‘You definitely have an eating disorder and it is Anorexia.’Dr V
I was ill-prepared for this declaration at the age of 31. Three professionals had uttered this diagnosis to me in that month alone; the final being a specialist in the treatment of Eating Disorders. Anosognosia is common among Anorexia sufferers and it was certainly the case with me. Yes, I had been suppressing my weight for years but I was truly convinced that it had never been particularly serious. Having only been clinically underweight a few times, I had opted to stay above too low of a weight. On the somewhat ‘lean-ish’ side so as not to arouse concern. Yet here I was, a miserable and barely functioning adult, voluntarily entering an outpatient programme for the first time. Some of the participants were teenagers, a few in their early twenties, one in her mid-twenties.
Although social situations where I’m the ‘elder’ aren’t necessarily foreign to me, I did brace myself for the possibility that relating to all of them would be difficult. Surprisingly, I found myself among kindred, unashamedly sharing a wasted existence with women who still had their whole lives ahead of them. The empathy I felt for them was overwhelming and I saw so much of myself in each of them. At the same time, I desperately hoped that my being there might serve as a forewarning; ‘don’t end up like me.’
While one might refer to me as a martyr, it doesn’t change the fact that my conviction has and will remain as such. Of course I’m aware that it’s the illness telling me it’s too late for me and this sentiment has contributed to many setbacks in my recovery. As for the programme, sadly I couldn’t afford to complete it. Eight months later and I’m on the cusp of turning 32. Having taken recovery into my own hands, I made the decision to write about it. My experience was not conventional, nor something I could fill a book with. A disjointed recollection of an abusive childhood followed by an unstable adolescence and adulthood.
Depression engulfed me during high school, the eating disorder finally surfacing after a particularly devastating breakup when I was 18. A year later, I declared myself ‘recovered’. But that mask I wore slipped occasionally while my illness transformed repeatedly, ever the shape shifter. I refused to acknowledge the existence of it, even though my body image and eating habits remained extremely damaging. There were four consecutive hospitalisations, ostensibly to treat my depression and BDD. I continued to ignore what was really at the crux of these conditions.
When I moved out of home at 24, sudden freedom gave way to gradual, yet severe restriction, laxative abuse and diet pill dependence. I could no longer deny it, as this was the period where I flirted with extreme behaviour and was faced with terrifying consequences as a result. The next three years would consist of frightful self-abuse, failed romantic relationships, promiscuity, job loss, heavy drinking and an uncharacteristic use of various substances. I existed in a bleak limbo, not quite letting the illness in entirely, not quite sending it away either. Of course, it crept in completely at times and I embraced it like an old friend.
While I’m not the typical embodiment of a chronic case, I have a lived experience and significant knowledge to lend within the recovery realm. After losing faith in the psychoanalytical narrative most professionals have accepted, I found a group of people who openly denounced it. I sought out research papers and literature, all of which suddenly made sense. My own recovery aside, it would be remiss of me not to share the information I’ve accumulated over the years. I have resolved that my life would count for something positive, perhaps in educating and assisting others by providing resources or sharing my struggles. Eating Disorders beget more casualties than any mental illness and are still the least understood. It doesn’t have to be this way.
You don’t have to end up like me.