I Learned To Love Food Again
When asked if I would be prepared to share my story about my experience with an eating disorder I jumped at the opportunity. It distresses me to think of the amount of people living every day with this illness so I would like this to be a message of hope. That it is possible to recover and live full, productive lives.
I am now in my fifties and my struggle with this illness took place many years ago, starting in my late teens until my mid -twenties. Eating disorders were not commonly talked about or widely understood then and I simply did not understand for some time that I actually had a problem.
Looking back I realise I was probably experiencing depression for reasons that I now see more clearly. This resulted in for one thing, me eating unhealthy food, not exercising and therefore gaining weight.
When I finally acknowledged the amount of weight I had gained I decided to take control and embarked on a drastically restrictive diet and cut out all ‘junk’ food. This then progressed to practically starving myself as I saw that I was losing weight and people began commenting on it. I became obsessed with becoming thinner and thinner. I never saw myself as TOO thin. I could never be thin enough. I began incorporating exercise into my life and would go jogging at all hours of the night and also jog on the spot any chance I got. Anorexia nervosa progressed to bulimia when I discovered that I could actually enjoy eating food and then purge myself. This progressed from an occasional event to something that I would do after practically every meal given the opportunity. I was obsessed with my weight, weighing myself several times a day at least.
I managed to live like this for some time, hiding it from everyone, even my husband. Then I started experiencing panic attacks. These would happen in most social situations and in shopping centers, banks or anywhere I felt ‘unsafe’ or vulnerable. Writing or signing my name in front of anyone induced absolute panic. I often felt dissociated from my body as if I had no control over it and my hands would shake uncontrollably.
I started using alcohol as a crutch in all social situations. I was a registered nurse and had access to pills. Valium, or Ativan would help me through some days. Sometimes mixed with alcohol. One evening I took a combination of pills and alcohol, got in my car, lost consciousness and drove into a lamppost. My car was a write off. I don’t know how I survived. I was not even injured.
Eventually I had to stop nursing. My hands shook too badly for me to even perform routine procedures. For me that has been the hardest thing to accept as I was an excellent nurse and loved my job.
I woke every day to the fear of what situation I would face that day that would induce a panic attack. Many days were spent hiding inside eating and purging. Finally I did get help. I was lucky enough to have a brother who was a Doctor and in desperation I went to him not understanding what was wrong with me. He referred me to a clinical psychologist. She saved my life. That was literally how I felt.
This analytical therapy took time and intensive, soul searching work but one day I went out for lunch with my mother and did not purge after. This was a turning point for me. I have not purged since.
Gradually, over time and with continued therapy the panic attacks lessened and my relationship with food became better. I learned to love food again and not punish myself for eating.
Over the years I have raised two beautiful, healthy children and cherish my relationship with them.
I have owned and managed three small businesses, finding skills and resources within myself that I did not even know existed!
Sport has been a big part of my life. I went back to playing tennis again, after being coached and playing at school but then letting it go. I have been an active member of my local tennis club and served on the committee in one capacity or another for years. I still play pennants twice a week. I discovered weight resistance training in my forties and this has become a passion for me. I LOVE being strong and showing off my muscles.
I am actually STILL thankful that every day I can eat three meals, have a treat after dinner, enjoy a glass of wine on the weekend and never feel guilty about it. Yes, I do eat well though. Eating healthily and having a sound knowledge of food and what I am consuming is important to me. In my fifties I feel that I am in the best shape of my life and am fit, strong and healthy.
So in essence what I want to say is that it IS possible to recover from an eating disorder. That it IS possible to go on and live a full, productive, healthy life. I am proof of this.
Help is readily available. Seek that help, accept it and believe that there will be better days ahead.
Above all: be kind to yourself!