I grew up in an extremely loving, caring and supportive family. My childhood was filled with adventures, laughter and most of all, an intense love for food. I was indulging in a good wholesome diet but also deeply enjoying all things sweet and fizzy. I couldn't define myself as a sweet or savory girl, because I was both! I would eat at every meal time and didn't shy away from snacking in between. When I reached my teenage years, I suddenly had the freedom to eat and drink whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it. This fueled my love of eating as I would meet friends for lunch, order takeaways during sleepovers and had no intention of choosing healthy over yummy. Nothing prepared me for how quickly and suddenly this beloved relationship would end.
At 17 I found myself within a friendship group who would drink and smoke together and like any teenager, I wanted to fit in. In an attempt to seem cool I joined them.
I felt a sensation I have never felt before… nausea. I was hit with a giant wave of pure fear.
As I was handed a bottle of £3.99 white wine with a straw and a rolled cigarette, I felt on top of the world. I was now one of them. After dancing and laughing with my new friends the buzz and excitement suddenly turned cold, the floor was spinning, my jaw clenched and I felt a sensation I have never felt before… nausea. I was hit with a giant wave of pure fear.
I tried to disappear from my new friends without them realizing but suddenly, I was retching and heaving right in front of them.
The only way I could describe how I was feeling was utter terror-stricken. I was dropped off home where I snuck back to my bedroom and lay on my bed absolutely petrified. The nausea wouldn’t go, I felt trapped, out of control and like this was the end of the world. Throughout the night I would hang my head out the window as this monstrous feeling inside violently controlled my stomach. I remember thinking, ‘everyone gets sick when drinking, but why do I feel like I’m going to die?’. I lay awake hallucinating and dry heaving, silently begging for morning to break.
What I know now, that I didn’t know then, was that I had exposed myself to a life changing phobia… being sick (or more formally known as, emetophobia). I spent days after this feeling shaken, sick and believing that this was never going to stop. I couldn’t go more than 15 minutes without needing to lie down. I unlocked a fear of what my stomach could do. I quickly became petrified of anything that may potentially make me feel the way I felt that night. Sadly, my biggest contributor to this feeling… food.
In an attempt to feel better, I religiously cut out different food groups that I saw as ‘unsafe’. Dairy, meat, seafood, gluten, sugar, deep fried, caffeine, alcohol… The list was on-going. The more I listened to other people telling me stories of when they had been sick, the list was getting even bigger.
I had been fighting a daily battle with food which continues to this day. “Will this food make me sick?”, “Has this been contaminated?”
I feared medications, travel, roller coasters, germs, hospitals, being too full, getting too hot, restaurants… and so it continued. Before I knew it, a month had gone by and I was completely malnourished, painfully thin, constantly fainting and nauseous from pure anxiety. This continued for 3 years.
I had been fighting a daily battle with food which continues to this day. “Will this food make me sick?”, “Has this been contaminated?”, “This made my friend sick once, is it going to make me sick?”. My response to all these thoughts: Avoid all danger, aka avoid all food. I became painfully thin, my clothes hung off me, my hands and feet were constantly cold and my thoughts were not slowing down.
On one occasion I remember looking at a sandwich and becoming convinced I would become violently sick from consuming even a mouthful. The thought hit me like a bus… "food is going to kill me". The only reason it didn't was because I couldn’t be the reason to cause my family inconceivable pain. With this, my decision to fight back began.
Although I would brush off all comments in an attempt to avert attention to something else, deep down I was desperate for any sort of help
I wish I could say that it was a quick and forceful battle to get my mind and body back to its original state and go back to enjoying life and all the delicious foods that it brings, but that was far from it. It has been a long journey with highs, lows, failed attempts to eat, appointments with therapists and antidepressants. I would meet with old friends who would say, “Annabel you have lost so much weight I also didn’t recognise you”, crossed with other comments like, “I’m really frightened for you, I don’t want you to die”.
Although I would brush off all comments in an attempt to avert attention to something else, deep down I was desperate for any sort of help. But worst of all, the pure pain I was putting my parents through, watching their daughter waste away to a skeleton looking girl who was frightened to live. No matter how far I go within my recovery, no matter how much life I get back, I owe it all to them.
This October marks 7 years since this horrific illness started and I am starting to see the light in my life again. I have gained some weight back and am slowly starting to experience life as I used to. I wish I could give advice on a quick fix or the right path to follow or tell you how to become better, but sadly I can’t. The only advice I can give is no matter how dark life seems, keep going. Don’t compare your recovery to anyone else, be proud of where you are and never be afraid to seek professional help. Your life is far too important to let food phobia win.
“Be strong, things will get better. It might seem stormy now, but rain doesn’t last forever”.
-Contributed by Annabel
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.
Help us change more lives
Donate today to help us provide more vital support to people like Annabel
Our supporter Sophie shares her story of experiencing extreme hunger, and sheds some light on what it can feel like
My daughter became unwell in her teens with what we now know was OSFED: Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder.
I’ve worked tirelessly in day care, private therapy and on my own to get as “recovered” as I can possibly be. I wasn’t content with surviving with an eating disorder. To me the mental torture and confines are the worst part, so a healthy body without a quality of life was not enough.