As I always do, I struggled with an opening line for this piece, finding it all the more difficult because of the sensitive nature of the content mixed with my not-so-extensive knowledge of the subject matter. It turned out, it wasn't hard to find an opening line.
One in five of the people most seriously affected by eating disorders will die prematurely. One. In. Five. This, according to Beat eating disorder charity is the most lethal statistic in regards to mental health. One. In. Five. Those numbers are terrifying.
This week, 22-28 February is national Eating Disorders Awareness Week. As part of this, I wanted to try and give a look into the world of someone suffering from an eating disorder.
I do not suffer from an eating disorder. The reason I want to try and give you some insight is two-fold. Firstly, like with most things I write about, I'm doing it because I want to learn too. There's so much you can find out once you put your mind to it, and my writing has helped me discover and empathise with lots of new, tough and insightful topics. I also have the platform to try and educate people, and I think it's important to do just that. Educate people.
The second reason I want to write about eating disorders - of which there are a broad variety - is because somebody I'm close to, very close to, has suffered from one and is still fighting her demons to this day. I have seen first-hand how tragic a relapse in recovery can be, but also how illuminating and inspiring the road to recovery can be too. I've witnessed her at the top of the game and at the bottom too, and people need to know about that. Awareness is still the key.
"Giz a quote, la" - the way all hard hitting journalism should start. With a text saying "Giz a quote". "Giz a hint" was my reply. I suppose that's fair. We spoke a lot today and I did eventually get the quote I wanted. Or the quote I thought I wanted but now wish didn't exist.
"At my worst I can't hear anything or anyone. The only voice is the ED [eating disorder], it's the loudest, angriest sound. I feel guilt and upset for disappointing the ED. it can't focus on anything and it can take hours to come back from that place" spoke Claudia, my mate and my reference point into Bulimia.
Sometimes it's tough to remember that an eating disorder is in the mind. It's a mental illness manifesting itself through the eyes and body of its human. It cares not for sex, race or sexual orientation, but it is easy to see in our society how the mind of young women have to cope with the image that is seen as acceptable, and the image that is to be seen as unacceptable. The pressure of society can fall hard on some people. 89% of people suffering from eating disorders are female. Few illnesses if any have numbers like the above specific to one gender.
It's tough to really find a reason for eating disorders, the same as it is to find the reason to a lot of mental health issues, but there are some signs that have been found through research. Beat, the eating disorder charity, say that research has found that there could be a link to genetics and eating disorders, finding that it could be in someone's family to suffer from an eating disorder. Research has shown that females are 11.4 time more likely to suffer from anorexia if they have relatives suffering from the same disease. It is clear here that genetics and environment can provide a strong, overwhelming reason for females to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Claudia suffers from Bulimia. Bulimia, as defined by Beat, "is a serious mental illness where people feel that they have lost control over their eating and evaluate themselves according to their body shape and weight." This, I thought, sounds like Claudia.
Being close to Claudia - I've known her for 10 years - I've seen her during her real dark times. When I say I'm close to her, I mean we are best friends. So I've always tried to be there for her, or at least allow her to know that I am there for her. It's hard to know exactly how, or what, to say to someone with an eating disorder to make things all alright. Chances are you can't, but if you know someone who has fallen ill in this way you need to remember that what they're going through will always be much bigger and much tougher than your frustrations at not getting through to them. Make yourself available to them. Mental health is as important as physical health, but unfortunately some kinds of illnesses impact on both your body and your mind. Be patient and be aware. Educate yourself. People with eating disorders will often try to hide their behaviour from their loved ones. They're probably scared on one hand, and possibly ashamed on the other. If they come to speak to you, don't give them reason to prove their thoughts right. Don't give them further reason to be scared, to feel ashamed.
Eating disorders are treatable and full recovery is luckily always possible. The outcome being this, however, varies and rate of recovery will always be massively different between one patient and the next. If you know someone suffering, recovery may not always happen at the first attempt. But the chances of recovery continuing is much larger if their surroundings are comfortable, safe and secure.
There are Claudia's everywhere. Eating disorders aren't rare but they are serious. Offering comfort, compassion and strict support is all you can do. But that will mean the world when someone is feeling fragile.
How to spot the signs slideshow:
Useful websites and helplines:
Beat, call 0845 634 7650 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393