After Anorexia: Life’s Too Short to Weigh Your Cornflakes by Catherine Pawley (Transcript)

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.

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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.

You pick up their habits and their rules, too. But I did it; I restored my weight. I broke my rules. I ripped up my rule book. Anorexia was a chapter in my life, but it wasn’t the whole book.

I was discharged, went to university after my gap year, and all was good; for about a month. This story isn’t linear, and the journey from anorexia to recovery is rarely linear. I relapsed. My weight deteriorated again, albeit not as fast as the first time as I was eating one or two meals a day. It turns out my rule book was still intact.

Walking to and from lectures became difficult. Five-hour labs were unbearable. I was going in and dealing with dangerous chemicals, having not eaten for almost 24 hours. How I didn’t harm myself or somebody else, I have no idea I struggled through my first year of university, plastering on my fake smile and pretending everything was fine.

I made it though my exams, but then I had to move home. This stabilized my weight loss as I was being made to eat three meals a day, plus a snack, under the watchful eye of my family. Being at home and eating more meant I had to be much, much sneakier again. Crumbling biscuit down my dressing gown sleeves, pretending to have lunch, lying about what I had or hadn’t eaten I became a lying machine.

I hated lying to my family. They knew, though. They knew exactly what I was doing. Even as I deteriorated, I was adamant that I was going back to university. I was not taking another gap year.

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I was not giving up .I met my psychiatrist a week before term started. He told me I couldn’t go back. I cried and shouted. I didn’t want to go back into hospital, but it was my only option.

I gave up on going back to university that year and accepted a bed. It took all my strength, but I had just taken the biggest step forward imaginable. This admission was so much harder than the first. I had a new desire to be the ‘perfect anorexic’. This thought kept me prisoner like no other.

It played on all my feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, fraudulence, and worthlessness. My weight had plummeted to almost half of what it is today, but still, I wouldn’t eat. “Perfect” anorexics do not eat. I sat through meal after meal, nurses willing me to eat something, and I wouldn’t.

My blood sugar crashed. I was so dehydrated, the doctor couldn’t get blood from my veins for tests. It was only on the threat of being ‘sectioned’ that I began to eat again. I began my journey of my recovery for the second time. Yes, I had started eating again, but I was still clinging to my anorexia, clinging to the rules I’d made to keep myself safe. I believed that I was worthless, and that my life wasn’t worth living.

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