Looking back on my life I can see now that I have always had issues with food, when I was a younger, I was described as ‘’a pickie eater’’. Fast forward 30+ years and I hit rock bottom and had to face up to my eating disorder and do something or it would get the better of me. Now in my 40s and for the first time in my life, I have a balanced meal plan and a relatively healthy relationship with food. About 8 or so years ago I did a work-related event that required physical activity and as I prepared, I started to do a bit of running just to be sure I could get through it. Overtime I continued the running and made it a regular activity which would lead to me eventually running most days of the week. I started to do races which lead up to me doing marathons and an Ultra Marathon. For the most part it was not for enjoyment or even achievement it was really for ED reasons and to achieve the goal that had no end and that was losing weight. I only realised this was the reason I was doing it towards the end when I accepted that I had a problem. Even now I am only remembering things that I used to do and realising that they were ED behaviours.
Overtime people congratulate you on the achievement and comment on weight loss and for the first time in life I felt that I was good at something. I started to weigh myself every day and could see the weight drop off and it then became an obsession. If the scales didn’t show any difference or was a little over from the last time this would cause me to panic, and I started to restrict and exercise more and more. Over time the thoughts took over to the point that it was all I could think about, and it became my most important thing every day. I would wake up with anxiety about stepping on the scales and then to get moving so I could get rid of calories from the day before. I eventually stopped the weighing because I recognised it was a major trigger for me and stopped weighing myself to prevent the distress.
My food and eating patterns became extremely disordered and very regimented and would lead to me only eating the same things every day. I had restricted my meals so much that I would only eat the same things at certain times of the day and in the same order. My wife had spotted this, and I went to the GP who said that it was just me being healthy and enjoying excise and running. In all fairness at the time, I didn’t know what was happening, so I didn’t tell the GP about my thoughts and how I was feeling. Over the years this continued, and things just got worse, I started to realise that something wasn’t right when the thoughts and behaviours got bad, and every waking hour was spent with ED thoughts. It was like my mind was a split screen and it was coexisting with my everyday thinking, it never left me. Some days I couldn’t wait to go to bed so I could just sleep and get away from it.
My exercise and restriction just got worse, I started to get up early in the morning to run, if I didn’t do a certain distance it was a failure, and I would restrict and exercise more to make up for it. Eating the smallest amount of food outside of my normal day would bring on massive anxiety and would lead me to the behaviours even more. My body would get so depleted over time and I would feel so tired and would not be able to do anything. I felt so lost and on two occasions while running I just cried not knowing how I was going to end this, I couldn’t see any way out of the ED behaviours. It got to the stage where any spare time was spent exercising, even when I went on holidays, I would be up early exercising and would bring my own food. I would never eat out with my family and only experienced eating out with my family in a restaurant for the first time a few weeks ago. I got to the stage were my thinking and concertation was completely gone into a one track black and white tunnel. I couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t think straight or concentrate on a TV programme, and I was becoming increasing forgetful. My body started to shut down and I couldn’t run anymore and barely walk up the stairs. I started to socially isolate and didn’t want to go out, if someone ever told me that I looked well that would be a trigger, I got success if someone told me I didn’t look well.
I went to my wife and talked to her and said I need help; she is my best friend in life and always knows what to do. We made a plan and went to the GP, I was given medication, but it didn’t work, and I ended up working with a therapist. After a while the therapist told me I needed more help and needed a team in a specialist eating disorder environment. I ended up doing an assessment is a hospital that has an eating disorder unit, I did the assessment on a Tuesday and was inpatient by the Sunday. The team told me on the day of the assessment that I was in a very bad place in terms of physical health. This was a massive shock, and I was told I could be inpatient for up to 12 weeks and then all going well a further 8 weeks on a day programme. Sunday came and I found myself sitting on my bed crying thinking how did this all happen. My wife and I went into the hospital and before I knew it, I was sitting alone in the admission area, my wife had to go as she wasn’t allowed to stay and I was on my own. A nurse brought me up to the ward and showed me around and introduced me to the other service users. I was so sick at that stage I didn’t really notice much but when I was left in my room alone it started to hit me hard. I felt so alone and missed my wife & kids so much, I have 4 kids and felt that I had failed them, and I had caused so much trouble and stress for my family. In reality my wife just wanted me better and told me not to worry and it will take as long as it would take.
I cried for days and couldn’t stop, I hadn’t cried in years, so it was strange to me, the support of the nurses was amazing, and they noticed every time I was not great and made sure to check in on me. It was hard to get used to the programme and I was on the verge of leaving on day 3, I am so thankful that I didn’t because I now feel like I have never felt before in my life. As I started to get the rational thinking back in my brain, I stared to think clear and question why this all happened. While inpatient I did a lot of group activity and it is a major part of recovery knowing that you are not alone and the behaviours and thoughts are not just something that you do, other people give their experiences and suddenly you feel somewhat normal. I decided to write my brief account today as tomorrow is my last day in the day programme. Over the course of inpatient and day programme I have done a lot of work and therapy and I can honestly say that getting into hospital when I did saved my life. I still get thoughts, but I can manage them, and they are for the most part background noise and stop at thoughts and don’t move to behaviours/actions, I never believed it was possible to feel like this.
For me I am just moving onto the next stage of recovery, there will be ups and downs and still a lot of work to do. Its just easier to mange the thoughts now using the tools that I have learned to deal with them, I can begin to dig deeper and continue my recovery path. Its like being born again with so many possibilities and plans for the future, the ED voice doesn’t cause the distress and torment that it did before and day by day things are getting better. I look forward to going on holidays with my wife and kids and eating out with them and not having to get up so early in the morning to exercise. This believe it or not is a brief summary, ED takes so much control and creates so many rules and obsessive behaviours it would take me years to write everything. I get asked by people did I experience any barriers or stigma because I am male and in my 40’s with an eating disorder. I can honestly say from the point when I started to go to my therapist and when I went into hospital I wasn’t treated any different. The nursing staff, MDT, and other service users treated me like anyone else and never made any distinction. While I was both inpatient and day patient it was the other service users who kept me going, I was so lucky to be with such a good group of amazing people. I have met people along the way that I will never forget, and they all inspired me in their own ways to get to where I am now. I was lucky to have the support of my wife and brother who constantly checked up on me and visited me. I was also lucky to be able to access the treatment, unfortunately so many people are not so lucky. ED as an illness is a nasty parasite that prays on people and their insecurities, but for me I can now see that I deserve better for myself and will keep fighting.