“How did I end up like this?” was a question I constantly asked myself whilst in firm grasp of my Anorexia, I never really got an answer, it was more of an angry hiss for me to stop asking questions. “When did this happen?” was another question I kept screaming at myself – again no answer. This evil, twisted monster seemed to have stolen in to my body overnight and consumed every part of me. I was a husk – dried out and withered – like the annoying empty kernel of a pistachio nut that lurks in the bottom of a nibbles bowl. And that’s how I felt – I was a nuisance, disappointing and utterly useless.
So when did it start? It’s strange, I can’t outright put a finger on when I became anorexic, because for so long I didn’t think I was. My mum says she first began to worry about me roughly 2 years ago in the summer of 2012 – ironically at a charity fun run at which we were running for the South Yorkshire Eating Disorder Association, SYEDA. A charity which remains very close to our family after the tragic death of my cousin who sadly succumbed to Anorexia. At this point I was just finishing up the first year of my level 3 college course in Interactive Media – I had managed to get distinction grades in all but 2 subjects and I had been going to the gym for roughly a year and had reached a weight I was finally more comfortable with. I pretty much had everything I wanted. I was happy. But what happens when you have everything you want? Where do you go? Especially when you’ve had to rebuild your life from nothing only to realise the only foundation you think you have are your looks and your grades? Suddenly those two distinctions I didn’t get became an itch. Suddenly the feeling of my clothes against my skin became a constant ache. My perception of what I needed to achieve had shifted and unfortunately the goalposts had become smaller and I was basically Wayne Rooney with the broken metatarsals. No way was I ever going to score the goal I needed to win this strange game I was playing. And somehow as the months progressed the goal became smaller and smaller, the ball became bigger and bigger and I became more and more broken.
College started again in September and I resolved to do better this year, suddenly University was becoming a very real prospect – we had to apply this year and I had already very much decided I wanted to go to York to study Film and Television Production. Our tutors began to hype up how competitive placements were, so suddenly I found myself not just playing this ridiculously dangerous game of achievement by myself, suddenly I had 500 ghosts all aiming for the same goal. How do you compete with something that isn’t there? How do you compete against something that will always be better than you? Try as you might, you will always lose. Now I wasn’t only trying to do better at college, this year I had decided I would get Distinctions for all 9 of my Units – I didn’t need to, I was more than qualified for my Uni course and could have sailed by with Merits alone but I had to outdo myself, I had to make sure I was better than 500 completely fictitious people. It all started out great, the first few assignments were easy and the Distinctions rolled in, it was almost too easy. Suddenly there was no joy in getting a Distinction, it wasn’t surprising anyone and I began to get bored with that and so my goals and sense of achievement shifted hugely again, to focus more on my weight, after all people were still complimenting me on my looks and my 12 month transformation in which I had dropped roughly 35kgs. There was still a sense of achievement here, the rush of ecstasy that surged through me every time someone said how much better I looked became the only sense of joy I could find. This led to me becoming paranoid that if I gained weight I would disappoint everyone and so I had only one direction to go and stumbled blindly on, chasing this ideal image and life that lurked just out of reach, shrouded in shadows and whispering sweet-nothings to sway any ounce of doubt from my mind.
Things were getting bad, I was beginning to occasionally think “I have a problem” but I soon dismissed the notion from my mind – I was still managing to function from day to day so was I really doing anything wrong? By December I had cut my portions right down and was gyming more than ever. The depression began to really creep in in about December. My lack of food was making me grumpy and tired, I literally began to hate everyone. College was a nightmare – there were times where I would have to go to the toilets and just shake and cry for most of a lesson which only exhausted me further. This broke me, I decided I needed help so I went to the GP. A male GP who I must say I wasn’t greatly fond of. I told him about my depression and worries about eating. “It’s just the winter blues” was his expert medical advice. I was so angry, yet I smiled and thanked him – Anorexia had won – even the doctor didn’t think there was that much of an issue. Looking back I almost feel like the doctor gave me my own noose, tied it for me and walked me to the gallows. No way was I healthy, no way should there have been any doubt in his mind that there was something dark, twisted and sinister lurking beneath the surface.
After the GP visit, Christmas came and went as did my birthday. They were a good few days – it was remarkably easy to find an excuse to give myself those days off. For my birthday we went to watch the new Hobbit film – I enjoyed it but I was also incredibly troubled by it -particularly Gollum. The sunken, bulging eyes, the emaciated frame, thinning hair and pallid skin were all too familiar but it was his behaviour that truly surprised me. The conversation he had between himself were all too close to the bone to my Anorexia and me. Anorexia constantly telling me I was stupid, worthless and that she was all I needed. A cruel mistress. I also recognised the look in Gollum’s eyes – that look of longing, yearning and bitter jealousy. I had seen it all too often, especially within the last few months, I had become more and more obsessed with other people and within the last few months Ann Hathaway had become the It Girl. The press flaunted her in front of us, oohing and aahing over her weightloss for her role as Fantine. It was everything I wanted. I tried my best to find her secret, to see if she had let it slip how she had done it. But no, she was resolutly keeping that to herself, a decision I applaud her for now but at the time I hated her for it. Why did she get to be happy and thin while I was left floundering in self pity and drowning in my obsession with the size of stomach.
So now I had a new goal. Beat Ann. It sounds so stupid now, but it became my everything, all I wanted was to look like her so the gyming became more and the eating became less. This went on for most of January, my weight dropped fairly quickly, my energy levels were becoming painfully non-existent yet somehow I was pushing harder than ever until disaster struck and I pulled a muscle. The gym became a nightmare, yet I pushed through the pain. Though it eventually became to much and I had to go to the doctor. I booked with a different doctor – a small part of me hoping he’d pick up on the twisted monster writhing around in side of me, or at least hear the pitiful moan of the voice I had locked away. He felt my legs, or the little that there was of them, yet he said nothing beyond “Yup, a strained muscle is all. You should be up and running in about a week” and I was sent on my way. Part of me was heartbroken, but Anorexia was so smug – “See, nothing wrong, your body is just useless. Try harder” And so I did.
February came and Les Miserables was here. I was finally going to see if I had truly beaten Ann. It was not the euphoric moment I had been waiting for. Seeing Fantine’s demise was like watching something from the grizzliest of horror films. The realisation that I had been aspiring to get the body of a 19th century French prostitute who was suffering from malnutrition and tuberculosis was too much. Even I Dreamed A Dream became that much more poignant – it began to sound like my own funeral dirge. That was it. I knew I needed help. My weight was plummeting, people were beginning to comment. I heard “his legs are matchsticks” being whispered in tones of revulsion and disgust. Suddenly I wasn’t desirable, I was a freak and yet I couldn’t bring myself to fix it. I told my mum, part of me was still in slight denial about the whole thing. We booked an appointment with another GP, this time opting for a female doctor in the hopes she might be more relateable and that she was. She was extremely pleasant but again looking back she was completely out of her depth – my routine with her become weekly visits where she would weigh me and ask me how I was feeling.
My weight continued to steadily plummet and my body began to consume itself. She eventually decided to book an appointment with South Yorkshire Eating Disorder Services, SEDs but the appointment was a month away in the middle of May. The time running up the SEDs appointment was Hell. There were days I woke up shaking and hardly able to walk, college just became too demanding and I had to stop going in – I was so weak I couldn’t go more than about 3 hours without a sleep and yet still in my room I exercised and Anorexia told me I was doing alright – but could be pushing harder. I was slowly losing my ability to even function – I couldn’t read even the most basic of books, following TV shows became impossible – even Masterchef was too complex for me to follow. I still remember trying to watch Game Of Thrones and thinking Robb and Jon were the same person. Eventually I was reduced to nothing more than an overgrown child, clutching at my soft toys just to feel close to something because I could feel Anorexia ripping me further and further away from everything I loved. By the last few weeks I wasn’t even able to wear jeans because they cut my hip bones, sitting down was agony because my bones were literally cutting through my skin. I had blood taken one week and my entire arm bruised and went dark blue. I was a mess. I no longer even recognised myself, this thing that lurked the house in his dad’s dressing gown, a pair of much-too-large sweatpants and a woolly hat pulled firmly down over my face like an undertaker’s mask. I was constantly cold and shivering – having to wear long johns and running tights just to keep warm.
The SEDs appointment finally came – I got all dressed up for it, putting on my nicest clothes – like getting dressed up for a party. I knew I looked a fright, I just at least wanted them to see some hint of the person I once was. I put on my nicest boots – a pair of grenadier style boots – and found to my horror that I could hardly walk in them, they were just too heavy. I had reached a point where even walking with a pair of boots was nigh on impossible. The entire outfit was just a mistake, my coat was too heavy and my shoulders ached, my jeans were cutting into my coccyx with every step and yet still I was freezing whilst my dad stood there in a t-shirt. The meeting was an eye opener – they literally took one look at me and said I had to do something – they gave me a few tips for ways I could maybe start improving my diet and booked me an appointment at the Northern General Hospital in 2 days time. I didn’t follow their advice and those 2 days passed by slower than you could possibly imagine. Every time I had one of my little powernaps I feared I wouldn’t wake up – part of me hoped I wouldn’t – it would have been so much easier.
Though I did survive those 2 days it was by the skin my brittle teeth. I met the doctor, a stern man who I had been warned about – he didn’t sugarcoat things and made no attempts to make me feel comfortable or at ease – he reminded me of Doctor House, but a little more feral and angry looking. It was more like an interrogation than a consultation. His questions were sharp and abrupt – about my behaviours, what I ate before the anorexia, what I liked, what I did, who I was, why I was like this. Did I want to recover? I couldn’t even answer that, I just cried awful, long, exhausting tears.
Then he had to “inspect” me. I was stripped bare in a little windowless room with only him and a mirror and that was when everything shattered. Suddenly I saw me for me – how had I missed the fact my entire torso was bruised from the tautness of my skin? How had I missed the fact all my body hair was falling out? My skin was dry and disintegrating? The fact my ribs cast their own individual shadows? The way my eyes sank into my face? The fact I had a tail and what looked like wings? I looked like a battery hen. “Help” was all I could say. Then he weighed me, the first time I was weighed without clothes. “40kgs”. That gave me a BMI of 12 – apparently in the male spectrum of Anorexia it was one of the worst he had personally seen. I weighed more than that when I was 11.
I was checked in to the hospital there and then – although it took until 10pm for me to actually get my bed because they had to disinfect my room – I was exhausted, afraid and paranoid. But my actual stay in hospital is a story for another post.