Mental Health and Anorexia
Written by Ben Robinson
Our aim is to encourage people to talk about mental health and help sufferers, parents, friends and professionals deal with anything that is put in front of them.
By providing monthly blog posts covering all aspects of mental health and hosting bi-monthly talks with Q&A’s we hope to work closely with local communities and charities to create a hub of support.
I have been a sufferer of anorexia myself.
As this is our first blog post on anorexia I wanted to tell you my story….
I was 15 when I began to have doubts about my body image. I’d always been a chunky lad, built like a rugby player really. I loved my food, and was always known in school as the ‘human dustbin’. I had never been called fat, and had actually always been a sporty person from a young age. I loved playing tennis and golf, and spent any spare time participating in those sports.
My mates were all slim and good looking, and gradually for the first time in my life, I started to think that I wanted to be like them. So I decided to change my approach to my diet and started to eat ‘healthy’. At the time, this was just simply swapping chocolate and sweets for bananas and fruits. I also decided to join the gym with a view to becoming ‘leaner’ and to ‘build muscle’.
However, knowing what I know now, this is virtually impossible to achieve. I didn’t seek any professional advice regarding the gym. I went in, pumped weights and came out. I hated my chest and arms, so that’s all I trained. Ego lifting! When I returned to school in 2010, after the summer break, lots of people commented on how much better I looked for losing a bit of weight. Comments like this would obviously boost your confidence, which motivated me even more. I initially felt better for it too, and clearly other people had noticed.
So it became my motivation to lose more weight. The exercise increased; I was going to the gym twice daily, and cutting my meals right down. The weight soon began to drop off and suddenly it had turned into an obsession. I decided to cut fat out completely from my diet as I thought that this would help me lose body fat. I gave up weight training, and started to swim. But nothing was ever enough to stay happy. After 6 months of this, I was doing 150 lengths a day, and I ate one yoghurt a day. My initial thoughts of trying to look like my friends had driven me to radically change my lifestyle. I wasn’t true to myself.
I then developed a voice in my head. It told me that I was fat, every minute of every day. Clearly I wasn’t. Everybody could see that. Yet I believed and trusted that voice, rather than the network of friends and family around me. My weight fell to 50kg and positive comments about my weight loss soon stopped. People were now saying I’d gone too far, and to stop dieting, but it was too late. The comments made me feel even lower, you begin to feel unattractive, unloved and the negative comments saying ‘you’re too skinny’ don’t help at all.
The voice in my head had become my new friend. I didn’t believe anything anybody else said, and I now only believed the voice. A few more months went by and I had totally stopped eating. My energy levels were rock bottom, and I was finding it hard to even find the energy to get dressed. Some days, I felt so weak, that I would stay in bed and pretend I was ill.
This led to my admission to hospital and I was put on a re-feeding programme. My weight was 41.7kg, and my body was in starvation mode. It had fed on all my body fat and muscle, and my organs started to become affected. On the first night of my admission, my mum and dad were warned that I might not make it through the night because my body was so weak. The doctors were nearly right, every time I went to sleep my heart rate slowed, and I had to be continuously monitored. Thanks to the medical staff, I made it through that first night, and anyone would think that this would be enough to make me realise the importance of needing to eat. However, if you understood anorexia, you’d know that nothing is a ‘wake up call’.
The medical team decided the only way they could start to control my diet, was to feed me through a nose tube. As much as I didn’t want the tube to be fitted, I had no choice. I stayed in hospital for 6 weeks before a decision was made to transfer me to an inpatient unit for 1 year, whilst being sectioned under the mental act.
During my time in the inpatient unit, things got worse. They were forcing me to eat and stopped my exercise, and took control. This made the illness become more impulsive, to a point where I couldn’t cope with it any more. At this point I didn’t want to get better, and I felt worthless. One day I asked myself ‘what is the point of my life carrying on anymore?’. I took a turn for the worse, and I decided to try and hang myself.
Luckily, I was found by the staff and rescued from the situation. Initially this made me feel even worse, and I continued to have suicidal thoughts, and I would take any opportunity to hurt myself or try to kill myself. The illness was now winning.
After the last suicide attempt, something clicked in me. I decided that I wanted my life to get better, because at this point it couldn’t get any worse. I was scared to take my first steps forward towards recovery, not because I didn’t want to, but because I knew how the illness would make me feel. Anorexia makes you feel horrible regardless of whether you’ve eaten or not, so I decided to bite the bullet and take my first steps forward, and it worked.
Obviously, that first step was very hard to do, and I had days where I gave into the illness. The road to recovery of anorexia is not easy, you have to realise that you will have setbacks, but a setback is not a failure. A set back is a learning curve.
While I was in the inpatient unit, I gradually gained weight, and for any anorexic this is their worst nightmare because it goes against what the illness wants. The word weight gain meant ‘fat’, and every time I was told I had put on weight, I cried. Even though I knew that it was the only way for me to get my life back, my mind couldn’t rationalize the positives of weight gain. Eventually, after months of fighting I achieved a healthy weight. I felt fat, but I didn’t start to restrict my diet because of the weight gain. I continued to eat my meals, and cope with the impulsive thoughts from the voice in my head. When you get to a healthy weight, your brain starts to be able to function properly again, due to it being properly nourished, and I had more strength to deal with the bad thoughts from the anorexia. I can hand on heart say that when you get to a healthy weight, you will feel so much better mentally. BUT just because you’re a healthy weight, this does not mean that you’re fat. Don’t listen to the anorexia, it is just lying to you!
When I was discharged from the unit, this was probably the scariest time of my journey, because I would no longer have that 24/7 care that I’d had for the last year. Initially, after a few weeks of being out of the unit, the illness took control again and I relapsed, and I had lost all the weight I had gained whilst in hospital. BUT….. something stopped me from letting it go too far. I now had the strength to recognize that enough is enough, and fought back against the anorexia. I gradually gained the weight back that I had lost, and from this point on, I went from strength to strength. I got a full time job, whilst battling my illness, which was still very strong, despite being a ‘healthy weight’. The job distracted me from my illness and kept me busy, which meant I didn’t have time to think about the food I had just eaten. As the years went along, I decided that I wanted a career change. Any change in routine whilst you have anorexia is daunting, but at some point in your life, you will have to step outside of your comfort zone. I went into the field of healthcare, into a job that I was once on the receiving end of. The only experts of a mental health problem are the people who have been through a mental health issue themselves. I am now a support worker supporting people going through similar problems that I once went through.
Life is now good. I have a job I love, and I have my own business, which delivers training for professionals who support people suffering from mental health problems. The main thing is, I AM HAPPY. Happiness is a feeling, which 2 years ago, I thought I’d never have again. I still have my bad days, but I don’t listen to the voice. I am able to control the voice, but it’s taken a lot of time, a lot of steps backwards but double the steps forward.
The key to recovery is to believe. Believe that you can get better. Believe that you are worthy of a good life. Believe that you are loved.
Do not let the illness push your family or friends away. They may not understand, but make it your priority to help them understand, because if they know how to help you, then the illness becomes outnumbered. Do the things you love to do, whether that’s a hobby you enjoy (if sport, make sure you’re healthy enough to do it first!), and do something that makes you happy. If it takes your mind off food/weight/anorexic thoughts, then this is a step forward. I now get up and just get on with my day. I make a small goal everyday so that I have something to focus on. If you have a goal, then you have a focus.
Anorexia is no longer my friend. It is now my enemy. Food is no longer an enemy. It is now a friend. I am now well on the way to recovery and I plan to help others along the way. Nothing is impossible and recovering this illness isn’t neither.
We will be hosting our first talk on anorexia with Q&A’s on Thursday 30th November 7pm at the Nutri Bar MediaCityUK shop:
(next to Booths car park, outside the greenhouse building)
All are welcome and please help us spread the word 🙂
If you wish to attend the talk please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm.
Ben Robinson & the Nutri Bar team