Facts and Fiction

I thought anorexia was a thing…like, a good thing. I didn’t know it was a mental illness, I just thought it was a term used to describe someone who was thin, who was good at resisting food. Willpower, strength and thinness…the things I was desperate for. And I was desperate to be able to call myself anorexic.

That was over 10 years ago now, when I had no idea what in fact anorexia, or ‘being anorexic’ truly meant. I learned about it during my A-Level Psychology lessons. Not in any great detail, just about the signs/symptoms and the potential biological/environmental triggers. A 2017 study found 34% of British adults could not name a sign or symptom of an eating disorder, and 77% of those that could, could not name a psychological symptom. Yet eating disorders are mental illnesses.
And when I was studying eating disorders during my A-Level Psychology, the one thing it really taught me was that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough yet to be considered to have anorexia. The symptoms we learnt about in Psychology were generally the physical signs – weight loss, being underweight, refusing to eat normally. Well, I wasn’t any of that, so I wasn’t good enough. And I was determined that had to change. And university would be my opportunity.
So you can see from that I was clearly being gripped mentally by anorexia…but the physical signs weren’t there. And the thoughts got stronger and stronger until I finally went away to university and could put the thoughts into action. And our country fails us. Fails to treat us immediately when signs and symptoms are displayed. The average wait between displaying signs and receiving treatment…what do you reckon? What do you think would be an acceptable time-frame from displaying the symptoms to receiving treatment from the deadliest mental illness?
Well I can tell you it’s 3 years. And that is just appalling. Not only are signs and symptoms not recognised, but when they are recognised we are told they are not severe enough, that we are not quite thin enough to be granted any help. So eventually, when we have lost enough weight that we are blue lighted to hospital, anorexia has such a strong hold, and has done so much damage to our bodies that it makes recovery seemingly impossible.
As I said at the start – I thought anorexia was just ‘a thing’. And yes, anorexia had poisoned my mind and actually made me feel happy when people told me that I had it (although it also made me believe that I wasn’t good enough at it and had to do it better). But I was also convinced that this ‘thing’ this ‘anorexia’ was just something I would do for a couple of years and then stop. But anorexia (and all mental illness) does not work like that. It is not something we choose or can stop at the snap of a finger. Anorexia takes away all choices and it will never let you stop. Not without help anyway. And that help needs to come sooner than 3 years if we have any chance of survival.
It has been over 10 years now since I displayed the physical symptoms of anorexia…many more years with the psychological. And yes, I have received some good help in that time (and also some very bad) but now, not being in hospital and not being severely underweight means the continued support and treatment isn’t there. And this needs to change as well. The average sufferer waits 3 years to get any help and as soon as they put on a bit of weight and leave hospital (demonstrating a reduction in the physical signs), they are left to fight the psychological symptoms alone again. But living life as a ‘functioning anorexic’…that is no life. And it is not just ‘a thing’. Before you know it, years, decades have been lost to anorexia…the evil plague of the mind. Immediate…and continued help is needed.
The lyrics from a Girls Aloud song seem very relevant here:

My life got cold
It happened many years ago…
And long ago 
I lost my soul
To some forgotten dream and
How was I supposed to know
It wasn’t what it seemed

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