Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017 #EDAW2017
When it comes to eating disorders and disordered eating, speaking out on the topic with honesty and openness is the only way to help those suffering and also most effective way to spread understanding about the harsh reality of this illness. So I thought the best way to do this was to write a letter to my 14-year-old self that maybe if I had read everything that was going to happen over the next 10 years I would have been able to snap out of it before it took over my life, my dreams and my reality. So if this letter can help one person see the frank reality an eating disorder can have not only on their health but also on their life both during and following suffering with the illness then it will be worth it.
But why did I chose to go back 10 years to my naive 14-year-old self?
Well I feel this was the age where the need and desire to be the best I could be in my sport started to morph into an obsession to lose weight and control what I thought was my “health” to become faster, fitter and stronger – if only I knew. This was also the year I first suffered from a stress fracture and instead of “waking up and smelling the coffee” (literally!) and linking my lack of nutrition and menstruation with the injury, it drove me deeper into thinking I needed to be thinner to become the best once again.
Why are you crying?
Actually I know why you are crying so wipe those tears and listen up. Yes, you have just been told that burning pain in your shin is a stress fracture and so instead of going to chat with some friends and eat dinner because you are hungry, you’ve gone back to your room on your own and are crying. I know you are hungry, don’t lie to me and you are going to get even hungrier over the next few years. Yes you will deny it, want it, think you are winning because of it but I will tell you one thing, you are doing anything but that.
Think of this injury you are currently suffering with. Have you ever been injured before? No! You used to fuel your training and your body thanked you. Now your body is crying out, it can’t recover as you are not giving it the chance. Not to mention three months ago your period stopped, is that normal? No! Is it linked with stress fractures in runners? Yes – and don’t even try to convince me that the athlete-triad doesn’t apply to you, it does and it has – look at yourself, what has just happened!?
Ok yes, you have been running faster, starting to win a few more running races and feel quicker on the lacrosse pitch but how fast are you now Miss Hop-a-long? And it won’t stop here. In less than a years time you will be admitted to hospital for five months, this will not only hamper any progress in your sport but also when you are asked to play on one of the England Lacrosse squads while you are in hospital you will have to turn it down – YOUR DREAM and you will have to say you can’t play.
Think about it, what have you allowed to happen to yourself?
You have a dream to play for your country and you won’t play as you are in a mental hospital. And why will this all be, I hear you asking? Well your eating disorder will ruin your dream as it will continue to feed (or lack) an obsession that you think makes you a better athlete, person and that you are right. Well hold on – you won’t be a better athlete because you will be sitting on your bed in hospital staring at the cream ceiling counting the hours till you next have to eat. That is NO DREAM ELOISE, how can you let yourself do this to yourself? And don’t think this pain of knowing that YOU, no one else, shattered your big dreams will just go away once you recover, oh no, the regret, the what ifs, the questions will never leave you.
And if you think, how will I be so stupid – you’ve got this and no one knows. Child you are wrong – everyone knows, how can they not. One you look unhealthy and you will become even uglier over the next few years (yup I went there). Yes, you think you are too fat and too slow to be a good athlete, well get on the scales. Is that weight for your height and age classified as fat? Nope doesn’t say it on any medical, non-medical or any website you have tried to find to prove you are fat and not good enough. The science doesn’t lie Eloise – everyone, even people who don’t know you are trying to tell you so?
But enough of you, lets move on to something that will be painful to read about, think about and have to accept once you recover and are me writing this letter.
And get off the floor, why are you doing stupid crunches when you should be reading this letter? They don’t help by the way and in time you are going to get an infected pressure sore on your back because of them, yup attractive I know, so sit down and listen.
This eating disorder will not only ruin your dreams and happiness it will bring so much pain to your family and will break friendships.
Yes you, the apparently loyal, funny and supportive friend will lose many people around you because of who your eating disorder makes you. I know you love spending time with everyone, making people laugh and enjoying being on those sports teams. But this won’t last much longer. Soon you will feel distanced, unwanted and judged, yes a lot will be due to you becoming more isolated, self-conscious and controlling but how can you be fun anymore when you don’t want to be with people at meals, are banned from sports and can’t relax in front of a film on a Friday night? Pretty sad and tragic if you ask me.
And this will only get worse when you are admitted to hospital. You can’t blame your friends for moving on with their own lives. It will feel like time has stopped while you are in that bubble, but of course it won’t have, people will still be smiling, enjoying their own lives but you won’t change and will become institutionalised so of course when you return to school your friendships will be different, if there at all. It won’t be until you leave school over two years later that you finally feel comfortable being you again and try to make new friends without feeling judged or labelled.
However, some friendships you will maintain, build on and rekindle despite bringing them intense pain. It will take seven years for you to be back in contact with a friend you break very soon from now, your best friend. This will hurt all through recovery, that you caused this and you can’t deny it. But as I said you get back in contact and you will become close again, but please minimise that sickening regret I feel now and also the grief you put her and every other friend through. You would hate to lose a friend because she is too blinkered to see that she is killing herself and you can’t do anything about it – so don’t be that girl.
I can’t quite bring myself to write about how you will ruin Mum emotionally and the pain you will bring to the rest of the family. So I hope this shows it won’t be something to be proud of or want to remember. Yes, now 10 years on, we as a family are once again stronger and happier – but why the suffering Eloise, why cause that eternal suffering on the people you, the real you, love so so much?
Now you may be wondering how you get out of this mess and arrive at this point to write this letter. Until the moment you pick up the phone to Mum in tears about why you can’t do X or Y anymore and why you are lonely, you won’t want to recover. Hard to believe I know having read everything you have put yourself and others through but this just shows the power of the illness and how it will take over your life and your reality. However, this phone call is not the end. It will be a process lasting more than two years seeing this guy, genius in fact, who will challenge you in every session, bring you to tears over a Kit-kat and help you rebuild your ambitions and goals in life. As you can imagine you will and still are entirely thankful to him for saving your life, dreams and freedom.
But even when you are recovered, moving on and enjoying the new you, goals and sport you will be faced with pain, regret and emotion from the aftermath and the harsh reality an eating disorder has on a body. In nine years, so yes only last year for me, you will be told the fact you haven’t had your period for over eight years is the most likely cause of your current injury, a stress fracture in your sacrum, due to the effect on your bones, body and recovery rate. This injury, may I add, is not only rare but also in most medical studies has been linked directly with the athlete-triad, yes the thing you are trying to convince yourself and others isn’t affecting you right now. This news will be hard to digest. You will cry, question and just hurt inside as something you thought you had sorted, worked so hard to destroy and the thing that killed everything good in your life has somehow crept back in and tried to steal your dreams and goals once more. This will be the most horrible feeling you will ever face after recovery to date and the question of whether you will ever be “safe” again will haunt you.
I know this has been a hard read, and maybe you still think this is not your destiny as you are fine, but take time to re-read this and speak to the people who know what makes a stronger, fitter athlete. Maybe your lacrosse and running Coaches who you admire and who inspire you everyday. Do not look at the media, magazines or focus on your perceptions, as by definitions they are just your perceptions not reality.
I will leave you now Eloise, but please listen, wipe those tears and go to dinner tonight to rewrite those 10 years for me and waste not another minute of your life.
Lots of love,
The charity I am currently volunteering for, ABC, supports sufferers in recovery by being an ear to listen to concerns and worries, if you are needing more support at this time I recommend getting in touch with them. Alternatively, feel free to message me through my contact page if you have any questions – as always I will try and be as honest as I can be.