I suppose there is no right beginning to this particular story. I could start out by describing the first time I found the language to speak about my eating disorder – but somehow, that doesn’t feel quite right because that language still feels so foreign to me. So let me begin by telling you about the first time I ever verbalised it to another living person. Not just in my diary, or in my poems, but to someone who had the capacity to respond – someone who could either affirm me, or keep me from talking about it again for a long time.
Unfortunately, it was the latter.
The first time I spoke about my eating disorder, I was 19 years old. My struggles with eating were not new – in fact, I could not remember a time where my relationship to food or my body felt “normal”. I could not even begin to imagine what “normal” looked like. What it felt like to not use food like it was packing paper – its primary purpose to fill the emptiness inside of me. Even if it was only ever temporary. Even if it made me feel even worse after. The seconds of fullness were always worth it. I became fixated with it. I lost sense of hunger. Eventually, I began to lose sense of the fullness too.
So, when I was 19 I began to chase a different kind of beast. This one went by the name of thinness. I found my hunger again – and this time around, it was all I could ever think about. Living away from home, I could exercise as much and eat as little as possible without my family – who were already well versed in the language of eating disorders – noticing. Except when I went home, they did notice – because I had dropped a couple of dress sizes. But they weren’t concerned. They were proud. They applauded me.
They weren’t the only ones. A doctor I saw about chronic pain encouraged me to keep on with my mission. They advised I keep eating less and exercising more. That would be the cure to my pain, they assured me. Except, my pain stayed – stubborn as ever. But it wasn’t just physical – my mental well-being was deteriorating quickly and I had no idea where to turn. So when a university counsellor gave me the numbers of local crisis lines, I found myself dialling it frequently. And one time, I confided in them about my struggles with eating. I found the language to speak about the binge eating, about the restricting, about the obsessive routines I had around food, about the eating disorder beasts that had long since haunted my family. I closed my eyes, and it spilled out of me. All of the things that I had never said. I had opened the gates that had long been closed – and out came everything that had been crammed up against them for over a decade.
At first, there was silence. And then there was regret. Of course, shame was not far behind – it never was. A few seconds hesitation on the crisis nurses’ part felt like a lifetime. When she finally answered, it was a question. A question that circles around my mind to this day.
“Well, are you overweight?”
This told me everything I needed to know. It told me that because I was fat, any weight loss would be seen as a positive thing – no matter the reason the weight loss was occurring. That in society’s eyes, my body was something that needed to be shed like an extra skin. All that mattered was that it become smaller.
And for a while it did. Until it wasn’t anymore. The weight I had lost came back – I gained back that extra skin. And another. And another.
So I suppose it shouldn’t have been all that surprising this time around. I suppose I should have expected it. Except, between then and now – I had spoken about it. Hesitantly, I opened up to a home treatment nurse – one of the nurses who had been coming to see me daily for a few months a few years ago. Not long after the phone incident, I told another nurse – and this one listened. She believed me. She referred me to SYEDA, where I had a few months counselling. A decade of struggles with eating could never really be covered in a limited amount of sessions, but slowly the wounds started to open and heal.
Which made this certain instance at the doctors particularly demoralising. Realising I needed more support, I took myself to go and see a doctor I had been seeing for a long time – who I respected, and trusted. In the first appointment, he spoke about how he “binges” sometimes – often opting for say, a chocolate bar instead of a piece of fruit. A frustrating comment, but one I forgave. He said he would refer me back to SYEDA – and I am yet to hear about the said referral.
Returning back to the doctors, I spoke about my struggles with my weight – how it is never stable and due to yo-yo dieting is constantly fluctuating. I wondered if I could be referred to a dietitian. I mentioned my eating disorder again. Instead, the doctor began to write a prescription out for weight loss pills. And because I was in a really bad place with my eating disorder, and because my family seemed to be especially on board with the pills;
I took them.
This is something that I am so ashamed to say. I took the pills. And for a few weeks, they were okay. For a few weeks, I felt free. It was as though someone had tied my eating disorder to a balloon and let it fly with the wind. I felt lighter, and the world felt easier to navigate.
But my balloon found me again.
One day, I wanted a piece of cake. A piece of glorious chocolate cake. I sat down to eat it, and it was the best thing I had tasted in weeks. The buttercream danced on my tongue. The chocolate bounced off of the walls of my mouth. I knew what happiness tasted like again. And everything was fine.
Until a few hours later, when I had an embarrassing accident – luckily I was at home, but it did not make the shame any less. I stood up from my bed, and found a large orange oily spot that had seeped through my bedding and onto my duvet. The pill had literally made me shit oil – all because I had eaten a slice of cake. And my doctor never warned me of this – or of the potential to develop liver disease or kidney stones.
After googling and finding this out, and an article that spoke about how shitting yourself was merely a “punishment for eating something that you shouldn’t have”, it suddenly hit me. I had been taking diet pills. A pill that claims to absorb some of the fat you eat, and help you to lose weight – one that is also available over the counter for use by anyone.
This pill was prescribed to me when I was in need of support, and help with my eating disorder – an eating disorder that was then encouraged and given fire to by a doctor who only saw possible weight loss I could achieve as the most important thing.
It all boils down to this.
My doctor did not believe that I could have an eating disorder, because I am fat. For him, and many others in this society, my fatness is something that needs to be fixed – whatever the cost.
And in this situation, the cost was my mental health.
It has taken me a few months to write this, and still I am not sure how to end this. What I could possibly say that would make me feel any better. How to end this optimistically.
But the truth is: I am not optimistic about this.
I do not feel positive, or supported. I do not feel able to self-refer to my local eating disorder support because it requires me to fill in my weight – and I do not want to go through this again.
I just can’t.