Lauren, 23. Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa.
Name, age, occupation: Lauren, 23, Editorial Assistant.
Mood today: Inconsistently restless and spritely.
Wine, coffee or green smoothie? Coffee, gin or anything with elderflower.
Vices: Stubborn, impatient and unintentionally abrupt.
Virtues: I’d like to think I’m fair, generous and genuinely caring.
Best thing anyone has ever said to you: You’ve helped and inspired me.
If you weren’t an Editorial Assistant what would you be: I’d LOVE to be a photojournalist, travel and write.
What’s in your Headcase?
Anorexia Nervosa, with occasional Bulimia Nervosa behaviours. Oh, and anxiety, but that’s a bit of a given!
When did you first notice things might not be quite…. ‘ right’.
It’s pretty hard to pin down, but in its very early days I’d been dieting throughout my second year of University, ahead of travelling to Indonesia for a month over the summer. When my digestive system got out of whack towards the end of my trip, I started to feel overwhelmingly uneasy about eating and just staying full. I was sick a couple of times, and after realising it helped ease my discomfort, it started to become more of a self-induced habit.
At the start of my third and final year at Uni, my sister became very ill with mental health issues, and my already restrictive ‘healthy’ eating spiralled into anorexia nervosa. I was restricting myself to a three-figure daily calorie intake (a fair amount of which shortly stayed down, but probably not enough) where my day and my diet was rigidly bound by a limited and painfully structured routine.
The obsessive calorie counting, planning, and taking any and every opportunity to just move more and more led my health to rapidly decline, and I spent the last few months in and out of my doctor’s and A&E. My white blood count was dangerously low, I felt faint and dizzy, my legs swelled up and I felt overwhelmingly ill.
What were the symptoms?
I was depressed, stressed and desperate to ‘find out’ what was making me so ill. My dissertation was due, and spending the night of my 21st birthday in A&E with legs and ankles like balloons (hardly difficult, given their Twiglet-like state) I still failed to fully recognise that it was I who’d put myself here. They tested for DVT, named HIV (that was relaxing…) and took copious amounts of blood tests, throwing in a comment about looking “very thin” or “underweight” every now and then. The idea that I had an eating disorder and was sending myself to an early deathbed was never directly addressed.
How did you feel
I’d always been unhappy with how I looked. I went to an all-girls Secondary school, fairly overweight, and yes there was banter. And it WAS banter; I laughed it off and even made jokes about myself, but all the while seemingly comfort-eating and going round in circles. Submerging into full-on Anorexia was a way for me to cope with the traumatic day-to-day situation that was developing back at home. Knowing I’d have my 150 calorie dinner, throw it back up and still feel shit about it was at least something I could expect and rely on…it was routine.
Do you know why it started?
I knew I was ill, but my brain was so absorbed by the routine, constant calorie counting, body-checking and 24/7 state of being unwell that I failed to grasp what had happened to me.
Did you know what it was, or what to do?
One day I nearly passed out after eating only a sachet of porridge and a couple of Doritos my friends had been snacking on, and in a strange moment it became all a bit 'real'. A couple of my friends stopped me, tried to tell me I’d lost too much weight and taken it too far. We argued, and things didn’t change.
How long did you wait before telling anyone?
Unable to see it myself, I couldn’t talk to anyone. My boyfriend at the time had recently moved to Wales, and whilst supporting me throughout my sister’s illness, had failed to really see (or perhaps choose to see) or address what state I was in. It was my dad who sat me down and told me I’d got an eating disorder and needed to get help. I ended my relationship with my boyfriend, and it was left somewhat unresolved.
Who did you talk to?
I had a hard-hitting appointment with my GP and he referred me for secondary help, starting a long-winded process of referral after referral after referral, until I got an appointment. After two meetings I “slipped through the net”, and it took several more months until I finally got accepted as an outpatient at an Eating Disorder clinic nearby.
What help did you get?
My appointments started as monthly check-ups; they checked my mood and my weight, and it was a pretty brutal reality check. With a BMI of less than 17, they said I needed to inform the DVLA, because I shouldn’t be driving. Ah, the many things I didn’t know about being seriously underweight…!
A general check-up eventually turned into a weekly appointment with my therapist, whom I’m still seeing a year later.
How are you now?
I’m into the healthy weight range with a BMI of just below 20, so I’ve come a long way. I still attend weekly appointments and I’m desperately trying to shake the final grip it’s still got on me.
What was the moment you remember things changed for the better?
After my dad sat me down that first time, the moment I remember things changing is the afternoon I came home after they told me I wasn’t allowed to drive any more. It was such a shock to have the real, consequential world crash into my life like that. I cried all I could, and then ate some crumpets oozing with butter and marmite; a favourite I’d not tasted in so long! Then I went to Tesco and bought myself some Galaxy counters and strawberry fizzy laces. Strawberry laces cure most things, right?
Who helped you the most?
My family have been incredibly patient, understanding and supportive. Letting me go at my own pace (which I’m grateful for) they didn’t push or force me, and have tried to make sure I’m always moving forwards. My friends have been invaluable, again patient, understanding and supportive, but with a bit more fire and ooomph. They’ve never been afraid to tell me how it is, wholly eager for me to get better and live a life they told me I deserved.
What is the best piece of advice you were given?
You are always worth it. (‘l’Oréal forgot the ‘always’ part. It’s important.)
What worked best for you?
Weekly appointments with my therapist have been a Godsend. There’s also an eating disorder community on Instagram, which is far too often criticised but has been vital throughout my recovery.
What you would say to anyone who’s suffering similar things, or to yourself in that state?
You are worth recovering for! Life can be SO much more than you’re allowing for yourself, and you deserve to enjoy every moment of it. It’s so hard, but why waste another day living like this?! You’re probably never going to love your body, so just try to be that way but actually enjoy yourself, eat what you want and enjoy the moments that bring you happiness.
What’s the biggest change in mental health you would like to see?
We have to STOP waiting until someone is ‘ill enough’ to get help. Mental illness is just that…an illness. It’s inside your mind, and you can’t know someone’s suffering just by looking at them. Prevent rather than treat. Don’t wait for someone to be lying in a bed, tube-fed with their family leaning over their hollowed-out frame of a human!
If you could say anything to your mental health issue, what would it be?
Leave and let live.