At the age of eleven my mother put me on a diet. I remember how she used to weigh me once a month on the bathroom scales; she would go first and then I would step on, watching the dial spin and click. She would then compare the two numbers: mine always had to be lower.
During my first couple of years at secondary school I ignored my mother’s constant threats about grounding me if I didn’t exercise, her criticisms surrounding what I ate and the quantity of it. Instead of succumbing to what she wanted I started saving my pocket money for sweets, skipping sports lessons and sucking my stomach in tight when she was around. When she noticed that I wasn’t visibly losing any weight the threats worsened, so I eventually began to use the treadmill. I hated it at first; the monotonous pounding of trainers against rubber; women sizing themselves up against each other; men panting like rabid dogs, their hair slick with sweat. I continued going once a week to placate my mother and over time my opinions began to change. I came to the conclusion that losing weight would bring with it acceptance and love that I felt completely deprived of, that it would help me to feel confident and happy. From then on I started increasing the amount of time I spent in the gym and the frequency, as well as cutting out “bad foods” such as chocolate, crisps and sweets.
As time passed my eating and exercise were becoming more and more extreme. I started skipping lessons to go to the school gym and spending lunch breaks attempting to study, pacing around or nibbling slices of apple. By the time we reached our study break for GCSEs I was spending the majority of each day in the gym, lying to my mum that I was exercising for half an hour and studying for a couple more, when in fact I was running constantly. I would take my textbooks and balance them over the screen of the treadmill, shifting the papers every few minutes to check how many calories I had burned. I was exercising so much and eating so little that my mind was completely preoccupied; there was no room left for thinking about anything else, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
My body was craving food constantly and I began to find it harder and harder to resist eating more than the restricted amount that I was allowing myself. I started to have episodes of being completely out of control, which I had never experienced before. I felt completely dissociated as I ate anything that I could find, so frantic that I didn’t even have time to pause between bites. When I realised what I had done I would panic, my mind running over and over what I had eaten, the calories I must have consumed, how much weight I was going to gain from it. The less I ate the more these episodes occurred, and the more I would compensate afterwards. My mother had no idea that it was going on until one day she found the sink blocked; when a plumber came to investigate he found the pipes clogged up with vomit.
I managed to receive good grades in my GCSEs (probably mainly the result of my perfectionist attitude and the immense pressure that was implemented at school), but when I returned for my A levels in September 2012 I had completely burnt out. I spent most of my lessons in the sick bay at school, lying in bed and reading, or watching movies that the nurse would bring in for me on her laptop. After the first term of sixth form I admitted to my mother that school just wasn’t working for me, and I made the decision not to return in the New Year.
In late January 2013 I was admitted into A&E after having not eaten for ten days; a few days later I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital into an Eating Disorders Unit where I remained for six weeks. Looking back, I think my mother was worried but it was expressed as vicious anger.
The evening that I arrived I went straight to my room and lay in bed crying. The nurse came in to talk to me and handed me a stack of questionnaires to fill in; sheets on exercise, eating habits, mood and physical systems.
Eventually I ventured into the lounge to meet the other patients, taking my teddy with me. There were four other girls, two were lying on the sofas watching TV, one was pacing around the room in heeled black boots, the eldest was having an argument with one of the night staff over whether she could have a coffee. I was the youngest there.
The girls on the sofa introduced themselves and the one pacing stopped to come over and talk to me but she remained standing until finally the nurse yelled at her ‘sit down, on a cushion please, stop jiggling your leg, stop it right now or you won’t be going on a walk tomorrow.’ Within minutes I learnt that she was admitted three days away from death, she had been in a wheelchair for nearly a month and her BMI dangerously low. I tried to stay away from her during my stay as it was evident that she had no desire or intention to recover and was extremely proud of the state that she had got herself into. Everything with her was made into a competition.
At 9 p.m. another nurse came to ask us what we wanted for night snack. I remember drinking my hot chocolate and it was so sweet that I felt sick after a few sips, but if you didn’t finish within fifteen minutes you would be given a supplement drink. If you continuously refused supplements they had to force-feed you through a tube, and if necessary they would sedate you to do this.
I became familiar with the environment surprisingly quickly. For the first week I had to have blood tests done every morning, mostly to check that my phosphate levels were correct and I wasn’t developing re-feeding syndrome. I wasn’t allowed on walks or into group therapy so I spent most days lying around in pyjamas in a half-asleep daze. When the staff were certain that my bloods were all within the normal range my meal plan was increased, I started attending groups and was permitted outside for cigarette breaks.
I was discharged from inpatient care after a month and a half and then spent another four months in day care. I had to take the rest of the year out of school and I moved to a new college which has helped immensely. Even now I am still in on-going treatment and see a psychiatrist, dietician and therapist. Despite this, it still irritates me that so many people put eating disorders down to vanity and the influence of the media, which is a huge misconception that is yet to be challenged sufficiently.
My mother has attended various support groups and her behaviours have improved, however I am very much aware of the fact that some aspects of her personality are unalterable and will most likely remain as they are for the rest of her life. I’m still not allowed to eat chocolate cereal or ice cream and she still pressures me to exercise.
I would like to say that I’m fully recovered, that everything’s okay, that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I pulled through. I would like to say that because my weight is now in the healthy range it reflects my state of mind; that gaining it all back and learning to pick up a knife and fork without shaking until peas scatter all over the table has fixed me. I wish it was that easy.
Check out Kam’s youtube here.
If any of the issues discussed in this post affect you, please check out Beat and if feeling at risk of harming yourself contact the Samaritans for confidential support in the UK. In the US please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline on 1-800-273-8255.
If you would like to guest blog please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a piece no longer than 600 words on a topic that surrounds mental health. In order to stick to safe mental health reporting, please see the Time to Change media guidelines and the Beat guidelines if reporting on eating disorders.