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Who has anorexia?

I was seventeen when my mum finally made me agree to see the doctor after months of a daily diet of a lettuce leaf and 3 cans of diet fizzy drinks. One day, my mum saw my spine poking through my skin, and as she cried, I reluctantly promised to “get help”. I wasn’t quite sure exactly what this meant, but I knew it started by going to see the doctor.

The 90’s media suggested that anorexia was when you wanted to be thin and cared about how you looked. I didn’t want to be thin; I wanted to look disgusting to keep me safe from sexual abuse. I wasn’t vain; I couldn’t see how thin and emaciated I had become. The doctor didn’t look at me, or speak to me directly during the entire interaction. My heart thumped loudly in my chest as my mum explained that I hadn’t been eating and that she was really worried about me. When the doctor asked questions, he directed them at my mum. I wondered if anybody even knew I was actually sitting there. The doctor told my mum to tell me to get on the scales.

As I stepped off, without even looking at me, the GP was talking on the phone. I heard bits and pieces, starting with my name and age. Then I heard him say “anorexia nervosa”

“A cold shiver ran down my spine, while the world around me began to fade and fuzz into the background. As the words echoed in booming waves through my mind, the GP turned to my mum and explained that I would need to be admitted to the hospital”

He used those words again: anorexia nervosa. He couldn’t have been talking about me. I looked at my mum in confusion and asked, “Who has anorexia?”.

After two years of hiding food at the table, making up stories about just having eaten so that I could miss meals, weighing myself excessively, hiding my bones (and keeping warm, as the weight loss meant I felt increasingly colder) under layers and layers of clothes, obsessively counting calories and thinking about food, I have to admit I was somewhat relieved, as I thought that being in hospital would give me time off from the constant food dialogue in my head, while I recovered.

At the same time, a fear took over my body that made me run; Out of the consultation room, down the stairs, through the waiting room full of disapproving patients, out of the surgery door, onto the street. I continued to run, with the thought of escaping by throwing myself in front of an oncoming bus.

I still can’t explain what, but something made me stop and walk to my dad. I let my parents drive me to the hospital. I wasn’t cured. It wasn’t the end.

“My experience with anorexia is still ongoing, but I manage it, rather than it managing me. It’s a long and confusing process that takes time and patience – from myself and all those around me, but it is definitely worth exploring”

As a 42 year old woman, I single- handedly raised two considerate, compassionate, intelligent young adults, had an exemplary twenty-year career working with children, continue to be a respected member of my local community, and look forward to a future campaigning for better services for those with similar experiences. Being heard in conversations on mental health experiences will help to improve mental health services, and I would like to encourage others in similar situations to get help. The sooner, the better.