My Story

I have had symptoms of an eating disorder for as long as I can remember. Sucking in my stomach hard before I would let myself fall asleep. Throwing off my clothes when I came home from school preferring baggier and looser material. At 16, I noted weight gain following a more mature metabolism and decided enough was enough.

I took out snacking and felt lunch was an unnecessary luxury. Surviving years on only breakfast and dinner worked well for me. I slimmed down and used carbonated beverages as a means of guarding off hunger. I would feel tired, emotional and irritable. My menstruation stopped and eventually so did my  hunger. Friends commented on my new figure positively and I gained a confidence in my appearance that I had never had before. 

This lasted from 16 until I was 21. A trip to India with university colleagues saw my weight drop further. I liked the change. My confidence was soaring as my hair was thinning. Down to one meal a day, occasional weeks grazing on only water and undressed leaves. To the outside world, I felt I was reflecting happiness and an ability to take on anything. I was powerful. Pounding the streets 5 days out of 7, running half a marathon as a saturday jog. I was exactly the person I hoped to be when I was younger and I believed I was happy. Only I avoided breakfasts with friends, preferred space alone rather than spent with peers and I had millions of superficial relationships. One birthday I waited to see how many people would think to invite me out, rather than myself constantly taking the lead and being the one who arranged gatherings. No one called.  Realisation was then dawning. My hard, straight lined exterior was actually housing an empty and rather painful loneliness.

Grove Tuesday at 22, following a regular get together with two local friends, I encouraged carry outs of the left over pancakes. They refused and left. Before I knew what was happening, I shoveled pancakes down my throat over and over. They had never been intended for me. My jacket was on. Suddenly I considered walking to the shops and purchasing Easter eggs and ice cream; foods that had not passed my mouth for over 6 years. My conscious picked up, pleading with myself not to do it. Imagining the disgust of eating fat, sugar and carbs versus  the imagination of how good it would feel for the sweet delights I had desired for so long to touch my lips and slide down into my insides. My thoughts split and a battle inside my mind begun. 
I left the apartment and marched with purpose and desperation to the local 24 hour shop, stood with the resident alcoholics stocking up their baskets with white lightening and lambrini. Mine a basket high with chocolate, ice creams, magnums, sweets, all my childhood favourites. My own addictions emerging. Wrappers opened in the streets and foods forced down. Eyes down so no one could see my disgrace. 

Waking to the realisation of my actions, a bloated abdomen and a definite new layer of adipose tissue saw punishing days without food. Food was not deserved and hunger my prescribed punishment. I hated myself.

This cycle, despite how much I loathed it, continued. Binges with restriction. Only the feeling of full became unbearable and vomiting was added in to the chaos. Vomiting up to 4/5 time a day, at least every day for years. Amidst medical school finals, my parents break up, my own relationship break up, chaotic eating became the unwelcome common denominator in my life. It was an unsteady crutch I wanted to be able to walk without. There was an admission to the priory and regular ill health.  Yet throughout, external smiles and an ability to perform. A performance of happiness with desperation lurking from the wings. When will this torment just leave  me alone to get on with my life? Friends and family tried, but failed, growing frustrated at me for not just ceasing the binges. I had had willpower before, so in their minds eating must be something I chose not to control now.

I sought help and began with a therapist. This continued off and on for 6 years until largely I was asymptomatic. The work dark, gruelling but necessary. I still have work to do. For 10 years my mental health acted out in a chronic self abusive manner on my body, leaving long term physical defects that are hard to now rectify. Infertility, tears in my diaphragm, osteoporosis, poor glucose control and an ongoing physiological and psychological reliance on laxatives'.

Following years of fear from my own eating disorder, I am afraid for others and theirs. I desperately want to raise awareness of the more chronic medical aspect of mental health conditions such as eating disorders and bring this in to the uneducated primary health care setting. It is also important families are aware of the importance of supporting their own during this condition, not forming judgemental opinions or belittling the disease. It is so easily hidden by unmeaning deceitful behaviour. It is an addiction of its own category. A glorified form of alcoholism or drug abuse. With this in mind, they need help and we need to help them. It is a growing contagious disease. Lets try and treat it sooner rather than later.


Jenna Burton

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