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
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
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?