Day in the life of an anorexic

Fist­fuls of lax­a­tives, run­ning on empty, along with con­stant pain and shame. This is one woman’s strug­gle with an eat­ing dis­or­der

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Cover Story -

Iwake at 3am (the usual). Cramps in my stom­ach wake me. It’s like some­thing’s rip­ping me apart from the in­side.

The toi­let’s right be­side where Dave sleeps. I tip-toe to the door, peek to see if there’s light from his lap­top. No vis­i­ble signs he’s awake, the coast’s clear. I quickly fill the ket­tle — if he wakes, the noise of the it will drown the noise of the lax­a­tives.

I leave the bath­room feel­ing like a mil­lion euro, feel­ing empty. I love it. I watch one episode of MasterChef while hav­ing my morn­ing Amer­i­cano. Time to get mov­ing. It’s safe to go for a run now. Dave will be none the wiser. I grab my run­ning gear, stashed in the drawer un­der the bed sheets — he doesn’t know they’re there.

My hand­bag’s hid­den be­hind the couch in case Dave got up dur­ing the night and went rum­mag­ing for to­bacco. I take my rou­tine 20 lax­a­tives, 15 fat metabolis­ers, 10 pep­per­mints cap­sules and 10 colon cleansers. I fling three pieces of chew­ing gum into my mouth. I’m out the door.

I love run­ning. There’s no one around, the still­ness of the night con­sumes me. My feet are sore to­day, it feels like they’re bleed­ing. I tried to coun­ter­act the pain by lay­er­ing up with three pairs of socks, it’s no use. The pain’s strong, like the pains in my knees and hips.

I strug­gle. I tell my­self if I just keep run­ning the in­ten­sity of the pain will sub­side. My legs won’t carry me as fast as I’d like, so I opt for dis­tance over speed. I run the same route ev­ery morn­ing — it max­imises the ef­fort needed, while also avoid­ing any chance of run­ning into peo­ple.

The si­lence of the night suits me, I can’t lis­ten to mu­sic and run at the same time any­more, I have to fo­cus on my breath­ing to keep go­ing. I have pri­vacy here, no wit­nesses to my bla­tant strug­gle. Giv­ing up sim­ply isn’t an op­tion. I’m nearly fin­ished. I might as well give it one last burst of en­ergy — go hard or go home.

I get in the door, af­ter a five-minute bat­tle to get my hands to work prop­erly to get the key in the key­hole.

I feel weak, dizzy, my legs feel funny but I feel bet­ter now I have it done. I could have gone faster though, I will to­mor­row.

I go into the bath­room and just sit. How long I’m there es­capes me, time and all sense of re­al­ity eludes me. I can’t move — noth­ing works. I make a cof­fee and start my ex­er­cises, al­ways the same set. I grab my pil­low from the couch, my spine sticks into the floor oth­er­wise, pre­vent­ing me from do­ing them prop­erly. All the while I tell my­self: “This will make you feel

bet­ter for the day, it’ll put you in a bet­ter mood. If you feel bet­ter, you’ll be able to be in­ti­mate with Dave later.” This spurs me on for the next hour.

An­other cof­fee, more chew­ing gum. Dave will be up soon, I take off my run­ning gear, stash it in my hid­ing place. I’ll wash it when Dave’s not around, he’ll only ask ques­tions oth­er­wise.

I jump in the shower, not turn­ing on the main light, only light­ing a can­dle, I can’t see my­self prop­erly in this light, which I pre­fer. My move­ments are slow, star­ing at the sham­poo bot­tle for a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time be­fore the ac­tion fol­lows to lift it.

Af­ter the shower, I have an­other cof­fee. It’s 8.30am. I’ll be gone by 9am. Dave wants to have a movie day. I promised him days ago I would, but I can’t. I can’t sit around all day, he’ll tor­ment me try­ing to put his arms around me, kiss and cud­dle me. I re­coil at the thought. Touch­ing me isn’t an op­tion, he’d only be do­ing it be­cause he’s a man. There’s no way he could gen­uinely want to do that while I’m all bloated and swollen. I’ll get out and about for the day and tonight, maybe I might. I can surely pre­tend for one night.

I gather my swim­ming gear, my peaky cap and long puffy coat and I’m off again. I need the cap — the lady in re­cep­tion at the gym looks at me funny without it. I leave Dave a note say­ing I’m gone swim­ming and into town, I’ll be back later. He’ll be grand — he’ll find some­thing else to do.

In the gym I change in the cu­bi­cle, its 10am. The lax­a­tives will kick in about 12. I’ll be out of the pool by then. I do con­stant lengths of the pool. Again, my body fails me and won’t carry me as quickly as I’d like, so I opt for dis­tance rather than speed. It’s hard to con­trol my breath­ing — too of­ten I have to stop mi­dlength.

I keep an eye on the time, 11.15am and the cramps in my stom­ach are com­ing hard and fast. I quickly make my way out of the pool, care­ful to keep tensed, if I re­lax my body now the re­sult would def­i­nitely not be pleas­ant. There are lots of women in the chang­ing rooms, panic con­sumes me — they’ll hear me. I scurry to the show­ers and switch them all on — they’ll drown me out.

When I’m fin­ished I feel bet­ter, the swelling in my legs feels less. It’s eas­ier to get around, I’m not as heavy, but I’m tired. I take an­other dose of all my tablets from this morn­ing, a larger quan­tity this time. I need to get more.

I do my rounds of the chemists, an­swer­ing the same ques­tions ev­ery time:

“Have you ever used this be­fore?” “Yes.” “They’re not in­tended for long-term use – abuse could re­sult in last­ing bowel prob­lems.” “Oh re­ally, thanks.” It’s near­ing 3.30pm. I need to get to the su­per­mar­ket, fast. The cramps are bad, the pain al­most in­ex­pli­ca­ble. The shop’s busy but I can­not care, con­trol is nonex­is­tent.

I leave yet again with a sense of re­lease, a feel­ing of eu­pho­ria, not be­fore tak­ing an­other dose of all my tablets. They’ll kick in when I get home but I’ll go for a shower to hide it. It’s also an ex­cuse not to have to sit around Dave. I can’t be deal­ing with the ef­fort of it. I spend the next hours walk­ing around Lidl, Tesco, Dunnes, mind­lessly pon­der­ing and glar­ing at all the food. Stuck in a world of ‘Will I, won’t I? Yes. No. Nah, don’t need it. No, you won’t let Dave near you then, imag­ine the feel­ing to­mor­row, you’ll have to do more’.

A con­stant fight, mostly only ever leav­ing the shop with a jar of cof­fee, Coke Zero, chew­ing gum or bran sticks.

8.30pm. I make my way home. I’m ex­hausted. The bus isn’t an op­tion. God gave me legs for a rea­son. I get home and Dave’s watch­ing some­thing on the lap­top. I’m quiet, cold, dis­tant. I say “Hi”. The more strained the con­ver­sa­tion, the less likely he’ll want to stay around me and he’ll just leave me alone. I’m too ex­hausted for him. I’ll make it up to him to­mor­row.

As I’m pot­ter­ing around, Dave makes me cof­fee. He put milk in it. Oh Lord was he born without a brain? That’s all it takes and my mood’s sa­tanic. I throw it down the sink, snap­ping that he knows I don’t take milk. He im­me­di­ately cow­ers, apol­o­gis­ing pro­fusely, at­tempt­ing to give me a kiss and cud­dle in the process. I turn my head, pull away: ‘Just get away from me!’ I scream in my head.

I huff around the apart­ment, nit-pick­ing at fic­tional faults: “Did you not do the wash­ing, did you not clean the bath­room, why is there a towel on the floor?” Even­tu­ally, he suc­cumbs and re­treats to the bed­room for the rest of the night. Mis­sion ac­com­plished. I wait un­til I hear the lap­top come on, grab my run­ning gear and toss it into the wash­ing ma­chine — the noise will cloak the noise of the bath­room.

I catch a glimpse of my­self in the mir­ror. The enor­mity I feel is re­flected back. I re­pulse my­self. All I see is bloat, my stom­ach, face, legs, ugh. I spot a note stuck to the cor­ner of the mir­ror: ‘You’re the most beau­ti­ful girl I’ve ever met. What you see is not real, I love you more than the moon and stars, Dave xxx .’

A pang rips through me, sure God love him, but I au­to­mat­i­cally think ‘lies’.

The pain in my stom­ach pulls my thoughts away, back to the mat­ter at hand: bath­room. I light my can­dle, flick on the shower. I no­tice soil marks on my pants. Oh God, not again, how long have they been there? I don’t al­low my­self to delve into the thought due to pure shame, I was wear­ing a long coat, no one would have known.

When I fin­ish in the bath­room it’s as if the weight on my shoul­ders and mind has di­min­ished. I feel light. My mind’s empty, un­able to put a cog­ni­tive thought process to­gether. Noth­ing­ness con­sumes me.

I grab a hand­ful of bran sticks. Will I treat my­self to a Rich Tea light bis­cuit? I de­cide against the fleet­ing no­tion. No need — it’ll only keep me awake.

I lie on the couch in a zom­bie-like state. To­day was a good day. I take my nightly con­coc­tion of tablets, more than through­out the day.

I’ll be able to run faster in the morn­ing if I feel lighter if my body isn’t work­ing to digest what­ever’s in my stom­ach.

I flick on MasterChef, fling a du­vet around me. I be­gin to drift, my last thought: ‘Same again to­mor­row?’

This is edited from a ■ pa­tient’s story in the 2018 Ta­bor Group re­port

“I’m an al­co­holic and an anorexic. It was my al­co­holism that drove me into treat­ment. More than one treat­ment ac­tu­ally, but I try not to fo­cus on the num­ber.” Caro­line* was treated at Re­newal Ex­tended Treat­ment Cen­tre for Women, part of the Ta­bor Group. Ac­cord­ing to the group’s re­port, launched this week, 100% of clients cite al­co­hol as a drug of choice, but ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol alone is rarely seen — large num­bers re­port com­bined is­sues with ec­stasy, cannabis, co­caine, heroin and pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion. Like Caro­line, food and/ or eat­ing dis­or­ders also af­fect three in 10 of these women.

Body­whys train­ing and de­vel­op­ment man­ager at Body­whys Har­riet Parsons sees sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween eat­ing dis­or­ders and ad­dic­tions. “They’re of­ten very alike. There’s the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion — with not eat­ing for the per­son with anorexia and with drink­ing for the al­co­holic. There’s pro­gres­sion [in the be­hav­iour] and neg­a­tive con­se­quences — the per­son suf­fers for what they’re do­ing.”

Parsons has done a lot of train­ing with ad­dic­tion treat­ment cen­tres and sees con­nec­tions be­tween cer­tain eat­ing dis­or­ders and ad­dic­tion. “Peo­ple with binge-eat­ing dis­or­der or bu­limia are some­times likely to en­gage in binge-drink­ing or to have a volatile re­la­tion­ship with a sub­stance. And I’ve heard anec­do­tally from cen­tres that when peo­ple give up the drug, an ex­ist­ing eat­ing dis­or­der flares up, it gets stronger.” Which makes sense be­cause eat­ing dis­or­ders and sub­stance ad­dic­tion are ways of man­ag­ing feel­ings of anx­i­ety in the body.

Eileen Cros­bie is treat­ment man­ager at Re­newal, where women with deeper is­sues or re­quir­ing fur­ther work come for 12 weeks af­ter treat­ment at Ta­bor Lodge.

Cros­bie typ­i­cally takes a group of nine women at a time. Un­til this year, one or two women in the group would have an eat­ing dis­or­der — in her cur­rent group, she has six women with eat­ing dis­or­der. “There’s an epi­demic of eat­ing dis­or­ders in Ire­land at the mo­ment. Nor­mally we’d put nine to a dozen through each year — this year, half-way through, I’ve al­ready passed that num­ber,” re­ports Cros­bie, who be­lieves eat­ing dis­or­ders are tougher to treat than ad­dic­tion.

“Take reg­u­lar ad­dicts, over-eaters and peo­ple with anorexia. Af­ter a few weeks the first two get bet­ter — they’re tak­ing more care of their ap­pear­ance, they’re phys­i­cally


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