Living with an Eating Disorder

TW/ eating disorder, recovery, depression, anxiety

Hello, I’m Amber and I have an Eating Disorder,

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Me at 17, two years since my diagnosis of generalized anxiety with Depressive tendencies & chronic insomnia.

That doesn’t define who I am but it most definitely affects every aspect of my life, even when I am unaware of such.

It feels so good to say out loud and write down, “I have an eating disorder, but it doesn’t define who I am”.  It’s something I have repeated to myself contently over the last fifteen years but it’s only in the last eight months that I have been more open and vocal about it with my friends and family.

Back in August I started therapy, a short six week course with TalkPlus, which is an amazing organisation but is horrendously underfunded only being able to offer a short course and you can’t have a second round for six months.  I unfortunately didn’t fit the criteria for someone who would need long term therapy despite my history of anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, and chronic insomnia.  I did however fit the criteria for medication, this is the first time since my diagnosis at age fifteen that I have, some days they don’t work as well, and it is a journey to find the right dosage for me.

But this therapy opened up a huge can of worms that I was not prepared for, I wasn’t prepared for the PTSD I have experienced since opening myself up and talking about my life.  I was also not prepared to have someone say to me “You have an eating disorder” it’s something I had suspected for a very long time, talked about with close friends in hushed tones and to other people in recovery online, but never publicly.  This was something I knew I had bouts of but what I didn’t know was that I had never actuary recovered from it at all, what I thought was a simple case of Bulimia actually is  far more complex and is influenced by my other mental health diagnosis.

I started binge eating and purging at fifteen years old, not because I thought I was fat, admittedly I was larger than other girls and had developed physically a lot quicker than most, but because for some reason I felt that I had no control in my own life.  I soon discovered that the reason I felt so out of control was down to an undiagnosed mental health issue that I may have been experiencing for many years.  

I have always gone through bouts of very high highs and incredibly low lows, I feel things extremely intensely, or not at all, for me there is no in-between, I either like being on my own or being around people, I either sleep too much or not enough.  When I love I love deeply and with every inch of my being but when I fall out of love it is hard and fast, only three men in my life have ever had the pleasure of experiencing that side of me.  My friends know I don’t just say things as lip service, when I say things I truly mean it, if I tell you “you are beautiful inside and out” I mean it.  I have been told that “I’m too good for this world” I don’t know if I believe that but it’s sweet that people think that of me.

Knowing all of this starts to explain a lot of the issues I have experienced since.  I stopped binging and purging in August of 2010, this was the month I started dating the future father of my child.  I confessed to him that I had suffered from bouts of bulimia and he made me promise to not do it again and if I ever had those “feelings” again to let him know and he would help me.  And he did, when I felt those moments he would help me and I was so proud of the fact that I hadn’t made myself sick in years, I went off to university thinking I was two years recovered but I was very wrong.  What I had really been doing was masking the issue subconsciously, yes I had stopped binging, and purging but I had replaced it with restrictive behaviour.  

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Me, aged 20 and two years in what I thought was “recovery”

But I tried expanding my palate, trying new things, I went to Germany at the end of my first year of university, yes I was still having a coffee and cigarette for breakfast during this time and had developed a quite worrying drinking issue, but I discovered I like soft pretzels and beetroot.  While there I even ate food on a bench in front of people I didn’t know, I went out to dinner (which was something my partner, at the time, and I had been working on) and tried hard to be ok with eating out every night.  I did all of those things, for most it was normal, for me these where huge achievements that I patted myself on the back for.

I continued in my second year to do this and push myself to eat healthier and make better choices about food, lose weight in healthier ways and then I fell pregnant, unexpected and at a very hard time in our lives.  My child’s father had just lost his Nan and had no idea where he would be living and I was just starting the prep work for my last year of university.  But at this time I was also experiencing a huge relapse, or so I thought, I was making myself sick, I had given up drinking and was eating better but I was stressed and feeling sick all the time, it turns out this was all just morning sickness but it was a traumatising time for me.

The thing with pregnancy is your diet is restricted, foods that I used to rely on when I was having a really bad time with food and needed to force myself to eat, I wasn’t allowed, pate on toast was my go to at the time but being high in Vitamin A this wasn’t good for my baby.  I ate too much while pregnant, after I had gotten over the first 25 weeks of morning sickness, and realised that this wasn’t something I ever wanted to do again.  I was out of control, my body wasn’t my own and I was having to make choices for someone else, which I did gladly but that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard for me and set me back a substantial amount.

My pregnancy lasted 15 extra days (they never arrive when you need them to) and resulted in an emergency c-section after a failed induction, not to go into details but the basic explanation is, even with the added hormones my body will not go into labour.  It seems I am destined for c-sections moving forward, this was also where I found out that I have a compressed spine.  After major surgery and finally getting home all I wanted to do was sleep and eat, I also had Christmas in two weeks and my first deadline of the year in four weeks. 

I got though all of that and soon enough I realised something wasn’t right, as it turns out I had Postnatal depression, something I had been warned might happen with my history.  I struggled through that while also being prescribed the pill and diet pills, admittedly I lied about my issues with food, these combo resulted in me moving back in with my mum for almost a year because I wasn’t coping on my own.  I felt like I was on an island on my own even though I had a good support system and had graduated from university but mentally I was bad but my relationship with food was weirdly better.  A year later I was living with my partner and daughter but was terribly unhappy, I had lost myself and within a year I was back with my mum and newly single.

Since then I have had ups and downs with my mental health and issues with food and right now I’m in a bad place with it all.  But with being more open and finally having a diagnosis and beginning to understand how I react to things, I can finally start the recovery I desperately need.

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Me with my Grandpa & Mother

For as long as I can remember I have had an issue with food, I am unsure of when it started, so I could have been developing an eating disorder a lot earlier than I first thought.  What was seen as a fussy eater by my teachers, peers and the grownups that looked after me was in fact restrictive behaviour that was only brought to my attention since having therapy.  And that behaviour, the need to restrict and avoid certain foods is normally the start of a relapse and the current one I am experiencing started this way too.

I don’t eat certain meat, either because of taste or the idea of it makes me feel sick, mince is a big one, no matter what it’s made of the texture makes me physically sick and isn’t worth the purging that my body will naturally do.  I can’t handle foods where the smell makes my stomach turn, baked beans is a big one for that.

So we have covered Taste, Texture, and Smell, this is all avoidance.  

But another big thing I do, which is within the restrictive bracket is, I must always have equal portions otherwise I will leave food, for example if I have a curry, once my naan bread is gone, I will stop eating and leave what is on my plate.  Another example is how I eat a breakfast, it is complicated but just know that 4 small sausages or 2 big sausages equals 1 fried egg, I always need two slices of toast/bread, three hash browns and a rash of bacon, this is my standard order. Everything can be cut up equally that way and nothing is wasted, maybe this has been my way of coping for years.  

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These where the things that were red-flags for my therapist, but what made the diagnosis really stick was when I said “sometimes I can’t eat at all, I don’t feel hunger, I forget to eat, sometimes I feel uncontrollably sick and sometimes I can’t taste food at all.”  

THIS was the moment she turned around to me and said the words that made me cry, in a good cathartic way, “You have an eating disorder”. 

Knowing this and finally feeling seen for the first time was a lot for this girl to handle, I had gone nearly half of my life suffering in silence, researching on my own and trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

I sit before you not better but with a better understanding of my condition, starting to notice when I might be beginning to experience a relapse, admittedly this time it has snuck up on me, but also being able to talk about it.  Simply because…

I have an eating disorder, but it doesn’t define who I am

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