My story, having depression and eating disorders
I wanted to share my story like so many others. I was grateful to read these when I needed them most. I hope it may be useful to someone who is going through it, has been through it or knows someone who is. There are so many factual sources where you can read all about eating disorders and depressions, so I will just explain what I’ve learnt from it and what I found helpful.
How it started
My issues with my body and moods started after high school, as time went on I became more critical and preoccupied by my appearance. I started to work out and diet, trying to get my ideal figure and thinking happiness would also follow, but of course this wasn’t the case. So by the time I was starting University 6 years later, this unhappiness had spiralled, I now had an eating disorder and was struggling with depression.
You hear these stories of a hard working career driven person with stressful careers, go go go and maybe a family, a house, a hobby on the side and whilst juggling all life’s worries, then one day their body is unable to keep up the demands. Enough is enough, they become ill, turn to drink, have a heart attack etc… okay so maybe this is more movie style stories, especially those heart warming ones on Christmas day where people realise the important things in life, but it’s true, we all are human, this can happen to any person and their body tells them they need to stop, rest and alter their life by taking care of themselves and slowly working their way back up, being sure not to over do it again.
This is where I believe I was going wrong, being a young female with the stress of University, also commuting meant staying behind late so it would be late by the time I got home and then waking up at 5am to catch the train. This alongside a part time job, volunteering (so i’d have some experience in my field for when I had my degree) and then trying to keep in touch with friends, working out, running, tennis etc while living with a medical condition from my teen years and taking care of my pets. I can now see I was pushing myself too hard. I guess I’ve always been hard on myself if I didn’t do something, or if I felt I was not doing enough, my own worst critic, kind of a perfectionist.
A loved one I was staying with to take care of passed away towards the end of my first year of University while studying for end of year exams. This completely broke my heart, they were my world, best friend and go to for advice. I was devastated. I took this loss hard and I dealt with the stress by obsessing with diet and exercise more, and laxative abuse, it was a way of having control. By this point I had isolated myself from friends, I didn’t want to be around anyone or even reply to a text. I would say I was at the peak of it during my second year of study. I managed to keep face, many would be surprised and still would be to find out what was really going on with me, smiling, and joking, helping others with their work, this wasn’t who I was behind closed doors. I even remember a friend saying to me at one point how my life was perfect and I had it all, I couldn’t believe how ironic this sounded, I thought if only they knew. Inside I was miserable.
It was all becoming too much, I had just managed to push through my second year but I was a mess inside. I felt a lost cause, numb, everything was pointless and stupid, anhedonia, I couldn’t even feel emotions towards my pets, even though deep down I knew I must still love them, as they used to fill me with so much love and happiness but this is what depression is telling you. Mental illnesses can get hold of anyone, it isn’t logical, it makes intellectually knowing something and feeling it two very separate things. Trying to escape from this downward spiral seems impossible. It’s as though my emotions had been switched off, this was the dark cloak of depression that was wrapped over me, which shadowed and blocked out the happiness.
During the second year of University I was at my lowest of just 40kg/6.4 stone. People would comment how thin I looked but I took this as a compliment. I didn’t want to see any doctors as I was afraid they say I need to gain weight. I would feel exhausted but wouldn’t be able to sleep, and then gradually the scales tipped and I got to the point where I couldn’t stop eating.
‘’It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness, I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling — that really hollowed out feeling.’’ J. K. Rowling.
Taking time out
In September 2016 I was due to go back to University for my final year. I went back for one day and decided that I couldn’t do it. I had brain fog, robbed of the ability to think clearly and forget everything, I was irritable, fatigued and I couldn’t concentrate. I took an intermitting year, during this time I decided I needed to get myself some help. I went for counselling, hypnosis, was given antidepressants and referred for various tests (MRI, blood, hormone level, endoscopy) due to all the side effects from the depression and how underweight I was. My hormones were out of balance, my oestrogen was low, with low FSH and L hormones likely result of the rapid weight loss. By this point I’d had no periods for around 2.5 years. This was quite an eye opener, it meant I could have permanently messed my body up. I then gained weight as a result of binge eating to 8.4 stone by October 2016. I had an assessment and then referred to an eating disorder service where I went twice a week for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), keeping food diaries and monitoring my weight.
I wanted to get better, I realised I was so unhappy and miserable. I missed the person I used to be. So I tried really hard, I began incorporating a wider range of foods, included snacks. I started eating food categories which I hadn’t allowed myself to eat in years. Slowly I realised I was less preoccupied with food and weighing myself, bingeing episodes becoming further and further apart. Recovering from an eating disorder is not a straight line, I went from Anorexia Nervosa, to Bulimia Nervosa to Binge Eating Disorder. I realised I was making progress and things were looking up, I could see the light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel. It is very hard to get out of the negative cycle, but try hard to break it, then keep on breaking it, then this upward cycle will get stronger and stronger.
I decided to take a solo trip abroad travelling. I was scared as I didn’t want any old habitat to come back while on my own, but I felt I needed to do this and it was amazing! I met some amazing people and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Of course it wasn’t all plain sailing, there were days when I had low moods and didn’t do much, I gained weight while away from comfort eating and binges but I feel so proud of myself for making it this far. Also knowing that this trip was possible thanks to my lost loved one, encouraged me to make the most of it, as I know they would’ve wanted me to.
I am now at the largest size I have ever been, I have stretch marks, cellulite and hardly any clothes which I fit into. Now I want to get into shape a healthy way, but this is still the happiest I have been mentally in a long time. I still need to make a conscious effort but things are looking up and I am determined to not let it take over me again. I am now due to start back at University for my final year, I am prepared for some struggles along the way but I am more ready now than a year ago, I have come a long way.
What I’ve learnt and found helpful
- Being honest with loved ones. Secrecy was one of the biggest issues, sadly this is what it does to you, things wouldn’t have gotten so bad if I wasn’t so good at hiding it until it was so out of hand. I am truly lucky to have understanding loved ones. I can’t say others truly understand but I have come to realise that I shouldn’t expect them to. You need to go through it yourself to really get it, all you can hope is they don’t judge and try to help where they can. No longer being ashamed of what I used to do it is huge relief and that awareness makes me feel safer.
- Being honest with someone new. Opening up to someone new was terrifying, it isn’t something easy to explain to others especially when you don’t really understand yourself. I didn’t want to loose them. I was scared of being seen in a different light, but I felt I needed to be honest and now I’m in a relationship and I couldn’t of imagined having something so normal before. Since meeting him I’ve started to feel so much more like myself, he helps me and was a massive support while I was away travelling.
- Avoiding triggers. Certain foods I would rather not have in the house because I know I can’t be trusted. I will only allow these when out in public. Online I read stories so similar where people would binge on the same trigger foods, it was good to relate. Realise you aren’t alone.
- Stopping obsessive monitoring. I would take pictures and count the calories of EVERYTHING I ever ate, weight myself everytime I walked passed the bathroom, measure my body everytime I changed my clothes. A good day or bad day was determined by these figures, it became time consuming. Stopping this has given me so much more time for things life could be filled with. Stopping this takes time I know, but eventually eliminating these habits which at the time made me feel safe, has made me much happier. It feels amazing now when I look back to how much time I had taken up in my day to realise I don’t need to do any of that anymore. I feel in control of my life more, it is not restricted by all these rules I had in place. I would never have been able to go away with my boyfriend and do the things I have lately if I carried on with them.
- Stop comparing. On Instagram I would follow loads of modelling and dieting accounts, this also consumed so much of my day, became addictive. After unfollowing these I felt much more free.
- Trial and error with what works for you. Trying something which doesn’t work for you can be really disheartening, but try something else. I first went to counselling at my University but it didn’t help me, so I felt a lost cause. My mum was worried about my low moods and my suicidal talks so I tried hypnosis, this helped for a little but I found it hard to keep this positive attitude outside the appointments. I went to see the doctor and tried various antidepressants until I found one which didn’t leave me with terrible headaches and eventually I ended up at an eating disorder clinic. Everyone’s different so find what works for you.
- Distracting myself. As I have had time to myself I’ve needed to distract myself at times. For me I find drawing and reading books relaxing and takes my mind off other things. For me I love nature, walking around outside and enjoying the beauty of the world.
- List the sweet things in life. The world can seem a harsh place at times. On the low days, I’d make a list of the positive things in my life, all the things to appreciate. Adding to this everything gives you something to pick up when you are in need of it.
- Talk to yourself as you would a friend. I realised I’m a kind person who’s understanding of others but for some reason wouldn’t give myself this same care. If someone else is sad and goes to have a lay down I would explain it is okay to take time out, you are tired, you body is therefore asking for rest, so give it that, listen to it. An important thing to remind yourself is that you are poorly! Instead of beating yourself up just allow yourself, you’ll lay in bed either way, the only difference is one way you’re allowing your body to rest, balance your hormones and regain energy. Both options take the same amount of time but one uses energy and feeds depressions and the other gives you energy and is in fact more productive. This supportive version of you can come with you on walks, or wherever you need them to.
- Put a lid on it. I would write the situation on a post-it, (What am I doing? How am I feeling and why? Then put the negative feelings followed by the positive) then place it in a jar and forget about it. Putting it down into physical words and then putting a lid on it helped me get these negative thoughts off my mind.
- Taking care of my pets. Animals showing unconditional love gives me such positive energy. It was also something forcing me to take make the effort to care for them, I’d have no choice.
- Not separating myself. Although one of the worst feelings is isolation and loneliness, I will push others away from me. The perfect answer would be straight on my doorstep but I couldn’t help pushing it away. Socialising seemed daunting or I just really couldn’t be bothered, I’d rather stay at home, yet I was feeling really depressed for being so lonely. For a long time my eating disorder and depression isolated me from everyone, my bedroom was the place I wanted to be. But it does so much good to spend time outside of it, speaking with family or visiting a friend. “Depression is like being in a glass elevator in the middle of a crowded mall, you see everything and would love to join in, but the door won’t open so you can’t.’’
- BUT remove yourself from people who are not good for you. No longer having the people who aren’t true friends around allows you to move on with your life in the way you need, so now the people I have surrounding me are true.
- Educate yourself. Educating yourself with nutrition and depression. A lot of my side effects I didn’t realise were related to my eating habitats and my moods, yet I was convinced there must be some physical reason for this. Even now my body is still adjusting. Once the weight was all back on it still took a while for my periods to start again and I constantly have a bloated stomach.
- Whoa how amazing are our bodies?! It is an incredible thing, no matter what I’ve put it through it springs back and carries on. You are given one body, take care of it, it takes care of you, give it what it needs.
- Listen to the body. I would have too many rules in place. Now if I’m hungry, I will let myself eat, I don’t need to wait for a certain time to elapse, I am allowed a snack between meals, etc.
- Have access to helpful links. There are so many things available which we can read about, helpful ones which you can look at and find courage, it may be similar stories, success stories, positive quotes, whatever it is that gives you hope. I particularly liked;
- The joy projects, 44 recovery projects for eating disorders (http://joyproject.org/overcoming/projects.html)
- The little book of self care By Mel Noakes
- A book I could relate to was — overcoming binge eating by Christopher G. Fairburn.
Recovery is an on going thing, expect setbacks. It is not quick, it is not easy, old habits die hard, but it is not hopeless, even though your condition tells you it is. I have made many mistakes along the way and I’m sure there’ll be more in the future but I’ve wasted so much time on this and I’ve now decided to start living my life, rather than having an existence.
The tale of the two wolves
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed. ~ unknown.