Eating disorders and birthdays. Now for many people this is a day to look forward to, a day to celebrate. People get excited, have parties, eat cake, open presents, spend time with friends and family…a day for you to be special-it’s YOUR day. But not me. The thought of my birthday fills me with dread. I hate it. And I have always hated it. I know what you’re thinking…”God this girl is bloody miserable. She even turns birthdays into a negative event.”
But I can’t help it. Throughout my whole life there has been one consistent factor in my mind – I do not want to get older. I spent my childhood longing to pause time, to freeze me in that child state. And then I spent my teenage and adult years wishing I could go back in time, to go back to being a child. My childhood was fun and I was full of hope, ambition and dreams. And that is a big problem with getting older. As each year passes by it feels like my dreams are slipping further away. Another birthday is just another year passed when I haven’t achieved my dreams and another year less for me to be able to achieve them.
For well over 15 years now, on the lead up to my birthday, when asked what I wanted to do, what presents I wanted, I would always reply with the same answer: “I want to forget my birthday. I don’t want anything, I don’t want to celebrate. I want it to pass with insignificance.” When I was 17, I decided to postpone my birthday by 10 months. That’s how much I hated my birthday.
I wanted to avoid my 18th birthday. I wanted to avoid it like the plague. Turning 18 means you are officially an adult. My worst fear. I agonised and cried in the build up to this. I so did not want to be 18. Despite this, I ended up still managing to enjoy the occasion. I had a bouncy castle party with friends the evening before my birthday. I then spent my birthday with family. And I chose my favourite meal – my mums home-made chicken chasseur followed by her speciality chocolate cake.
This birthday was the last birthday I celebrated and the last time I had a special birthday meal. From then on, birthdays were dominated by anorexia, hospitals and a fight for life. My concern was no longer not wanting to become an adult, but not wanting to live anymore. Not wanting to have to spend another year living this torturous life in the hands of anorexia. Eating disorders and birthdays were horrid.
Take my 21st for example. This is a momentous birthday for many. A celebratory milestone. But for my 21st, I spent the day trekking round the streets, walking for hour after hour. I was a very low weight and my nurse was threatening a hospital admission. We didn’t celebrate it much…yes my mum and dad did try and make an effort and they bought me a few presents. But my deteriorating physical state was riddling them with anxiety. They were worried their daughter was soon to be taken from them. If I wasn’t going to be taken by hospital then I was going to be taken by death. And the last thing on my mind was my birthday. Eating disorders and birthdays? Anorexia doesn’t allow space for birthdays. Oh no, all that mattered was weight loss and the means to achieve this.
And this week, on Saturday 17th September, I had my 28th birthday. And, as usual I didn’t particularly want to celebrate it. Birthdays now just remind me of the time I have wasted and the time I continue to waste with anorexia. I spent many years going in and out of hospital, devoting myself to being anorexic, and it did in a way, freeze my life. I wasn’t making the usual progressions, reaching the same milestones as everyone else…my life was on hold. But the birthdays continued to tick by year after year, my age slowly creeping up, but my life situation not reflecting this. However, I was oblivious to this whilst in the deep grips of anorexia, until the years following my most recent discharge in 2011, when I started to make an attempt at some sort of life again.
So now I have turned 28 and I do not want to waste another year. I do not want to be in this same situation in a year’s time. But whilst I acknowledge this, I must also recognise that actually, this past year, my year of being 27, I have taken a lot of baby steps and made a fair few changes. Progress has been made. This has been easy to forget with my birthday and turning another year older. My previous experiences of eating disorders and birthdays have made them hard to deal with each year when they arise.
But actually, my birthday this weekend was one like I would have wished for previously. I went out for a meal the evening before with the ladies from work which was nice and I have another meal planned with my two best friends from work this coming week as a belated ‘party’ to which I am really looking forward to. I spent my actual birthday at work. To my surprise when I returned from my 15minute break in the afternoon; I was greeted with balloons, a cake with candles and everyone singing “Happy Birthday”. And I have to say this truly touched me…that they actually cared enough to do this for me. They had taken the thought and effort to do this and it was completely unexpected. I could not believe that they did this…for ME! This small gesture made my day.
And I must not forget the progress I have made this year. I have been out for my first meal in a restaurant in nearly a decade…and not just one meal but quite a few! I have started to form really proper friendships; making what I hope to be true friends. I have been to the cinema, I’ve eaten cheese, I weigh myself far less frequently… these are just a few of the steps I have taken. So actually, if can continue to make these small changes, continue progressing in my 28th year like I did in my 27th, then I won’t be in this same situation next year and who knows where I will be, or what I will have achieved.
And it is down to me to do it. I will have to be brave and I will have to take risks. This is terrifying. But so is the thought of remaining a chronic, lonely anorexic for the rest of my life. I have to keep pushing myself…life will not wait for me. I do not want to look back in 10 years’ time with deep regret and the only thing to console me being that I am anorexic. Anorexia is not a substitute for life.