For a number of years, I was in denial: “I haven’t got an eating disorder”, I’d constantly be telling family and healthcare professionals who were concerned about my health. Yes, I had a number of other medical problems and recurring stomach issues, but I often used this as an excuse for the thoughts going through my head and the immense control over food and exercise. I knew it wasn’t right or healthy, and deep down I knew it was an eating disorder, but I didn’t want to admit defeat and allow it to become part of me.
I always wanted to recover and get rid of the thoughts and feelings going around my head. I wanted to release some control and be able to live a “normal” life again like I had before my eating disorder had reared its ugly head. I wanted to be “normal”.
Eventually I had to admit my eating disorder. Not out of choice but out of necessity. When hospitalised there is no denying it any more, no way of belittling it. It’s time to face up to the truth. I have an eating disorder and unless I admit it and learn to manage this, it will beat me.
Being a male with an eating disorder is seemingly difficult when trying to seek help. It is the last thing thought of and, even once it has been diagnosed, the fact that I did not fit into a pre-set “category” meant that any form of treatment was painfully slow. After six months of “crisis” treatment, I was still in the admin phase, and they were trying to figure out where I fit in their book of disorders and treatments. The fact is I do not. Everyone is different and everyone is individual, and it is not right that everyone has to have a specific label. Why don’t we simply treat people as they are: individuals? Everyone is different and everyone’s eating disorder varies.
Also, there seems to be such an intense focus on recovery and “beating” the disorder. Yes, some people will recover and manage to overcome the disorder in that respect, but not everyone. It’s the harsh reality of the disease and I think it is important to stress this as it is not a weakness not to officially “recover”. The truth is that this focus can actually have an adverse effect on the lives of sufferers, and I can tell you from experience that this was the case with me. Not recovering was failing, and failing sent me back to a place I didn’t want to be. The cycle didn’t stop until I took control and admitted that recovery, for me, probably wasn’t going to happen. I had to learn to live with my eating disorder and acknowledge that it probably will always be part of who I am.
This has massively helped me and instead of trying to fight it, I now work with my symptoms and thoughts to allow myself to function and live my life as normal as is possible. If you had a physical disability that was life-long, it is the same principle. You learn how to manage the symptoms and conditions and, more importantly, how to live and still be able to thrive in life despite the limitations posed by the condition. No, it isn’t easy, but it is doable.
More recently I have moved away and started a new apprenticeship, something I never thought I would be able to do even six months ago. I have gotten myself physical well enough to live and thrive again. Mentally I am still affected by my eating disorder and I doubt that will ever leave me, but I can live, I can thrive and I can still prosper despite all of this. My message to anyone is that, yes, eating disorders are horrible, debilitating and all-consuming. But no, they do not have to beat us. They may influence our lives and never fully lift the weight from our shoulders, but it is possible to live and manage despite all of this. There’s ups and downs all the time, but remember what matters in life: friends, family, dreams and goals; and know that it is possible to live with the condition and not let it win, but work with it to keep healthy and happy.
The first step for anyone struggling is to say the words I had to when I was 18: I have an eating disorder. Now, though, I am not ashamed of this. I see it as part of who I am and am open and honest about it. It is not a weakness but shows great strength to manage the condition and live despite all of the anxiety, stress and lack of belief that it’ll ever get better. It may not ever leave, but admitting it and trying to learn how to live with it, not against it is, I believe, the first step towards a healthy and happy life.