I am what you would consider a ‘functioning anorexic’. I live in the community, I hold down a full-time job, I go about daily activities without (on the surface) much difficulty. In short, I function. But I am still anorexic. And this actually makes general life quite difficult. I have to try and do all the normal things that most people do, whilst at the same time I am dominated by my anorexic mind. I have normal things to do and anorexic things to do and this is a very tiring and time consuming way of living.
But because I appear to function ‘ok’-I’m not losing weight, I’m not critically ill, I can get by day to day without the need for much concern…this all means that I do not warrant specialised help or treatment. Yet in my mind I am struggling. But because my physical side of things are all not at serious risk, then I am left to just plod along, as the functioning anorexic. My physical side is functioning but my mind is trapped by anorexia. So yes I function, but I don’t live. And is it right to just leave someone with merely an existence? Isn’t a human life worth more than that? Can I not be given the help to allow me to experience living in the true sense of the word? Apparently not.
My mind is in constant conflict…do I want to get better, do I want to stay anorexic? Part of me does, part of me doesn’t. I want to make a change but I am terrified to. And now I know I am at the point where I am tittering on the edge of making that change, but I just need a gentle push to tip me over. And I know how I can get that push. I am desperate, and have been for the best part of a year, to see a specialist eating disorder consultant/psychiatrist. My consultant that I had in my most recent hospital admission was fantastic and played a huge part in getting me to the point where I was ready to try and give life beyond anorexia and hospital a go. But on transfer to the community, I had to be placed under the care of the consultant working for the local community team. And since my discharge 5 years ago, I have had over 7 changes in consultant, all of whom have had no knowledge of eating disorders, and haven’t been able to give me any help or advice in any way, shape or form. My annual meeting with such consultants have simply consisted of a conversation asking if I maintain my weight, if I take my medication and if I agree with my Community Treatment Order. They are, quite a frankly, a waste of time.
I do appreciate that not every trust in the country can have specialist eating disorder consultants but it is not acceptable to be shunted from pillar to post between consultants that aren’t equipped to deal with you or treat you properly. If you have a heart condition; you see a cardiac specialist, if you have a stomach/bowel problem; you see a gastroenterologist. For all physical problems you see the relevant physical specialist. So why is this not the case for mental illness?
It just so happens that for the past year, I have had trouble with my stomach. And it is for this reason that my community nurse has finally agreed to send me to an eating disorder consultant. But this is going to be a one-off appointment to merely address the physical issue of my stomach. And I am not allowed to see the consultant I would like (the one from my previous admission who works in the hospital down the road from me), oh no…I have to travel into the heart of London to a see a psychiatrist my nurse wants me to see. And it is purely for the physical issue, nothing else. I have begged, pleaded and cried in desperation to my nurse to be allowed to see an eating disorder psychiatrist for years, to help me with my mental state. But no. I’m a functioning anorexic, not a deteriorating anorexic and therefore I am not allowed. It would seem giving me the one thing to help turn me from a functioning anorexic to a living person is not deemed necessary.
So I am left to merely exist. To see a specialist eating disorder consultant, like the one I had from my previous hospital admission, I know would help give me that push to turn my existence into a life. Is it not worth allowing me to have this opportunity? The answer is no-I’m functioning and therefore no one will apply for funding for me…so I have to continue as I am with my local community team who, when it comes down to it, no nothing and cannot help me. I carry on with my existence, mentally suffering but physically functioning.
Take my medication for example. I have been on the same medication since my hospital discharge in 2011. My consultant in the hospital spent a long time making sure I had the right combination of drugs at the right dosages. But five years later, these have not been looked at once. I have always just been told by my community consultants to just carry on with them as they are. It is never reviewed. But drugs like this need to be monitored. I am changing and my mood is changing and I have been asking for well over a year to have a medication review by an eating disorder psychiatrist…only they will know the types of drugs, combinations and dosages that are suitable for someone like me. But because I am this ‘functioning anorexic’ I do not warrant funding to see a specialist, so this week I had to see my current consultant (who I have never met before and is only in place for a few weeks) for this long awaited medication review. And my god what an utter absurdity it was.
My consultant had no knowledge whatsoever of eating disorders, told me I should eat more (despite the fact I am maintaining my weight), had no knowledge of my current medication or why it was prescribed; asking me if my anti-depressants were for depression or for sleep…seriously, how can someone who doesn’t know how I have suffered with depression and anxiety for years be placed to review what I need? So, after explaining to her that I feel very down at the moment, what does she think the best thing is to do? Reduce my medication! It is unbelievable. And I have since been advised by my nurse that I am not to do this. It is an absolute farce.
There are now over 300 beds throughout the UK for eating disorder patients. This may seem like a large number but in relation to the amount of sufferers, it is minimal. And it would appear that unless you are ill enough to occupy one of these beds, you are left with what your postcode has to offer. I appreciate that NHS budgets are tight but can you really put a cost on a life? Everyone who is ill, physically or mentally, deserves the right to receive appropriate treatment. Just because one person may not be as ‘ill’ as another, does not mean they don’t deserve specialised treatment.
Is it fair that because I am a ‘functioning anorexic’ and my local community team doesn’t have a specialist eating disorder consultant, that I am just left…left to get on with it, left without anyone with specific knowledge, left without anyone who can help me, left to wilt away…because yes, at the moment I do function, but if I carry on as I am-my health, whilst not in grave danger but remaining very much sub-optimal, will kill me well before I reach old age. And all I am asking is to see someone that can help me. I suffer with a mental illness and I need psychological help.
Someone like myself, who lives in a different area where there is a specialist eating disorder consultant as part of the community team, will have ready access to this help. I do not think it is unreasonable that for those of us who are not fortunate enough to live in areas with such specialists, to be allowed care and treatment by a specialist, albeit from a different area/trust. Is it really that much to ask to have an illness treated by the doctors that know how to? To be given the chance to have a life?
The words from Katy Perry’s song ‘Firework’ seem very relevant here:
“Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind wanting to start again?
Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin, like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?
Do you ever feel already buried deep, six feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing?”
This is how I feel at the moment. I am struggling under my ‘functioning’ surface and I just want someone to help me WANT and act on making a change. The song goes on to say that there is still a chance for you, that you don’t have to feel like a waste of space, that maybe the reason why all the doors are closed is so you can open one that leads you to the perfect road. All I am asking is that I have the door opened to an eating disorder psychiatrist to help set me on my way down my perfect road.