As I approached 47 years of age I had expected my life to be entering the ‘relaxed’ phase. Not quite pipe and slippers, but I had in my sights sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches lying amongst the freshly cut grass of a farmer’s field. Okay, so I exaggerate somewhat, but what has happened over the last twelve months or so has completely changed my life.
For starters I gave up alcohol and cigarettes. With the help of those lovely people at One Year No Beer I changed my daily routine to one of exercise and fitness. Never an alcoholic, I might add, but lovely to be a year and a half without a hangover. It has also helped me to focus more on things that are important and to cope with the difficult times when they arrive.
As part of my daily routine I started to run. Let me just say here I have never run in my life. Not unless you count cross-country torture at Primary School or perhaps for the odd late bus. However, I went from couch potato to marathon runner in nine months, completing the Seville Marathon in February of this year in 3 hours 29 minutes. A ‘not in my wildest dreams’ head toss would not be out of place here.
I got married to an amazing woman, my best friend and one of the greatest people I have ever met. It truly was an incredibly special day in the idyllic coastal town of San Jose near Almeria in Southern Spain. Cue Ana (aforementioned perfect partner) to take a bow.
But it was three words that I confessed to my wife that will forever remain in my memory when asked ‘how was that 47th year?’.
‘I am anorexic.’
There I said it. I was a 46-year-old male, with a new bride and a beautiful daughter from my previous marriage and on the face of it happier than at any time in my life. A close knit circle of friends, my own business with my best friend what more could a person ask for.
Except I had hidden away for 13 years the fact that I suffer from anorexia. I have been waging a war against it for so long that to even admit it to myself was a relief. An enormous fountain of positivity was unearthed upon said admittance though. She, my wife, was my first! My second followed shortly after when I sat opposite a Psychologist who tentatively said to me after five minutes, ‘You know what we are talking about here, Mark, don’t you?’. I nodded. I had told her my story as part of my journey to recovery inspired by my wonderful wife who made those first treacherous steps bearable.
This latest attack has been hard. I cannot pretend it hasn’t. Only for the first time I am talking about it. I am sharing and, more importantly, with admittance I have realised that I need to take steps and get back on the road to wellbeing. I had never admitted it to anyone and now two people in quick succession. I have begun reading books, started therapy and found immense support online, most of all on this very website.
So a quite spectacular year in one way or another and one that fills me with hope. I have for so long lived in secret, hiding away my anorexia and battling it alone. This time felt different in more ways than one. The fact I realised it in time to talk to someone and look for help was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
My running is something that sits between two camps and I am never sure if it has been a blessing or a curse. Do I run so much as a way to be in control of my weight or do I eat and refuel sufficiently to allow me to run? It is a very thin line and one that is something else I have to manage. Only for the first time I don’t feel alone.
There was an article in The Guardian newspaper that I read whilst on my honeymoon in Iceland in August. It said that according to the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), around 11% of those affected by eating disorders are male. My age group within that group would reduce that statistic even further, but it did lead me to worry how many other men like me have denied to themselves, let alone their loved ones and friends. It did detail one example of a man in his forties who was on seven waiting lists for help, some of which openly admitted he was still waiting exactly because he was a man. It left me thankful that not only had I taken those first tentative steps but also that there were people around to offer me support.
A marathon-running teetotaler with anorexia is almost the set up for a Two Ronnies gag. I guess that comic reference shows my age, but I also hope that it shows there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I for one want to keep running towards it!