I developed anorexia when I was 13 years old. It became everything to me. She was my best friend, always with me and making life completely okay. I hid that friendship from everyone and became ever more devious. I loved my best friend but didn’t realise that she was actually killing me. And after four years of hiding this friendship I was admitted to a mental health hospital. My hair thinning, my skin yellowing and my heart close to stopping. I was at my lowest ebb about to take on the hardest year of my life. I had to beat my anorexia.
After a year in hospital, I managed my recovery for the next eight years. But the scary thing with mental health is that it can creep back and get you when you least expect it. And that’s exactly what happened to me. After my grandma passed away I felt lost. I completely blamed myself for her death and for the first time in eight years that voice came back, sucking me in slowly and surely. Seducing me. Holding me when I didn’t know how to cope. It was so frustrating as I knew exactly what was happening. And I was scared.
Having been on the brink of death from anorexia once before I was terrified of ending up in hospital again. Getting to that point where I would lose control. That relentless anorexic voice nagging at me day in and day out.
After four months of battling with that voice in my head I decided it was time I reached out for help. I referred myself and got an appointment at an eating disorder unit only to be told I “wasn’t thin enough for support”. I left the appointment not sure what to do, all I had wanted was someone to talk to, someone to take my relapse seriously and to give me some help. I felt like a fake. A hypocrite.
The month that followed was a mess. I couldn’t shake that anorexic voice that was slowly destroying me again, making me feel suicidal, taking over my every waking moment. One evening I sat at the train station for hours and just wanted to give up on life altogether. I remember thinking about how much better life would be for everyone if I wasn’t here. Something stopped me that evening ending my life and I had this realisation that if I wasn’t thin enough for treatment I would have to manage this on my own.
My story isn’t unique but a daily occurrence for people with all eating disorders who are seeking treatment.
When asked to imagine someone suffering with an eating disorder, most will imagine a stick thin, gaunt-looking girl. But this is not the reality of eating disorders. People with eating disorders are currently not getting a fair deal in society.
Despite the guidance, too often individuals are turned away from receiving essential support because they aren’t skinny enough to be considered at risk. This leaves the individual feeling like they aren’t worth getting that support, feeling like a “fake”, potentially losing more weight to hit that target and in some cases feeling suicidal. This is why I’m calling on the government to review the eating disorder guidance delivered by clinicians.
We know that early diagnosis is a critical element in the success of treatment for eating disorders and by the time “obvious” signs of eating disorders have manifested, it is likely that the illness will have become ingrained in the individual, and therefore much more difficult to treat. If we want to prevent people getting more unwell, save the NHS money, prevent hospital admission and save lives we need to have this review and ensure that we get full implementation of the clinical guidance around diagnosis.
The guidelines are right but these are not being uniformly implemented across the nation to the detriment of thousands of people daily. It is time we stopped waiting for people to hit crisis point before offering them support.
We need to be able to make sure that people with eating disorders are getting the right support in a timely manner. With 1.25 million people in the UK living with an eating disorder we can’t afford to wait any longer the time to act is now.