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Eating Disorder Awareness: Finding Strength in Sadness

“You see, your body is like a car. It need fuel to keep it running, much like you need food to function.” Those words echo in my conscience, even now.

Perched on a dog-eared chair, my hands anxiously writhing as they typically did when I was faced head on with my troubles, I tried in vain to comprehend the words being spoken to me in the tiny box room that was as familiar as a second home.

I knew that my parents were looking out for me; it’s devastating for anyone to watch their child go through psychological torment, let alone one who is just ten years old.

Despite this, travelling miles for psychological therapy seemed, in my mind, to be doing me more harm than good. Though my therapist tried her hardest; to make me realise I was putting my body through torture, the sessions would often end in tears and a desperate retreat back into the vicious cycle I’d implemented myself.

Potential Triggers

To this day, I cannot pinpoint a trigger for how my eating problems began. While many people have tried to offer rational explanations, such as a particular traumatic event or bullying, none have sufficed in my brain.

The best I can muster up would be my need for control, even at that age.

I had always been an anxious child, still having vivid memories of me wailing for my mother in the car, despite being left for mere minutes whilst she went to chat to a neighbour or post something to a friend.

Through a simple Google search, many statistics regarding teenage anorexia are readily available, but primary school children seem lost within a barrage of other discussions. As anyone who has been through mental torment with food will know, undereating is only the tip of the iceberg to many other problems, and a catalyst to a myriad of side effects.

I still find it difficult to talk openly about my struggles.

Hurting Others

Being dragged out of my Year 6 class weekly, all of the other pupils staring, their eyes fixated on the weird girl who had to be taken out to go and sit with a ‘play therapist’, despite being extremely reluctant to say anything at all to her.

She tried her hardest, displaying a plethora of stimulating toys like playdough and plastic figures, asking as gently as she could: “What have you been struggling with this week?”. But it wasn’t just that I refrained from wanting to speak to her just as much as my external therapist, it was that, try as I might, I simply didn’t understand myself.

I knew I was hurting not only myself, but those closest to me. Watching my parents get so frustrated when I would cry and scream to the point of dizziness when being asked to eat a meal, or their hopeless expressions when the GP would document my rapid weekly weight loss, of course, made my heart sink.

The last thing I would ever want to do, now, but especially as a young child, is put those closest to me through torment, yet this seemed to be exactly what I was doing.

Social Consequences

Still, I can feel the embarrassment and shame of attending friends’ birthday parties and sleepovers, instilled with fear and dread at the thought of having to plan out what I could and couldn’t eat and what exercises and rituals I would have to carry out in order to punish such an act.

A friend’s mother once even approached me, taking me aside and assuring me that it was okay to have what the other girls were having. And though she made her best efforts to reassure me, the message went stagnant in my brain.

However, one thing I wish to make clear, is that it wasn’t just anxiety and control that manipulated my juvenile thought process, but secondary issues I had no capacity to understand.

Secretly throwing my sandwiches on the floor and skipping meals was one factor, but the repetitive rituals I had seemed to have formed in order to compensate for eating was another, which seemed to override my entire life.

Other Psychological Effects

It started as small exercises in bed that I completed each night, but gradually manifested into seemingly parallel compulsions, compulsions which had lifelong consequences. Obsessively ‘dancing’ in the classroom and running laps at lunch time not only branded me as the ‘odd’ child, but ensured my teachers, along with everyone else close to me, were extremely concerned.

Being confronted with daily mental rituals, my mind felt obligated to complete, was thoroughly exhausting; it didn’t matter if it was resting my wrist for a designated number of seconds on the edge of a door handle, dancing when I came out of the shower, or brushing my teeth so vigorously that both their shape and the health of my gums permanently changed, if I felt it was necessary, I would complete it.

And food seemed to be the centre point to all of these fundamental tasks. One particular instance that continues to haunt me, even to this day, was my younger self staring into the bathroom mirror, crying and shaking. My gums were in excruciating pain, yet I still felt obliged to continue to brush; I’d had a bad day food wise, everyone around me seemed to hate me (though I understand now this supposed ‘hatred’ stemmed only out of a place of love), yet I still couldn’t stop, give my body the rest and reprieve it so desperately needed.

My amazing Gran had come into the bathroom, and upon seeing me, produced an expression I had never seen before on her. She just looked so sad, so genuinely heartbroken for me. With tears in her eyes, she looked up at me and simply said: “You don’t need to do this to yourself, Pippy.” (my nickname prior to birth, due to my parents not knowing what gender I was).

I stared back at her, and almost felt my own heart audibly shattering. I was the worst person in the world. How could I put the people I love, the people that love me, into such anguish?

Confronting My Issues Head On

I still can hear the voice telling me: “The head teacher would like to see you in their office”, and the manner in which my whole body shook. Had I done something terrible?

Having a near perfect academic record for my entire primary school period, just the thought seemed horrific in my mind.As I anxiously made the walk to the secluded office, my thoughts were doing mental gymnastics, and the journey itself seemed to last a decade, though it was more than likely under a minute. Sitting down, frail and tiny, in their vast, open room, I suddenly felt incredibly vulnerable and confronted. What were my parents going to say? And then reality hit: “Scarlett, you are going to be seeing our play therapist once a week; your parents know, and they have given this the go ahead”.

I have never since experienced such an overwhelming sensation of loss and defeat. I knew that I had a problem, but to hear it being verbally addressed by an official party shook me to the core.

This was the unwelcome preface to the endless weeks of sitting, staring listlessly into a maze of books and coloured plastic, unwilling and unable to say anything productive.

The Road to Recovery

For many months, I seemed trapped in a pendulum of tantrums, terror, nausea from crying so hard, blood pressure checks, weigh ins, and threats of hospital admission. If one thing terrified me, it was being placed in an area without my family, where I’d be forced to face my own demons head on. (Though there is no shame is getting medical intervention if external people decide it is needed).

I cannot pinpoint what managed to drag me out of this rut I had fallen into. But one cherished memory regarding my dear Grandma (my other Gran) often springs to mind. It was Christmas, 2013. Christmas was a hugely daunting period in itself for me; being surrounded with a surplus amount of food and drink, and being made to sit at a table with others eating to their heart’s content, provided immense anxiety.

We had finished eating, and though I hadn’t consumed enormous amounts, it was progress made from the weeks prior. My Grandma saw me curled up on our much loved sofa, and approached me with a biscuit tin. “Go on, you can have one”, she said. And by some power hosted within me, I found myself reaching out, and grabbing a Foxes’ cream. I ate it. And I didn’t feel shame.

Moving Forwards

In the new year, something inside of me changed. I was not healed, far from it, but I vowed to try and recover, to make myself better. Not only for me, but for my family, who, despite unconditionally loving and supporting me, had been put through the worst pain imaginable for so long.

I stopped seeing the school play therapist. My visits to my external therapist lessened, and though I did wobble at a later appointment in the Summer, I finally felt my eating problems free themselves.

Starting high school, I was incredibly apprehensive. I still took regular walks around the gardens, and exercised as much as I could in and out of PE class. By all means, I wasn’t fully healed.

But I had something during that time that I didn’t have prior, Hope.

I told myself that it was okay to have regular meals like everyone else. It was okay to eat cake and sweets at parties without feeling horrible for it. It was okay not to punish myself for exhibiting normal human behaviour. It was okay to live.

Present Day

As of now, I enjoy food as much as the next individual. My secondary issues are not fully reformed, but, having engaged in therapy and medication appropriate for me, I have realised that they may never truly be. And that is okay. I eat well, exercise normally, and am learning each and every day to function, with what I now can label as OCD.

Anxiety and depression often come as a by-product of eating disorders. However, luckily or unluckily, my battles with the two came a while after this period of my life.

But my message to those who may be struggling with an eating disorder, OCD, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health problem, is that you CAN beat it. You CAN learn to live with your mental health problems.

They do not define you as an individual, and anyone who unfairly stigmatises you, puts you down, or makes you feel like you are less than, because of health problems you struggle with, are not worth your attention. Although it may seem like there is no way out, and you may stay underweight, overweight, or with food struggles forever, this couldn’t be further from the truth. If no one else is supporting your recovery, I am.

It is okay to nourish your body. It is okay to have down days and ‘blips’ in recovery. That is normal, you are human, and there are so many songs you can dance to, so many places you can visit, so many dreams you can fully accomplish, with a nourished and healthy body.

Remember this. No one will remember what size you were, they will remember you for your love, your effervescence, your joy, the sparkle in your eyes. They will remember you for the amazing person that you are. Your body is beautiful. And no matter what your mind, or any toxic enabler in pop culture, says to you, your body is worthy of food, and love.

Author Biography

My name is Scarlett Mullender, and I am a first year Multimedia Journalism student at the University of Salford. My passion has always revolved around producing media that amplifies previously unheard minorities, essentially enabling voices for the voiceless. In addition to writing human-lead stories, I adore presenting and producing for radio shows, including my own true crime podcast: The Scarlett Letter.

Note: 'Student Blog' articles highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.


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