Living with anorexia, the mental illness with the highest death rate of all mental illnesses, due to the complications it causes physically, or eventual suicide, is the hardest thing anyone can possibly imagine.
Imagine not being able to eat, even when you’re too weak to climb the stairs to get to bed, and instead going out for a six hour walk.
Imagine being freezing all the time and growing a layer of hair because your body can’t keep warm because there’s so little flesh. Imagine your heart rate being dangerously low.
Imagine living on half an apple a day, which gets quartered when one of the six times you weigh yourself every day goes up even 0.1 of a kilo. Imagine being so thin you need a wheelchair, you get bed sores from lying down too long and you get bruises from wearing socks.
Imagine having a tube stuck down your throat with food pumped directly in to your stomach because you are physically unable to eat. Imagine the pain of that. Imagine losing the ability to have children because your body isn’t strong enough to function properly. Imagine your blood sugar going lower than someone with diabetes and nearly falling in to a coma.
I do not have to imagine it. I lived it. I was diagnosed with severe anorexia, chronic bulimia and severe depression aged 17, having managed to hide it for three long years. I started experimenting with self-induced purging and self-harm along with dieting and weight loss attempts aged fourteen. I was very unhappy at school and it began to affect me deeply, which made me grow to hate my body. I didn’t feel in control of any part of my life, and the only thing I could control was my food intake and my weight. It felt good to have something to be in control of. I felt powerful with my little secret.
I managed a year of college before the weight loss got so drastic that I couldn’t hide it any more. I was pulled from college and hospitalised in a specialised eating disorder unit in England. I spent ten months there, and came home to Ireland only to relapse immediately and end up in a general hospital at an even more dangerously low weight than I was when I was hospitalised in England. I spent a few months there, and managed to maintain the weight that I was when I was first hospitalised. People stared. It’s possible they had only seen people so thin on the ads for starving children. That’s what I looked like.
I had therapy twice a week, but the weight fell away and I ended up in a psychiatric hospital seven times in the space of two years. It never worked. All they did was get my weight stable, and I only ate so I could get the weight high enough that they’d let me go so I could lose it again. The stays in psychiatric hospitals were in between a few stays at a general hospital in Limerick where I was tube fed, unable to eat enough to keep me alive. They had to put the tube down five times because I kept vomiting it back up. When it was down, I would turn down the calorie intake on the machine so I didn’t have to have so much, and I switched the machine off when the nurses weren’t looking.
Eventually, I ended up in a high dependency unit in the regional hospital in Limerick again, weighing just 31kg, which is less than four and a half stone. I should not have survived it. How I did, I will never know. It was here that I reached some of the lowest points of my entire life. I wanted to die and was convinced that I was going to. I called my mam at one a.m. to come and say goodbye.
The next day I woke up a changed person. I began eating small amounts, and tried really hard. I discharged myself because I hated my doctor, and began slipping downhill again, and the bingeing and purging got out of control. It still is. I am now a healthy weight but I find it difficult to even look in the mirror at how I look now, 3 years on. It has taken 3 years to put on the weight, but I’m finally getting there. Not that I know what I weigh. I threw out my scales in defiance the day I turned 24 and I never ever looked back. I am free that way.
Every day I remember how bad things were. I could never go back to it. I lived hell, and so did my friends and family. I lost a great deal of friends, people who couldn’t watch their friend so close to death and not helping herself to get better. I learned who my real friends are. My family never left me, through everything. I cannot imagine how it felt for them.
All I want is to be free, and not have to watch everything I put in my mouth and feel guilty about it all. All I want is to stop thinking about food and my next binge session. All I want is to be free from these thoughts and these actions. I know I will be one day, I just have to work at it and try every day to go a little further to free myself from the bonds of anorexia. One day, one day. Soon.