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Paul’s story

“It is shocking to think it has been over half-my-life since I first started to struggle with eating issues although I have always had a turbulent relationship with food. Even as a child the slightest thing would put me off it and I struggled with a number of weird associations. I remember seeing the assassination of President Benigno Aquino on the television and after that I was unable to eat fish-in-the-bag!

The first real desperate period I can recall was back in 1989, when I had just entered my teens. I noticed that I suddenly became more quiet and reflective and food became less and less of a desire. I had been bullied at school since virtually day one and I began to feel more and more worthless and inferior and dreaded having to attend. Since going to secondary school I had become quite isolated and insular as peers had moved on and being quite effeminate I just wasn’t cool to be around. Starving myself made it easier to deal with although I was unsure as to why. In fact I didn’t even think about it, it was just an automatic and subconscious reaction. Up until then I had eaten quite a lot – even pinching my dad’s dinner which was put up for him for his return from work. I generally liked eating and was always quite healthy.

As I got older I took less and less interest in food. At university I managed well without it, but then when I was presented with something which appealed, I would be unable to stop myself from binging on it (I once single-handedly cleared a plate of fairy cakes at a tea party – much to the annoyance of the hostess!).

It was post-university that I began to dramatically limit my food intake. I soon realised that when my mood dipped I would move away from food and this has been the pattern ever since. I entered a job I didn’t like in the late 1990s and I would starve myself of food to help get my way through it. Somehow that feeling of intense lethargy and of being in a daze would carry me along. I was numb to the world and I quite liked that. Also I quite enjoyed punishing and paining myself.

During the summer of 2000 I began to burn out and finally went to see the family doctor who put me down for CBT sessions which, after an initial assessment in the late summer, began the previous year. They weren’t particularly helpful though did arm me with some survival techniques which have managed to slip and wane over the passing years.

Still my problems with eating continued – even after my life-changing decision in 2002 to move up to Scotland for a fresh start away from some faces which had blighted my past and made me feel bad about myself.

I went to see my doctor up here in 2006 who suggested I had more CBT sessions. I attended the obligatory eight (with one follow-up) but found it of little help despite having a warm and caring counsellor who took her time to help me work through my different issues. She said she wouldn’t class what I have as an eating disorder per se but something which is the knock-on effect of high anxiety and low self-esteem. I wonder how many others are in this position? I see so few examples of people in this same situation and it would be nice to know I am not the only one in this relatively indefinable state.

It alarmed me that only half-a-year or so after my second go at CBT, during the early summer of 2007, I suffered my most serious problem with not eating to date which lasted almost six months. I would barely eat and lost weight and nearly the will to live. My flatmates both said I lost the ability to smile and floated around in a haze. I hate to say it but I even started to cut myself as well to release some of the internal pain. This only happened twice but was enough. I was very frightened but the edge of my fear was gradually taken from me by not having the energy to worry. The only way I got through that desperate period was by having the two very supportive flatmates who were encouraging and understanding. While in the throes of this I went to see one of the GPs at my practice who was of little help. I remember him looking at my withered arms and then telling me to look at a website where advice is given about what we should be eating each day. I could have cried. I couldn’t believe that in my most tortured state I was hitting another brick wall. It made me think “I can’t be that thin or ill so I will have to eat even less!”

Luckily I made it through (I am not sure how, but a cog finally turned) and now I have progressed to having good and bad days. Sometimes I will want to have a decent meal, other times I will want a smaller meal, and in gloomier moments I will want nothing at all. For me it all depends on my mood and how I see myself as a person (or how I view the world at large).

I am lucky in that my workplace has been very supportive and they are currently trying to get me to have a medical assessment as my work has been suffering due to a lack of concentration. I realise that not everyone is in this fortunate position.

The food issue has dragged on but I am hopeful that maybe someday I will kick this thing and live a relatively carefree life where the guilt of eating and being good to myself is no longer a part of my make-up.”

'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' is a registered charity in England and Wales no. 1139351.

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