Doctors told me I had two weeks to live: My battle with anorexia


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Doctors told me I had two weeks to live: My battle with anorexia

I thought being skinny would make me happy

At the age of 14, I began losing weight healthily. I was fat and had terrible eating habits so I joined the gym in a bit to slim down and become healthier. I was making excellent progress; I’d lost a dress size in around 9 months. I picked up a knee injury which meant that I had to take time off from the gym. I still wanted to lose weight. At a size 12, I felt like I needed to be thinner, so I simply restricted what I ate. The weight kept dropping off and in no time at all, I was a size 10. Then I was a size 8. I loved how I looked and felt. Despite still being bullied and called ‘fat’ at school, I knew I wasn’t and I was finally feeling more comfortable in my own skin. Ironically, I went from ‘fat pig’ to ‘anorexic rat’ when my best friend confronted the bullies.

But by then, losing weight had become an addiction. I was finally good at something, excelling at something. Besides, I didn’t feel hungry. I kept going. The summer between my GCSEs and my AS Levels took its toll on me. I was receiving counselling, turning 16 and finally getting out of a hellhole of a school where I was bullied daily. But still, I wanted to keep losing weight.

When I started at my new school, I was barely a size six. Although people were polite, you could tell that there were concerned looks all around the common room. I tried to recover, but I relapsed. I didn’t want to recover at that point. The anorexia had a hold on me and I felt helpless. I couldn’t do anything about it. So I continued on. I went shopping for a new school skirt and the size 6 slid off my hips. I asked for a size 4 — a size 0 in the US — and the shop assistant looked mortified.

At this point, I didn’t look human.

Not long after my AS Levels, I decided that enough was enough and I vowed to recover. Unfortunately, I was hospitalised, and the doctors told me that I had two weeks to live. My life — the life that had promised so much — was reduced to mere days. The anorexia had taken such a toll on my body that now, my internal organs were going to break down and my heart would be the first one to fail. Heart failure is the most common cause of death among people with anorexia and it was staring me in the face. Next stop: death.

Me now, happier and healthier

I don’t know how it happened, but my body decided that it wasn’t going to succumb to certain death. Fate had other plans for me. I was transferred to a specialist mental health facility in Oxford, around 60 miles from my home. I was an in-patient and had to stay there 24/7 until they deemed me fit enough for home stay with weekly visits to the facility and then eventual discharge.

It was gruelling. It was the worst period of my life. I had no freedom, to the point where they put me in a wheelchair because they didn’t want me to walk. It was a degrading experience and at points, I didn’t feel like I was human. 

Before I was admitted to the mental health facility.

Slowly but surely, I began to put weight on. I stopped looking skeletal and started looking more and more like a person. I’d gone from the brink of death, hollow-faced and only a layer of skin around my skeleton to full cheeks and a new-found lease of life. I went from strength to strength, finally being fully discharged after four months. I haven’t relapsed even once in five years since recovering.

The problem with anorexia is that it’s complicated. It’s not as simple as ‘I feel sad and that’s why I’m anorexic’, despite what people think. You have to truly hate yourself and feel as though you’d be better off dead to go through such an ordeal. I had been diagnosed with depression when I was 14 and although I was receiving counselling for it, nothing worked. I wasn’t sure why I was depressed, all I knew was that I hated being awake and alive. My self-hatred only added fuel to the fire of being bullied relentlessly.

By this point, anorexia controlled me.

When my anorexia started, I thought my life would be better if I was skinny. Then it became a compulsive obsession and addiction. The best way to treat anorexia is as though it is an addiction because it’s just as deadly as having a drug addiction or being an alcoholic. The temptation to revert back to anorexia is always strong once you’ve just recovered. Even though it has wrecked your mind and body, you’re so scared of how life will be without it because you can’t remember what life was before it. It’s almost as if anorexia is a safety blanket and you just want to run into its clutches again. That’s what makes it such a deadly mental illness. It’s always trying to lure you back into its arms.

It’s such a lonely illness. It isolates you. Suddenly, the people who once loved you become your worst enemies because the anorexia convinces you that it knows better and that anyone who is trying to help you eat is the devil incarnate. You can’t socialise because social activities almost always involve consuming calories so you avoid them at any cost because you can’t let yourself go over your ‘safe calorie limit’.  And it’s this loneliness which the anorexia thrives on. The voices in your head telling you that you’re doing well and you must stick to the anorexia take over because you have no one there for you telling you otherwise. Even though I lived with my parents, no amount of care and talking to me got through to me. The anorexia was too strong.

You find out who is truly there for you though. When I told my best friend, she was shocked but told me to get my act together because she had plans for us and my life couldn’t just be over because I decided to give into death. I also found out that blood isn’t thicker than water. My mother, who is a housewife, was struggling as she had to constantly look after me whilst my dad went out to work. She confided in her siblings and her mother and the response was shocking. I even got a visit from my extended family in the mental health unit and was told that I needed to ‘stop making it up’ and ‘snap out of it’ because I’d ‘gotten all the attention [I’d] clearly wanted’. I had to be escorted out of the room in floods of tears. No one becomes anorexic for attention. You become anorexic because you’re desperate, you hate yourself and you can’t find a reason to live.

I was knocking on death’s door at this point

The reason I write about what happened, despite it being so traumatic, is because if I can prevent even one person from going through this form of hell on Earth, then it doesn’t matter how many sobs get caught in my throat whilst I’m typing. No one should have to go through this. I want to be an example to people that this too shall pass and you can live a life after anorexia. Anorexia is not the end and even when it is a death sentence, you can still cheat it. I am here for all those who are suffering in silence. You are not alone. You will beat anorexia. You will survive.

I’m often asked by concerned friends about what they can or can’t do if they suspect someone they care about has anorexia. It’s a touchy subject and honestly, anorexics will become defensive and aggressive when their lifestyles are questioned. Don’t go in and accuse them of things. Just let them know that you are always there if they need to talk about anything and you won’t judge them, no matter what. Say that they can always come to you if they need help or are struggling. Don’t say something that they could construe as an accusation or judgement; don’t go in all guns blazing and say ‘I know you’re anorexic and I want to help you change’, because they may not be mentally ready for it. Unfortunately, change can only happen when the person in question truly wants it, which is why it took me two years to commit to recovery. Just make them aware that you’re there for them, come what may.