When the warning signs of anorexia first emerged at the age of 18, I was hesitant and uneasy about approaching my GP. Uncertainty and fear mingled with denial: I was adamant that I was "fine" and in control. Anorexia demanded secrecy; it made me feel healthy, virtuous and superior; it was the drill sergeant that got me up in the morning; the voice that governed my every thought and action - it had become the most important presence in my life.
Despite vehement pleading, I eventually capitulated to the demands of my mother, who at her wits end, insisted that I went to the doctors. With the wall in my defences breached, I caved in and nervously explained that I was locked into a cycle of starving and exercise, my hair was beginning to fall out and I lived in constant fear of food. Weary of the constant battle in my mind, I was considering dropping out of university. The GP didn't say much in response to my brave confession, instead he just scribbled notes in his notepad, refusing to make eye contact - I felt uncomfortable. He awkwardly asked me to step on the scales: my weight had plummeted. However his disparaging response that my BMI was not "low enough" to be considered dangerous was not only a blow to my alarmed and frustrated mother but was an even bigger blow for the fiercely proud anorexia. I was ushered off with only a pamphlet in hand on eating disorders and cheery advice to just increase my calories. If only it was that straightforward. Not thin enough, Anorexia screamed! Belittled and shamed, it planned an attack.
I was in torment. My doubts had been confirmed: I wasn't poorly or worthy enough for medical help. Fuelled by my GP's dismissal, I plunged even further in to the dark depths of anorexia - I needed to eat less and shrink down even more to get help. I began a relentless and gruelling regime of starvation and exercise. As the weeks passed and my circumstances worsened, I felt incredibly alone and frightened. I was in a grey area, not poorly enough to receive treatment, yet not good enough to be deemed an anorexic.
It was my first Christmas at university but I had never felt more alone or depressed; I could see no end to my bleak situation. My weight dived but it bought me no satisfaction. It wasn't low enough and I wasn't good enough was a constant mantra. Urged by my mother I sought private counsellors but their price-tag and anorexia's strong grip resulted in defeat before I even reached their door. I wanted it all to end and attempted suicide. It was a desperate cry for help, which at last resulted in a referral to an eating disorder service. However, even though my physical and mental state was now considered a serious risk, the waiting list was horrendously long and waiting to see a therapist was painfully slow. Being on a waiting list should have filled me with a sense of relief, something was finally being done to help me however it was toxic: my behaviours heightened and my mental health deteriorated. I gave up university and became a recluse.
After months of waiting, I was only given access to outpatient treatment. One hour a week with a therapist didn't suffice and it wasn't until 2 years later, after suffering for nearly 4 years that I was offered an inpatient bed. Going into inpatient, although nightmarish, saved my life. The ward restored my weight and I'm now on the road to recovery; however, I believe earlier intervention could have spared me years of pain and sped up the recovery process.
According to B-eat 1.6 million suffer with an eating disorder and one in five of those will sadly die prematurely as a result. It has been proven that early intervention is crucial to recovery. Unfortunately, my story is not unique; many other sufferers have to wait till they find themselves at crisis point until they are eligible for help.
Championing young people's mental health and fast tracking waiting times should be firmly placed on the political agenda as a matter of urgency, no matter a person's BMI or weight. An eating disorder is a matter of the mind - the physical weight loss or gain is a symptom of one of the most, if not the most deadly of all mental health illnesses. As a society we must foster and develop positive body image in the minds of young people and combat the culture and pressure of body perfection. If someone had a physical injury they would go to A & E and most likely be seen immediately, mental health should not treated any differently, we need to eradicate the mind-set that that mental health disorders are of lesser importance. Mental health services deserve funding as much as other branches of medicine and should be as readily available - mental health illnesses cannot wait. This is my call for urgency this Eating Disorder Awareness Week.