Disordered Eating and How I’m slowly Claiming My Life Back

Disordered Eating and How I’m slowly Claiming My Life Back

Trigger warning: Eating Disorders, Binge Eating, Mental Health

I remember very clearly aged sixteen writing down things I was grateful for. It was probably part of some exercise in Religion or SPHE class where they tried to teach us about mental health and spirituality (but in the Church-approved way). One thing I wrote was “I’m grateful I don’t obsess about my weight”. 

At the time, that felt like a real achievement. I’d spent many PE lessons in the gym changing rooms listening to girls compare their bodies, pointing out “fat”, remarking on flat stomachs and skinny thighs, talking about what diets they were on. It sounded like a different language to me and one I felt I couldn’t engage in. I’d felt superior in thinking that these things were trivial, they didn’t matter to me, they didn’t affect who I was and what grades I got. More important things mattered like cakey makeup and going to Penney’s with my friends.

By the time I was 18, I’d begun to feel a little self conscious about my body, particularly my legs and arms and by the time I was graduating school, an inferiority complex began to edge in. I criticised my body in every reflection in a glass door as I walked to class. I hated what I wore to my class graduation that I refused to have photos taken of me. I ruminated over our informal end of year photos highlighting the things that other girls had that I admired and didn’t have. I skipped end of year events because I didn’t look good enough. I began to hate my body but I thought hating your body was normal – that’s what society and the media were telling me – so I didn’t think much more of it.

Life then took over. I sat my Leaving Cert, I dyed my hair (hardly anyone noticed and for that I’m glad), and I got into college. I met someone who believed that I was perfect and my weight issues took a back seat. Things were fine for a while. And then I got sick.

My mental health had been deteriorating from early 2012 but it wasn’t until a year later that it took a very bad turn. I’ve written extensively on OCD/Depression/Anxiety before so I won’t rehash what has been said other than it sucked the life out of me. I could barely function. I was a shell of who I had been. And I dropped a lot of weight.

I wasn’t eating adequately, I was spending mornings and evenings ruminating, engaging in compulsions, driving my poor boyfriend mad. But looking back on it, that wasn’t the worst part, it was then that I began to get praise for what I looked like. I don’t like to discuss sizes but to illustrate my point, I’ll make an exception. I dropped from a size 14/16 to a size 8 in six weeks.

That’s really fucking dangerous.

But in spite of the shit that brought me to that point, I celebrated it. I was happy with my sudden weight loss. I was finally “thin”. I could wear nice clothes and have boys look at me in a way they didn’t before. I felt worthy for the first time in my life, not to myself, but to others. I remember, being in the grips of a bad episode in a Marks and Spencer’s trying on a parka and being overjoyed that a size eight fitted me. I was so sick and all I cared about was that the reflection in the shop mirror made me happy. That should have been the first clue that something other than OCD was wrong. 

By the end of 2014, I had gone through a breakup and began exercising routinely. I somewhat got back on track with my food and began to eat foods that would fuel me and for a while, I felt good, I felt strong and I began to feel worthy to myself.

In 2015, I went on a J1 to Berkeley. The balcony collapse happened three blocks away from us and I dealt with it badly. I began to comfort eat and before I knew it, I began a binge-restrict cycle that lasted nearly six years. 

A binge-restrict cycle is pretty much self explanatory. I’d binge eat whatever I wanted and then I’d feel guilt or shame for what I did. I’d then try and restrict my food intake, leaving me hungry and even more ashamed, starting the binge cycle again. It had become so normalised in the media that I assumed this was what we as humans were supposed to do. 

Most of the time, I’d hide my food to eat it away from other people so I wouldn’t be judged. I’d  often feel a total lack of control over what I was eating, eating rapidly and eating for the sake of it. I’d enjoy nothing. I’d excessively comfort eat which were exacerbated feelings of low self esteem and value. Sometimes instead of restrictive eating, I’d enter into excessive exercise which I wasn’t fit enough for or capable of doing, causing more shame, guilt and hatred of myself. 

I began to blame my body for everything: for being ghosted, for not doing well at work, for bad behaviour and for failing at things I didn’t even try to do. 

I would strictly prohibit myself from buy nice clothes. I told myself I couldn’t pursue a career in the arts as I was too disgusting, too awful and too terrible to be anyway wanted or worthy. I blamed every failed relationship on my hips, my tummy, my thighs. 

I punished myself constantly for existing. There are no words to describe how much I hated myself. I’d wake up in the morning and feel as though my hips, my thighs, my stomach were expanding. I was embarrassed to strip down into anything less than a shirt and shorts. 

I hated anything that forced me to do anything with my body. I began to hate performing, the one thing in my life that gave me a sense of belonging became a threat. I began to resent other people and project my hatred for myself onto them. I’d bail on plans because I hated being in public, I felt like everyone was looking at me, judging me. I was scared of how far shaming myself would push me and yet I didn’t stop and in a way, I stopped living.

My mind only had one use which was to punish me and keep me on the binge-restrict cycle. It killed my social life, my interest in bettering myself and my career path. And could possibly kill me.

The pandemic hit and I knew that I couldn’t take it anymore. Being at home 24/7 opened my eyes to how sick I was of the rhetoric in my head, the hatred I spewed at myself every day, the rules I’d made up in my head of things I could (not many) and couldn’t (lots) do. I was tired of comparing myself to every single person I saw, trying to guess their clothes size just by looking at them, trying to hide coats and jackets so that people couldn’t see the labels.

I finally admitted this to my therapist, who thankfully not only deals with the side of mental health battle with but also with eating disorders. I didn’t think I had an ED. I hated saying the words ‘eating disorder’ because I felt they didn’t apply to me. How different was I from other people? Not much, my therapist said, but just because it’s common doesn’t make it any less of an eating disorder. 

I felt (and sometimes still feel) uncomfortable to say “I have an eating disorder” because there are some horrendous EDs out there between anorexia and bulimia. I’m always afraid of being accused of attention seeking so for ages, I kept my mouth shut. But no problem gets solved by staying silent. I know many people out there are experiencing a binge-restrict cycle and maybe aren’t even aware of it. I hope this helps them.

Right now, I’m working on my relationship with food, viewing it as a need, not a choice. Food is something we need to keep us alive. No food is inherently good or bad. Balance and moderation is key. Restrictive eating leads to binge, giving yourself permission to eat freely is the only true way of breaking away from the rules that this eating disorder has laid down. I have had to learn to slow down and be alert when I have urges to binge – I have to ask myself why, what am I actually feeling here, is it shame? Inadequacy? I still fall into the trap now and again and I’m learning to forgive myself for that, to not beat myself up for eating more over Christmas or allowing myself to eat a little more after a long hike or exercise. Your body needs fuel.

I’m not an expert at all and nothing about this recovery is easy. Even as I write this I can recognise binge and restrict patterns cropping up in my head. But if anything, I know that it’s possible to get away from it. Life doesn’t have to be dictated by food, how you feel about yourself doesn’t have to be dictated by food and your self worth should never be dictated by food.

And once you realise that, you’re already halfway there. 

On Celebrating the Small Things

On Celebrating the Small Things

There are many things in life we take for granted. Especially the small things. And as things in this world are not exactly wholly positive, it’s now more than ever that we should celebrate the small things. And yeah, it’s a bit of an erroneous list to write but why should we not do things for the fear of other people finding it cheesy?

I’m making a better effort to celebrate the small things in life like…

When the crowds and stragglers finally clear and you can take a photo you can be proud of

When you get onto the train just seconds before the doors close (or when the bus driver waits for you). Bonus points if you get a seat upstairs at the very front.

When the sun comes out on a cool day and warms your face

When you finally have that chance to overtake a slow car and have endless empty road in front of you

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25 for 25

25 for 25

I turn 25 on Friday.

I don’t think I’m as horrified as I could be (or should be). I don’t mind birthdays but they were never really a huge focus in my life. I’m not a “it’s my birthday month” kind of person, I honestly just want to get on with my day.

It took me a while to realise that your birthday is just another day in the calendar. You’re not supposed to (or expected to) magically feel anything in particular. Things aren’t meant to be miraculously different. You won’t discover the meaning of life or find enlightenment. It really is just another day. So I’ve stopped having massive expectations for my birthday and allowed it to just be. And for that, I am much happier.

But classing myself as being in my ‘mid-20s’ is a little frightening. Here I am, 24 going on 25, with a handful of achievements and dreams of a couple more.

I share my birthday with Reese Witherspoon and William Shatner (v cool) as well as my best friend (medium cool) who was born in the same hospital on the same day in the same year just hours apart. He and I only met in college but our lives ran pretty parallel to one another until then.

In those 25 years, I’ve done a lot. As much as anyone would really. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about my life. I haven’t achieved anything massively spectacular or survived any enormous amount of trauma (aside from mental health struggles) but I have learned a few things; things that have helped me, things that I wish I knew before I learned them, things that have been difficult to come to terms with and things that have more or less saved my life – both metaphorically and literally.

So I thought it’d be fitting to share twenty-five of those things here and maybe when I hit fifty, I’ll have another twenty-five to throw at you.

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5 Ways to kind of be a Better Person

5 Ways to kind of be a Better Person

We all want to be a better person. Unless you think you are the *best* person and if so, you probably need to work on your humility.

I often find myself wishing I was better but better at what, I don’t know. Sometimes I get frustrated that even when I’m trying my absolute best, I’m not improving and nothing is changing, whether it’s with work, friendships, family relationships or things I do day to day. I have an image in my head as to what I want and immediately lament that I’m too dumb/stupid/lazy/incompetent to do it. And then I wind up with low confidence which feeds the circle of “I want to be better” and we start all over again.

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Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

When I told my American History Professor that I wanted to write my Michaelmas term paper on Buddy Holly, he looked at me funny. Not in a “who is that” kind of way but more in a “sounds pretty specific but ok” way. I wrote my paper on race relations and Buddy Holly’s music – spoiler alert: not a whole lot to write about there – but it was a paper I wrote more for myself than anyone else.

If you have read this blog long enough, you’ll know about my struggles with anxiety. In fact, I seem to be starting all my blog posts like that now. But this one is a little different.

When I was younger, Buddy Holly never meant more than a dorky kid with black rimmed glasses that tried his hand at rock and roll. I didn’t know any of his songs or his impact or his untimely death. I didn’t know he inspired Elvis or The Beatles or Bruce Springsteen or that he broke the foundations to what is now rock and roll. He just wasn’t someone I was bothered about.

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Everything I’ve Learned

Everything I’ve Learned

Do you want an emotional and soppy post? No?

Tough, you’re getting it anyway.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the people around me, the people who have shaped me since I was a child, the ones who have been constant and the ones who drift in and out. And it’s especially true for periods of transitions where you’re a little in the dark. In the last 18 months, I moved out of home, I started a new job, I went back to college, I sought treatment for my anxiety and I took a two week travelling trip to the US on my own. This is more than I could probably have imagined for my 24 year old self when I was in college.

But transitions like these are hard.

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2009 v 2019

2009 v 2019

I see everyone posting their 10 year challenge pictures.

Ten years ago my life was widely different to what it is now. Sure, everyone’s is – be a bit weird if it wasn’t, right?  But ten years ago, I was preparing for my Junior Cert which  was a catalyst for some of the major issues I faced in my late teenage years and early 20s.

Up until 2016, I categorised my life before and after 2009. My life was calm, smooth and pleasant before 2009 and after, it became a chaotic, anxious mess. Because 2009 was the year that I first experienced Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I’ve written about my OCD before. Numerous amounts of times. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re all sick of hearing about it because God knows I am. I can’t say I was an anxious child growing up – I don’t really remember – but if you had said I’d an underlying mental health issue, I don’t think I’d have believed you.

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Vienna

Vienna

Today’s post is more of a photo diary (with photos in no particular order to reflect my life). I spent the last five days visiting friends in Austria, taking a much needed break.

Vienna was ten times better this time around – probably because I had a friend to show me around rather than just scrambling about for myself. We had a lot of good coffee, good Aperol and plenty of indescribably great experiences (such as one time on The Danube, struggling to steer our electric boat whilst treating to the shores of the river to Beyonce). It was good. I feel rejuvinated. And most importantly, it was soul-healing.

(thank you so much, Fi and Hannes for a really incredible trip and letting me invade your home, you guys are truly the most welcoming hosts)

Ps, Fi took some of the photos on this post – I think someone should get her a camera stat. Also, a puppy.

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A Tolkien of Modernity

A Tolkien of Modernity

If you don’t know me, you won’t know that I’ve recently fallen into a Hobbit shaped hole which I don’t really want to crawl out of just yet. I’ve become so enthralled with it that I’ve noticed it creeping into my style choices – which given the other worldly aesthetic, probably isn’t such a bad idea.

(Tolkien may have said all that is gold does not glitter but I don’t think at that stage he’d seen any of Chupi’s pieces yet)

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February 2.0

February 2.0

February feels like that first breath of fresh air you get when you get off the plane that is January. It’s like suffering through 31 days of turbulence, not really knowing when you’ll hit the ground, if at all, and only happy once the 1st of February’s brief string of days roll around in the form of the seatbelt light going off.

I know where I was going with this, I promise.

The days are getting brighter which means that I no longer leave for work in the dead of night and arrive home in the dead of night. The air feels fresher (though the weather is still yoyoing), everyone seems to be in a better mood, and it’s fine to start “spring cleaning” because hey, it’s technically Spring if you live on this island.

I’ve been beyond busy with work, gym, and drama (the good kind) that I’ve barely had a moment to myself amidst rehearsals, fighting for treadmills, and receiving cold calls from stationery suppliers in the back end of nowhere.

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