November 14th 2012 was the day my life was turned upside down. After weeks of threats with being brought to the doctor and false promises on my half, I was surprised by my Mam with a doctor’s appointment. Not happy but unable to reason anymore I reluctantly went.
The doctor was lovely. She asked me what I ate on a daily basis and how much I was exercising. I tried to be as honest with her as possible but I felt very guarded. She then took my weight and height before telling me about the body mass index (BMI) and where I came on the scale. However I didn’t pay much attention. I felt like she was just trying to scare me. She told me that I had an eating disorder called Anorexia Nervosa.
The doctors must be overreacting
‘Me? Little old Irish me?’ Only people in Hollywood have those types of conditions’ I thought, surely this doctor was mistaken but she was insistent on referring me to CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, something I never even knew existed. I felt confused and thought that the doctor was overreacting. Okay maybe I had let things go a little too far but I wasn’t unwell. I went to CAMHS ready to tell them the same.
To my surprise I was informed that I would need to be admitted as an emergency case to a psychiatric hospital. Sorry what?!? I didn’t even know that we had those types of facilities in Ireland, a 15 year old stigmatised me thought. I was sent to A&E to get an ECG and full blood work done. I was told how the fact that my periods had stopped could affect my fertility when I’m older. More scare tactics I thought. A couple days later at home I collapsed. I was terrified. Maybe I wasn’t okay, maybe I did need help, but I still wasn’t as sick as they were saying so I thought.
An eye opening conversation
My first day in hospital was a massive eye opener. I was told of my meal plan and bed rest schedule which seemed overwhelming as the thoughts of having every aspect of control taken from me was unnerving and frustrating. I asked a nurse if I could have a shower that evening to be told no. I didn’t understand. Should they not encourage me to be looking after myself? ‘I need to wash my hair though’ I explained. The nurse said that they could do that for me and help me shower if I needed as they were afraid I was too weak. ‘I’m fine and I’ll be really really quick too’ I tried to reason. The nurse paused before saying something which shocked me. She told me that not only was there concern about me being too weak but they also couldn’t take any chances in case I was doing exercises in there.
Could she read my mind?? How did she know that’s what I was planning on doing? The realisation of the fact that I was actually unwell made more sense then her being a mind reading wizard, which hit hard. After that I made sure that I ate every single meal, snack, supplement put in front of me. I was determined to ‘get better’ even if I was still figuring out what that meant. I spent afternoons crying into dinners but I stuck it out and finished every mouth full even if it was through tears.
I began to recognise my nurses as experts who wanted to help me, not just people who wanted to make me fat. I began to trust them and soon realised that my condition actually had very little to do with my appearance and was just a coping mechanism for when I felt unable to manage. I didn’t just want to be skinny, I wanted to be okay – both in myself and in my life.
I was by no means ‘cured’ when I got out of hospital, it was just the beginning to be honest.
I started CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which was hard and left me exhausted but the more I practiced it the easier it got and I realised that I was able to use different, healthier skills when things got tough rather than restrict my food and punish myself. Through finding my voice I found hope and a sense of empowerment.
I am now preparing for my last year in college training to be a psychiatric nurse which still seems surreal at times. I’ve never felt more grateful to be alive and healthy which for a long time is something I didn’t know if I’d get to experience. There were a lot of times when I didn’t think I would make it to this point in my life and so my message to anyone struggling would be to hang on and reach out. Whatever the situation, there are people who want to help you and while things may seem unbearable right now, you have more to give and more to live for.