I’m a 25-year old Jewish woman living near Berkhamsted and getting married this June. I am, however, facing the challenges of my old eating disorder once again. If I could get through it before, I can get through it again.
It began when I was 15. I had a supportive family and good academic performance, but that couldn’t prevent me succumbing to depression. I struggled with the social aspect of school, the pressure to conform to particular body standards, and my body receiving constant, unwanted attention from fellow students and even strangers in the street.
This felt I lacked control in my life, so to reverse this I focused on something I could always control; my food intake. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat for days at a time, but hunger always took over and I would break my fast by binge-eating. This vicious cycle perpetuated the problem, because I thought starving myself would regain the control I’d lost while binge-eating.
I was diagnosed with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS); a category for people who didn’t fit the criteria for anorexia or bulimia. According to Beat, until 2013, 50 percent of people experiencing an eating disorder had EDNOS, however the diagnostic criteria changed for the various eating disorders and EDNOS was eliminated.
I was very open about my difficulties, however my peers didn’t understand, and accused me of making things up to receive extra time in exams. My school counsellor didn’t understand either, misguidedly telling me my main problem was the pressure to go to university, and that I shouldn’t apply.
Years of suicidal thoughts culminated when I was mistakenly given a four-month supply of anti-depressants. On one particularly bad day, I thought about using this medication to end my life.
Things changed when I got an after-school job at Sainsbury’s. It added structure to my life and new friends. Wearing my uniform I couldn’t hide the evidence of self-harm on my arms, so I found healthier ways of coping with my emotions. One day I nearly fainted on the job after not having eaten for days, giving me the wake-up call that I needed to give my body regular fuel. The final piece of the puzzle was repairing the friendships I had lost, and I finally felt in control again. I no longer needed to control what I ate.
Against the school counsellor’s advice, I went to university. I didn’t eat for the first week due to nerves, however that was for the last time. I went on to achieve an Undergraduate degree in clinical psychology and a Master’s degree in cognitive rehabilitation, and I’m now happily working for a Jewish charity.
Looking back, there were others at my school who were also experiencing eating disorders. I think people now have more understanding about mental health in general, however there is still a long way to go. It is of paramount importance that pastoral staff in schools are equipped to support students with these issues, which commonly manifest in adolescence, in addition to educating children about the mental health difficulties their peers can face.
Ten years on, I’m still in recovery from my eating disorder. Although I haven’t relapsed since my first week of university, with a few months to go until I walk down the aisle in my wedding dress, I’ve had moments where I’ve thought about going back to old behaviours. But I know that I was never in control when I was ill; the eating disorder controlled me. Really being in control is the ability to rise above it, which is what I’ll keep doing.