I have battled an eating disorder for 20 years. I was diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Non Otherwise Specified) because I have had long bouts of anorexia and bulimia. I have learnt recently that when I think I have combated my anorexic behaviour, I have turned to bulimic behaviour, and then when I try and stop purging and overeating and vomiting, I reduce my eating and calorie intake.
I remember being 8 years old and over eating, and by the time I was 10, I started making myself vomit. This prolonged through my teenage years. I think I have always struggled with being around food, choosing what to eat, and feeling incredibly uncomfortable eating and being seen by others eating.
When I was 16 years old, I lied about my age and started taking amphetamine-based slimming tablets. This went on for many years, and my weight dropped sharply. During my 20’s, anorexia and bulimia have plagued me and taken over my life. They have stopped me having relationships, and I have become a perfectionist in everything I do. During these years, I have used ipecac syrup, thyroid pills, laxatives and over exercised.
In 2006, I was struggling with bulimia and vomited up to 8 times a day. Later that year, I caught a cold that became pneumonia. When I consulted my GP, he told me that he knew why I had pneumonia, and requested I speak to a psychologist. I think I was on the cusp of admitting my eating disorder, but when I met the psychologist, the first question I wad asked was “are you gay?” I do not identify as gay, but the question seemed to assume that because I was a man with what was classically identified as a female disorder, that I must be homosexual. I felt incredibly confused and felt that I could not speak up about my eating disorder, and became deeper in denial. I felt that I could not seek treatment and that straight men could not admit to being anorexic or bulimic because it was not a heterosexual mans disorder.
My dependency on laxatives became addictive in 2010-2011, and I was taking 70-80 a day. Between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve 2011, I took 1000 laxatives and suffered a heart attack on the New Years Eve. That’s when I decided that enough was enough.
I began intensive treatment in 2012 and have confessed my struggle to my family and friends. ‘Coming Out’ was incredibly terrifying for me, but when I did, it began to make things easier, because people understood what I was struggling with, and a lot of my behaviour around food and eating out became more understood. Everyone said to me “we always knew, but never knew the severity”.
What I have come to learn and speak more about is that this is NOT a gay mans disorder, no more so than it being a female disorder. It can affect anyone of any age, and it is a miserable existence battling any form of eating disorder. Whilst I am still in the process of recovery and believe that this is a long haul journey, I do feel that because of the lack of recognition to men with an eating disorder (regardless of sexuality) contributed to my disorder being prolonged.
The fact is, when I realized at the age of 19 that I was anorexic, there was no treatment or literature about male anorexia. I did enquire about the topic at a health clinic, and I was given a leaflet that said, “If your BMI drops below 18.5, you will stop having periods”. Of course, if I were having periods, I would have greater problems that I first realised! But this piece of information did not assist at that time, and I still believe that the majority of information and literature is catered towards females. And this needs to stop.
My treatment is the hardest thing I have tried to do, and I have good days and bad days. I have times when I am incredibly optimistic about living without the eating disorder cloud over my head, and there are those dark days when I believe that my eating disorder mindset is my best friend. Every day, I build on the courage and strength to fight on and to learn the good things in life and that life has far more to offer than what weight and shape I am. I have spent every day of my life overly concerned with how I look, what I weigh and whether I am aesthetically good enough to be a part of society. And for me, that is the daily battle; to tell myself that it will all be OK and that I can be happier without being concerned with my appearance and shape. It’s incredibly tiring to be constantly fighting this disorder, and unlike many other mental health disorders, there is no prescribed medication that can combat the anorexic thoughts and behaviours. I have been offered (numerous time) anti-depressants, but the reality is, I am not depressed! So, it’s just me against a disorder that is all-too-familiar for me, and every day is a learning curve.
It is also about learning what is good for you and what is not. I enjoy running, but how much running is ‘good enough’? Am I running for pleasure or to burn calories? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. These constant questions about myself are part of the daily battle. It’s like I am learning new ways to live. Many of these new ways are ‘abnormal’, because the eating disorder mindset has become so ‘normal’.
But being able to share my thoughts with others is what has helped me, and I recommend transparency as part of the process of recovery. For the first time, ever, I am feeling more optimistic about the future than ever before.