The plan worked; I didn’t snack in-between meals, I didn’t eat more than anyone I was with, and I didn’t eat unless I was starving. So, I lost weight. But I didn’t eat more as I promised myself.
Time passed, life went on. January exams came along with all the stress. I felt out of control again. So, I made more rules: never finish a plate of food, never eat foods high in fat. Always pick the lowest calorie option.
I was back in control. I felt safe again. But little did I know the rules that gave me safety were slowly killing me. By April 2012, I’d lost around a stone. My ribs began to show, my hip bones protruded, and I was a hanger for my clothes.
I didn’t think that I looked any different, but my family and those around me noticed. My mother dragged me to the doctors. I was so angry. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me; I thought it was perfectly normal to never eat dessert, take cornflakes to the cinema instead of popcorn, and weigh myself at least five times a day. The doctor referred me to a specialist service in Leicester for an assessment.
At the assessment, I was diagnosed with ‘anorexia nervosa’. I ticked all the criteria. One: an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight. Two: a refusal to maintain a body weight, at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height. Three: a disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, and an undue influence of this on self-evaluation.
After my diagnosis, it became a lot harder to follow my rules. My family were aware now and plied me with food at any opportunity. So I had to get sneaky. I added more rules to my arsenal: never eat alone, never drink calories, avoid food at all costs. I had to visit the hospital every week to be weighed and see my therapist.
I took great delight in seeing the falling number on the scale every time I stepped on. I was getting sucked in deeper to the anorexic way of thinking. Home life was getting worse as I was being increasingly deceptive. Meal times were horrendous; an internal battle between not eating, and causing yet another argument I knew, as soon as I put my knife and fork together, half of my food untouched, that it would star.t
My sister, running upstairs, unable to cope with what I was doing to myself. My mother crying, my father shouting, asking me if I wanted to die. I just sat through it all. It killed me to see what I was doing to my family but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t think that I deserved to stop.
By this time, it was June. Time for my final A-level exams. Somehow, I made it through, determined not to let my 14 years of school go to waste. From the day I finished, I deteriorated rapidly. Each day, eating less and less, becoming more and more deceitful.
Rules increasing day by day, becoming more and more restrictive: never eat more than 500 calories a day never eat anything that you haven’t weighed, never enjoy food. That summer, we had a family holiday abroad planned, but I wasn’t allowed to fly. At home, I couldn’t sleep. My heart rate so low, my body scared I wouldn’t wake up.
My 15-year-old sister had to give me a piggy-back because I couldn’t walk up a hill. I couldn’t think straight. I knew that I couldn’t live like this, but I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t gain weight. Because that would mean losing control.
And that was the strongest rule of all, the one presiding over all the others: never lose control. After one of my weekly appointments, I was admitted, voluntarily, as an inpatient to Leicester Eating Disorders Unit. I was so confused: What had I done? I didn’t want to be there, but I knew that I needed help. I’d spend my nights lying in bed, watching Food Network, gazing at all the beautiful food that I was depriving myself of.
Food One of my favorite things. Of course, I couldn’t admit that, not to anybody. Because anorexics hate food, right? No deep, deep down, most anorexics love food. They’re just depriving themselves of something they love as a punishment.
Over my five-month stay on the anorexia ward, I experienced things that not many 18 year olds would: I heard screams as a girl had a feeding tube reinserted for the fourth time that day; unable to leave my room during ward lock-downs when somebody on section tried to escape. Of course, it wasn’t all like that. I made some amazing friends. For the first time, you’re with people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
We had so many good times: evenings watching movies, doing face masks, laughing, and joking. I felt normal, albeit in an abnormal situation. I progressed through the program, every day challenging the rules I’d made to keep myself safe. For every one I broke, another sprung up. Anorexia is a very competitive illness, and being surrounded by other anorexics gives you ideas.