Sunday, 19 February 2012

Breaking The Silence....My Story

Tomorrow is the start of eating disorders awareness week.  A week in which local support services, national charities and ed organisations go public.They hit the media, TV, glossy mags and newspapers and tell people how it is, what eating disorders are really about.  They try and break down the stigma and isolation of what can be a silent and very lonely illness. Last year along with Family and Friends we arranged several fund raising events locally to raise money for a local support group and also raise awareness of eating disorders, this year I am going to be a little braver. There will be a lot of gaps in this piece, some because I have forgotten and others because you just don't need to know.  It has been hard to be honest without been too graphic and triggering so i hope I have managed to get the balance right.

My Story.......
As long as I can remember, even as a child I have never been heavy.  I was what you may class as naturally slim. As a teenager I even attempted to buy 'weight on,' tablets in an effort to gain a few pounds, so my preoccupation with food and weight loss later in life was a surprise to most.
I was born on march 17th 1967 in Middlesbrough in the North east of England.  My parents were North East born and bred, both came from typical working class backgrounds and had typical Northern values.
I arrived several weeks early with a weight of just over 3 pounds!! having to stay in hospital for many months until I had reached my healthy weight. This was not the only time in my life this was to happen!!!
Mum with my  eldest Sister, I'm the little one in her arms.


Fast forward now to several years later, I'm 11 years old and in secondary school.  The next 5 years were to be some of the worst days of my life.
I was a very nervous and quiet child which to some made me a pushover and an easy target for the bullies.
I was small for my age, skinny and lanky, national health glasses and an extremely unflattering uniform. What little self confidence and self esteem I had was soon to be bashed and taunted out of me. I couldn't escape when passing the school gates either, I was taunted by kids I didn't even know.  I didn't feel able to confide in anyone and although I loved my parents dearly parenting does not come with a manual and most of us learn from experience.....
I reached puberty late in life and whilst those around me were blossoming and trading in their vests for ladybird bras I was lagging behind and this didn't go unnoticed! 
Our school P.E department had those horrible communal showers and we had an evil teacher who would insist that we all showered together after games.  This was embarrassing enough but even more so when you had a chest as flat as an ironing board.  One day whilst showering a group of girls turned the water temperature up full making sure I had to run out.  They had of course hidden my towel and my clothes and left me standing there naked, in tears whilst they all pointed and laughed.  This was one of many incidents too many and hurtful to mention.


School Photo Aged 12

I didn't have a huge amount of friends at school, just a few who knew me in class but didn't know the real me.  It was many years before I would let anyone know that person.
I was generally a good kid.  Didn't smoke, didn't drink, helped with the jobs at home, had a paper-round, went to Girl Guides, Sunday School, church and did my Duke Of Edinburgh award but still there was something missing inside me.  I tried to find it within the church, I became a christian, read my bible daily, went to fellowship groups and tried to be 'good,'. I did make some good friends during this time, real friends but  uultimately when I started college a few years later this was just something else to add to my long list of things to tease me about.
At the age of 18, only a month after leaving college I moved 300 miles away on my own with a suitcase, a tape player and ten pounds in my purse.  I had managed to get a job in a little Somerset village with live in accommodation. My new life had begun, or so I thought.
The people I worked with were really friendly although most a lot older than me, the job was good but extremely unsociable. We all worked long hours then spent most evening together in the local pub.
Drinking alcohol was not something I was used to and very soon I had started on the hard stuff.  I was still very lonely, a long way from home and the only spirit I was receiving was in a bottle of Gin!!
At the age of 18 I had never had a boyfriend, not for the want of trying!!  One evening I had a friend over for dinner, a male friend who was several years older than me.  We drank some and without going into detail he pushed the friendship a little too far.!  I was made to feel it was my fault, it was a situation which made future attempts at relationships difficult. 
I made two very good friends in my first few years in Somerset, one which had a huge impact on my life and things which had happened.  I even bought a house with them and went on what was to be be the first of many foreign holidays.  We would sit and share stories of our lives, where we were brought up, things that had happened.  It was during one of these evenings that I had a realisation, a realisation that made me question certain aspects of my life.  With these questions came sadness, more alcohol and a gradual downward spiral in my life.
I would take the long coach trip home several times a year and it was on one of these trips that I had a comment from my gran.. Have you put on weight?  You're looking a little chubby.
It was on the same trip back that the sandwiches cut into little triangles that Mum had made went into the bin when I arrived back.
Now I'm not blaming dear old gran for my eating disorder, that throw away comment possibly triggered something brewing anyway.  I was already feeling pretty low, hated the way I looked, I saw myself as ugly and never dreamed that anyone could love me how I was.  My life was pretty shit and I was going to make it better..or so I thought.
The next period of my life is a bit of a whirlwind involving starvation, bulimia, alcohol, exercise and laxatives. I have no idea how long it went on for  but it ended with a diagnosis of Anorexia and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. I will never forget the day that my friends drove me to the beautiful village of Wells in Somerset, (where the film Hot Fuzz was filmed) I had agreed to go in as a voluntary patient to try and make me well again.  To be honest at that point I was so physically week I would have agreed to anything.
It was a stereotypical Victorian 'asylum' building, a huge, haunting but beautiful piece of architecture set in the most amazing grounds and gardens.  I was on an open ward in a side wing with patients who were less vulnerable.  I can remember being checked in, my bags being searched for any prohibited items then having a full physical examination.  At the point any dignity I had, had just left the building never to return again.
The hospital had very strict rules.   I was not allowed to exercise, could not do any occupational activities or see the therapist until my weight had reached an acceptable level!! I was to eat three meals a day plus snacks, which was ridiculous considering I didn't eat.  I was given a certain amount of trust until a fellow patient used to swop plates with me and leave me with an empty plate.  Good old George.  After getting caught I then had a Nurse chaperon and poor George got a ticking off.
Mendip hospital was a depressing place to be. I shared a room with 5 other women, some who would wail in the night and scream before they were due to go off for their electric shock treatment,  You couldn't bathe after 8pm as there was insufficient staff if you killed yourself in the bathroom and the washbasins were all communal.  Hideous. I would relieve the boredom by going to the pub for the evening with friends then finding the front door of the hospital locked on my return.  The night staff were not impressed when I had to ring the  bell to get back in.
The consistency of care was dreadful.  I would be weighed every other day, at different times in different times!!  I would even pop into town to the chemists to pick up 'supplies' without being found out. Generally though, I was a good girl, I did what I was told...eventually, and discharged myself before I got to my target weight and buggered off to Holland on a camping holiday.
I met my first Husband shortly after leaving hospital and we hit it off straight away.  The first few years were amazing.  We went to concerts, theatre, ballet, meals out the works. He was the first man I met who really loved me and honestly didn't care about all the superficial stuff. Despite people thinking we were an odd couple I thought we were a match made in heaven.  Things move pretty quickly, we got married, had an amazing wedding and at the age of 24 we had our first and only child.  6 years later we had separated.
I still feel sad that things didn't work out as I see it a a failure but we are both happy now.  I was a complete bitch for a lot of our married life and I think that's due to me not accepting myself and not liking myself.  I was very insecure.
It was a very hard split ultimately due to the fact that a child was involved.  This saw my eating disorder again rearing its ugly head, trying to give me some control and order in my life and numbing the painful feelings.  This was also the first time my new Partner and now Husband had any dealings with 'it.'  This time though I had become more devious and more secretive.  This was something I was bloody good at.  It was a lot of pressure on him as I had lost a lot of friends through my separation and also through a change in job.  I'm surprised he has stuck around for so long and is still with me now.
Its weird how each period of past disordered eating remains fuzzy to me now, chaotic and madness.
For most of you following my blog you already know how Ive got on over the past 18 months so I will fill you in on the bits Ive missed out.
I had a 10 year clear of ED.  I have probably had the same body image issues that most people out there have, my stomachs too big, my thighs are wobbly blah blah blah.I would have a few hiccups where I become obsessive over calorie counting, restricting food but would generally snap out of it.
This time, and probably the worst period of my illness crept up quickly.  I was referred to the gym due to problems with my hips and muscle strength.  At the same time I had booked a holiday and was worrying about a bikini body, along with this I was struggling with insecurities over a friendship...all combined a sure disaster and a full blown eating disorder.
For the next 10 months my life was a nightmare of depression, self loathing, panic, hatred, fear and anxiety.  My life involved around food.  I would lie, take to my bed pretending to be ill, say Id eaten, throw food out, binge, vomit, drink too much,overspend on cookery mags, trawl through pro anorexia websites.  My face would be puffy from crying and vomiting, I had toothache, sores on my knuckles, hair on my face, it hurt to lie down, I was constantly dizzy, couldn't sleep,freezing cold, joints hurt, stomach swollen, throat hurts, headache, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, passing out, osteoporosis.
All this I thought would make me happy, would make me feel good about myself, would make others like me.........it wasn't about being thin.  Yes, I would look at myself and want to be thinner, but it was the achievement, the sense of control over your life,the ability to numb the feelings and emotions and not accept what was happening, just one more pound, then another, then another.
The more I got deeper into it the harder it was to get out. I was taking medicattion for depression and was sinking further into a dark hole of despair and nothingness.  I had no care for myself oreven those around me.  I was selfish and self loathing an ampty shell of a person. I had reached  rock bottom and now it was either do or die.  I decided to DO. What helped alongside the support of family and friends  was my understanding of the illness, the way malnourishment affects your way of thinking, the knowledge given to me on how my body would change through recovery and what to expect.
Recovery was hard, please never underestimate what a person with an eating disorder has gone through in order to recover, not just those with anorexia but also those with bulimia, or other ed. I cannot express how much emotional pain and anguish I felt throughout, but need to stress how worth it the journey was.  And it is a journey, I doubt I have reached the end and maybe never will but in Eating Disorders Awareness week I want to tell others that you can do it, it is worth it, and you are worth it. Please do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

1 comment:

  1. I'm ashamed that I did nothing to prevent the shower incident at school and I'm sorry I wasn't always the friend you deserved when we were young. It was you that introduced me to girl guides and pathfinders and without them i would never have found the guts to become a member of the church and get myself baptised and confirmed at the age of 16. You were a real giving child and I have lots of great memories of things we did together. I wish i'd known how much ypou were hurting then so i coukd have done something to alter your future.
    I love you jackie and you are a fantastic, caring human being who i am proud to call a friend xxx

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