Eating Disorder Awareness Week ran between 27th February and 5th March 2023.
While I obviously fully back the overall Mental Health Awareness Week, I do have to admit that I’m thankful that eating disorders get their own individual ‘time in the spotlight.’
I often say this, but I really do feel as though there is still an element of ‘taboo’ when it comes to openly discussing eating disorders. I believe a lot of this fear and awkwardness comes from a lack of knowledge.
Eating disorders are responsible for more deaths than any other mental illness... Yet nobody talks about this.
Perhaps eating disorders go under the radar because they are not as 'visually obvious' as, say, a manic episode of bipolar.
The fact is, eating disorders are essentially slow suicide. They torture their victim for years, holding them hostage in that dark, empty space between the living and the dead.
It often feels like the only time eating disorders get the attention they deserve is when those carrying the burden are visibly starved to the brink of death. It sometimes feels as though one has to fit the warped media perception of anorexia before they are granted help.
The fact that anorexia victims often need to present as a certain BMI before being offered treatement is utterly disturbing, and just proves that there is a long, long way to go in terms of understanding eating disorders.
But don't get me started on all of that. You know my thoughts on the horrifically outdated BMI scale and my disgust at the current referral procedure!
Seriously - just Google the phrase 'not thin enough for treatment' and prepare to be horrified. PEOPLE NEED TO REMEMBER THAT ANOREXIA IS A MENTAL ILLNESS, NOT A PHYSICAL ONE!!!!
ANYONE can be plagued by the mental affects anorexia, regardless of their size. By the time a patient IS considered 'thin enough' to be offered treatment, the illness is already in its advanced stages.
Wouldn't it be good if public health resources were readily available to stop anorexia in its tracks, rather than patients having to wait until they fit into a requirment of numeral bullshit?
Eating disorders are not a short, sharp slap of disdain. They take months, years and even decades to evolve, slowly chipping away at their victim until they're brought to their knees.
They're complicated - dizzyingly so. Every battle is laced with its own unique intricacies, consisting of traumas, triggers, habits, coping mechanisms, and the millions of labyrinths in-between.
It's time to talk.
It's time to extinguish the fear, the taboo, the awkwardness, the apprehension.
It's time to get angry.
It's time to look anorexia in the eye and speak its name.
What was it that Hermione Granger famously said in Harry Potter? ‘Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.’
I have witnessed first hand the impact of the mere whisper of the word ‘anorexia.' The name alone possesses the power to tear families apart and destroy relationships. The name is absolutely loaded with misconception and questions people are too afraid to ask.
I was first diagnosed with anorexia back in 2014. For a whole year, I kept my diagnosis under wraps. In fact, for the first six months of my illness, I defiantly denied having a complicated association with food and exercise, and didn’t hesitate to swiftly cut off anyone who dared to challenge this.
A lot of people in my close circle knew about my anorexia; of course they did. They may have even known before I did. But collectively, we didn't speak it's name. Anorexia became this huge burden lingering over everyone in my presence, and every relationship I had - be it with family, friends, colleagues or romantic partners - became extremely strained.
Those first few months are always the hardest, and I honestly wouldn't wish that period of my life on my worst enemy.
I came to terms with my diagnosis and began my initial healing process during my time spent travelling solo around Europe and living in Ibiza in 2015. But despite the growing awareness of my inner acceptance, I still didn't feel ready to talk about my illness.
I wrongly presumed that my battle with anorexia was coming to an end after just 12 months, so didn't feel the need to really talk about it. I didn't like the silence that followed the name when spoken out loud. The word anorexia came with too much emotional baggage, and I didn't want to put that on anybody else. I didn't want to attract the whispers, the second-hand sympathy, the labels. I didn't want my identity to be stripped even more than it already had. So I just never mentioned it, in the hope that it would go away and my life could finally resume some sense of normality.
However, sadly, as a lot of people will be aware, anorexia very rarely just goes away. I didn't know it at the time, but anorexia was going to become a very large part of my life. If I stood a chance in outsmarting it, I was going to have to say it's name. I was going to have to talk.
My silence was only feeding the salivating jaws of the beast.
In 2016, I finally opened up about my anorexia for the first time. And I've made of point of talking about it ever since.
I've had awkward conversations a-plenty, but I hope that by being open, I am breaking down the stigma that surrounds anorexia and eating disorders.
I don't want people to feel as though they have to tip-toe around me. I'd prefer people to ask me outright about my illness if they're curious. I'm more than happy to talk about any and every aspect of it to raise awareness, especially if that awareness then goes on to benefit another anorexia warrior somewhere down the line.
I’m pleased that people feel comfortable enough to reach out and ask me questions about my battle with anorexia.
I've had parents ask me how best to approach their recently diagnosed child and I've helped people recognise signs of anorexia in themselves.
When it comes to an illness as complex as anorexia, no question is insignificant. Anorexia has been in my life for almost nine years and I still have questions.
Every battle is startlingly different, which is why it's so, so, SO imperative that we ALL do our bit in sharing experiences and knowledge.
I'll make jokes about my anorexia to diffuse situations where others may feel uncomfortable and unsure how to approach my illness. For example, when someone new learns about my anorexia, I'll try and make a lighthearted joke such as, "Well, at least you don't have to worry about me rinsing your biscuit stash!"
Josh and I regularly deal with my anorexia through the aid of humour. This is particularly beneficial on the darker days. Never underestimate the power of laugher!
'Bag of Bones' is actually one of Josh's favourite nicknames for me, and we often jest that I am so flat-chested, it's hard to tell if I'm lying on my back or front. 🤣 Whenever he takes photos of me, he zooms in on my spindly legs and says, "Aw, breadsticks on tour!"
Eating disorders can affect romantic relationships in ways you can't even begin to imagine, and can be extremely testing for both parties involved. It can be hard to ask somebody to understand something that you don't understand yourself.
Of course, it took Josh a good year or so to fully comprehend all of the quirks of my anorexia. He is now a master at knowing the right and wrong things to say when the bad days come by.
How lucky I am to have someone in my life who makes such a conscientious effort to understand my anorexia.
Trust in those around you is of paramount importance when it comes to recruiting your army against any mental illness.
I try to approach my anorexia with an open mind. Sometimes, I attack it with humour and laugh at it, whereas on other occasions, I just need to write down exactly how I'm feeling, no matter how dark the words may seem on paper.
This battle changes daily, and it's useful for myself and those closest to me to have a back-stock of varying strategies to deal with all of its cruel tactics.
Anorexia doesn't define me, just as cancer, heart disease and epilepsy don't define their victims.
Anorexia is no longer something I am ashamed or scared of. It's just an unfortunate part of me; a parasite taking up residence in my brain - nothing more, nothing less.
Although it's not nice to hear, I think it's really important that people are aware of the bad days anorexia can bring. If nothing else, I hope that being brutally honest about every aspect of my own personal battle with anorexia will further heighten awareness. The bad days can be exceptionally hard to deal with at times, and yes, they may make us act out of character, and say or do things we don't mean.
For example, if your friend is an anorexia warrior and has a habit of cancelling your lunch dates at last minute, please, please, please try to keep your patience. I can guarantee that your friend is absolutely not doing this by choice. Reach out, ask questions, enquire how best you can support your loved one, even if from afar while they figure things out.
People have no idea just how suffocating anorexia can be. It goes so, so far beyond a strained relationship with food, although this is often how it presents itself. Below the surface, the undying need for control abolishes all perspective and logic.
Eliminating the fear of food (and, henceforth, the fear of a lack of control) is a knack that takes years of experience to perfect, and even then, the anxiety still lingers with every mouthful.
With anorexia, you are scared all the time. It’s like living with a conjoined twin who hates you, and wants you dead, and who goes out of their way to punish and bring you down.
Some days, I feel so bloody consumed by this illness.
Some days, I do feel like nothing more than anorexia's ever-obliging checklist of symptoms.
Some days, I struggle to define where I end and anorexia starts.
It angers me when I cave into anorexia's demands and over-exercise against my body's screaming pleas, or make excuses not to meet my friends for food.
On these days, I always try to remember that I am so much more than anorexia. I try to focus on what I have achieved despite anorexia: travelling solo, running successes, getting married.
Every successful mealtime, every rest day I grant my body without guilt, every time I say yes to going out for food with friends... That’s the equivalent of being talked down from the bridge.
There were honestly times during the early days that I just wanted to end everything. I'm sorry if that sounds horribly morbid, but it's true. I always quote a cry for help I made within my first six months of being diagnosed: 'I just want to unzip my own skin and run far away from myself.'
Every single day, my brain tortured the rest of my body until I craved nothing more than clawing at chunks of my skull to end the internal war.
They say everything happens for a reason. Sometimes, when unthinkable things happen to good people, it's only natural that we question this theory.
Despite the struggles of the past nine years, I firmly believe that anorexia came into my life for a reason.
If nothing else, anorexia has taught me to be brave. It's pushed me to limits I never, ever envisioned myself being able to cope with, both in regards to the illness itself and life in general.
Anorexia was the reason that I first travelled solo and moved abroad - things my pre-anorexic self wouldn't have dared to do.
Since the onset of my anorexia, my life has taken a very different direction to any I could have ever imagined... and for that, I am extremely grateful.
If anorexia's aim was to break me, it has very much failed.
Yes, some days I do feel broken beyond repair... but I'm still here, nine years later. I've travelled, I've written, I've ran, I've met friends for life and got married... ALL because of anorexia. Would I have been brave enough to do all of those things without the fire of anorexia burning inside me? Probably not.
It's not easy; it never has been, and I don't except it ever will be, but it's been one hell of an unexpected journey.
Anorexia prayed on me because I was vulnerable at the time of its arrival. I suppose it thought I'd be an easy and willing victim. But I proved it wrong. I chose to fight, and I'm still fighting to this day, drawing every tiny little positive from the battle.
'Such beautiful dignity in self abuse.'
It's time to talk.
A poem I wrote ahead of Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2023
Skinny Love, Full of Hate
Skinny love, full of hate
Fork pushed around the plate
Whisper of skin
Lunch in the bin
Tears at the table
Wish I was able
The begs, the pleas
The presumption of ease
Just eat! Just eat!
Puncture my dreams
Nights shiver with regret
Forever in debt
Just one more mile
Then maybe a smile?
Day by day
I’m slipping away
This cracked mirror of reality
Forgets my prior individuality
Living a lie
Who am I?
The search party doesn’t arrive,
How am I still alive?
Skin and bone
Rage. Loathing. Panic.
Devastation. Turmoil. Manic.
The daily fear at the scales
Pressure. Perfection applied
Ride the tide
‘I’m fine’ -
That lethal line
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©