It's that time again, Eating Disorder Awareness Week is upon us. In the last few years, it's been really easy to write about- here are entries from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011- and even though they're pretty cringy in parts, they were easy to write. This year, it's been a bit tougher. In a way, that's great- I count my recovery as starting when I started taking food orally, during my last NG tube (those nasty feeding tubes that go up your nose) period, which means my recovery will be 3 years old this spring. That's great. Obviously. But the further I get into my recovery, the further I get from all I once knew, and that's why it's harder to write this year.
So I've looked to the internet for inspiration, because I can't not acknowledge the week, despite not having an ED any more. According to Beat, this year the emphasis is on early intervention, so I'm going to talk a lil about that.
Between the ages of 8 and 11, I went to the doctors a lot. If I wasn't there for how often I was vomiting (self induced, not that anybody but me knew that), I was there for infections and all sorts. Eventually, it was just decided that I had a nervous stomach, but that there was nothing really wrong with me. Which wasn't true, of course, but there was nothing physically wrong with me apart from the side effects of having an ED. Once I got to secondary school, I went to the doctor every few months to be treated for a tremor. The tremor is benign and there's a genetic element to it, but mine was exacerbated by low blood sugar and anxiety. That was never picked up, though.
Throughout my childhood, I alternated between anorexic and bulimic years. If my weight was healthy, it was that way because of bingeing so heavily. If it was under-, it was because I was barely eating. Hell, when I was about 15, I was overweight, again from bingeing so much. Throughout those years, my eating and body image were never once healthy. But the only time it was flagged up by people in my life was when I was underweight, concern falling away when I began bingeing again.
This led me to conclude that I only mattered, that my suffering only counted, when I was anorexic, rather than when I was bulimic.When, often, I was hurting more when I was going through bulimic periods. Anorexia is drawn out and slow, and, for me, occurred when I stopped caring. Bulimia is violent and fast, and, for me, occurred when I cared too much.
By the time I was ready to demand help, I was 17. I'd been ill for around 9 years, so the opportunity was long since lost for early intervention. There were so many opportunities in those 9 years for a doctor to have picked up on what was going on with me, so many times where I was in front of medical professionals literally for things that are textbook ED signs. The thing is, doctors just don't have the training. Hell, the only people who seem to know what to look out for are those with personal experience.
It took me from 17 to 24 to recover. 7 years. 7 years of different medications, different therapies and a whole lot of different hospital admissions. 7 years of my organs going into shock and then failure. 7 years of my bone density falling and my joints crumbling. 7 years of thinning hair and cracked skin. 7 years of feeling like a failure every time I acted on a compulsion- which meant I pretty much always felt like a failure, let me just say.
My point is this- I firmly believe that early intervention would have saved my early twenties, and almost certainly my teens, too. Did I recover? Yes. It is absolutely possible to recover, no matter how long you've been ill. But it would have been a damn sight easier to have done so if I'd not spent most of my life ill, by the time I started treatment. Not everyone is as lucky as I was, or has the same access to treatment (thank you, NHS). Not everyone recovers. People die. They die. Anorexia is the most fatal mental illness, but still treatment funding is limited and medical staff training is scant.
So, you're going to have to fight for effective treatment. I'm sorry. You shouldn't have to, when it's hard enough to believe you deserve it. But if you need a hand, give me a shout.