by Claire McKenna
This post was originally written after finishing my final year at university in June 2017.
Looking back on the past 8 years or so, I’ve actually realised how far I have come, how much I have achieved and how being vocal about my eating disorder can help others and myself.
Why I chose to be vocal about my eating disorder
I would walk around town or walk into a café etc. and I would hear people say “look at how skinny she is, I bet she’s anorexic”, or “she looks like she needs to eat a few cakes”.
One time I was in Berlin walking down a road and a man stopped me and offered me a few euros to buy myself ‘some food’ because I looked like I ‘was about to collapse and drop dead’.
On holiday, a group of lads asked my friends if I had cancer because I looked “so skinny and weak”. People who knew me and even nurses in the hospitals would say to each other “I don’t get why she don’t just eat, it’s stupid”.
I would never ever say anything back when I would hear these comments. Eating disorders are known to be a silent illness where sufferers prefer to battle in secret. I did not want to talk about it to anyone, I wanted everyone to leave me alone and let me carry on starving myself. If I did have anything to say it wasn’t likely to be of any value to anyone so I stayed quiet. Plus, I especially did not want any pity or attention from people, I just wanted to be invisible.
Today, if I heard these comments or was asked such questions, I would educate them and ensure that they left with a better understanding of anorexia.
I wouldn’t have a go at them because without having a mental illness yourself it is not possible to understand how the illness works, consumes the individual and deceives people.
There is a lot of confusion felt by people as to why someone would want to starve themselves and continue to do so even on the brink of death and causing so much pain and hurt to their loved ones. They cannot make sense as to why people go to such extremes to “just be thin”.
Well, nor can those with anorexia make sense of it and answer why we do it.
I feel that voicing my experiences and struggles can help others so they too can regain control and happiness and believe recovery is possible!!!
You do not just wake up one day and recover from your eating disorder and that’s it.
Recovery is an option that I have to choose every single day- every morning, hour, minute, mealtime- even if you don’t want to and it feels like the most difficult thing in the world. There are days where I don’t choose it and I can’t battle anymore so I give in to anorexia and I’m back on that slippery slope. The anorexia’s voice will get louder and want you to stop trying to recover and want to punish you for every time you choose recovery. The frightful dilemma is that for me, every meal I skip or any time I cut back on my calorie intake leads me further down the wrong direction where anorexia can get its claws into me.
But then with the support of my family and closest friends, I find it in me to either the next day, next mealtime, next week or month, to get back on the path of recovery and fight as hard as I can to destroy this bastard anorexia even more than it’s been destroying me for over 8 yrs.
What you don’t see
In my blogs, I have talked about how people’s comments can be so dangerous for those suffering with eating disorders and other forms of mental illness.
The most distressing comments I endure that have the biggest effect on me is on the lines of ‘you don’t look like you have anorexia’, ‘you’d never think by looking at you… you eat enough though don’t you…?”
Yes. You may have seen me eat and it may not have been just a plate of lettuce leaves. You might look at me and be aware that I don’t look malnourished or emaciated anymore.
But, you don’t see the constant battle inside that is happening every day of my life.
You don’t see the struggle and anxiety I feel before facing a meal and how much my head is telling me not to eat it.
You don’t see my terrified thoughts and how daunted I am to put that food near my mouth.
You can’t see anorexia screaming so loudly at me to not eat, telling me I am fat and this next meal is going to make me even bigger and how everyone thinks I am greedy.
You don’t see me after meals hating myself for what I’ve just put inside me, or trying to fight the urge to get rid of it and feel ‘empty’ again.
You don’t see me standing in front of the mirror, hardly able to open my eyes because I’m so mortified, distressed and repulsed by what stands in front of me! You can’t see me squeezing and scratching at my skin trying to claw the excess fat from my stomach and thighs.
This is because anorexia is a MENTAL illness not a physical illness, just like you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have depression, PTSD, OCD, Bipolar etc.
Being told you don’t look like you have an eating disorder just sends the message that one needs to do more to lose weight or that they are ‘not ill enough’ to have an eating disorder or receive treatment/support.
Each time I hear the words ‘you don’t look anorexic’, my instinct is to plan how from that moment on what meals I will skip, how much extra exercise I should do. I can’t put my finger on why it does this, but it just does. That one comment can put a halt in my recovery and send me backwards, upsetting all the hard work I’ve done to get where I am now. This is because eating disorders are fatal mind games.
Therefore, it is so important that people are aware of how comments can create distress and trigger individuals. The only way people will understand this is by being educated on the matter, in which I have created this blog.