic pretty much sums up who I am these days. It might sound scary but it’s not.
I take it to mean that I accept that I had a very big problem with my eating for quite a long time, and I also accept that it will always have some sort of grip on me, but it doesn’t define me anymore. It doesn’t affect my health to an extent which is a concern and it doesn’t affect my relationships with those around me. And I can live with that.
It would be foolish of me to tell others that I had anorexia (and bulimia to a certain extent), I got treatment and all became well again. I believe that there are many mental illnesses that can stay with you after the treatment ends. The difference is that you then have the tools to help you deal with your thoughts and feelings more effectively.
I had an intensive round of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), as part of my treatment, which ultimately changed my thought process completely. It taught me to silence the anorexic voice that spouted negative things left, right and centre. The dietician I saw taught me the sensible side of nutrition again, to see the good in nutrition and not the bad. The group therapy I did made me realise I wasn’t alone and that having a mental illness isn’t your fault and doesn’t make you a bad person. The doctors I saw made me start to realise the harm I was doing to my body and although I still suffer with a few things here and there as a result of years of starvation etc, I count myself as one of the lucky ones.
When I am in the company of others, whether it’s family, friends or colleagues, I am usually ok. I can order meals when out. I look forward to snack days at work. I don’t let my feelings about food stop me from going out and socializing. I can buy clothes without wanting to smash fitting room mirrors. I don’t feel the need to log everything I eat anymore. I can go to the gym or a yoga class to give me a buzz about my health, rather than losing weight.
But it’s when I am alone that problems can arise again.
The husband is in the forces, so is away a lot, and he jokes that I can’t be trusted to feed myself. He thinks that I would live off rice crispies and beans on toast if I could get away with it. The problem is that’s often the truth. I love cooking but only if it’s for others. I know that is the case with a lot of people but my reasoning behind it is different. When I’m not with others I just don’t feel the need to eat. I only do it to make others happy and enjoy social situations with them. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good meal out or a take away, but only when with others. I get SO excited about the prospect of a date night with R or a brunch with the girls. It’s hard to explain. If I was ever to get a take away for myself, or cook a big meal, I’d probably eat half, throw the rest away and then feel guilty about it for the rest of the night.
When I go to a supermarket alone I am an absolute nightmare. I will still spend forever debating between different foods and have been known to stand with two different types of soup for about ten minutes trying to decide which one is ‘less bad’ to buy. When the husband suggests a take away, he often very quickly regrets that decision when I take about half an hour weighing up all the different options and which will make me feel less bad about myself. It often ends in me getting upset and saying ‘let’s just not bother then’ but he is well equipped these days to deal with it.
I’ve accepted that anorexia will always be there in the background telling me I’m not good enough and that I don’t deserve to be happy, but I’ve got my support system in place who tell that negative voice to, for want of a better phrase, do one.
I’m not a functioning anorexic in the sense that I am at a very low weight but holding down a ‘normal’ life, I’m a functioning anorexic in the sense that the thoughts have not gone and continue to pop up on a daily basis, affecting the choices I make. I am lucky enough to be at a more than healthy weight and I have my babies to thank for that.
I want to be a good role model for my son and daughter, and to anyone else who needs a bit of support. That’s all that matters now and so I will continue to fight the negative thoughts, get on with my life, and hopefully find some way to use this online platform I’ve started building to spread awareness and help others.
If you have experienced anything similar to what I’ve mentioned above then please check out these sites for more support, or talk to your GP if you need support. You are not alone.