I was born in 1967, a little over a year into my parent’s marriage. They were both young, 21 and 25, and would go on to have 3 more children — all of us girls. I grew up believing that both my parents were disappointed with girls – my dad, I thought, would ‘obviously’ want boys, and my Mam was very fond of her 3 older brothers. I became a bit of a tomboy, always climbing and racing around. Being ‘at least as good as’ the boys was important to me, but really I was motivated by the thought of being better.
My parents relationship was bumpy, to say the least. My dad worked away a lot, so he didn’t feature too much in my day to day life during the early years. I lived a harmonious existence with my Mam and sister Anna. When my dad came home, however, life was much more tense. He drank a great deal and would be in the pub from the moment it opened at 11am until he was thrown out at 3pm. He’d sleep off his drink, and return to the pub for opening at 7pm. The slightest thing could cause an argument, and an argument often resulted in my mother being physically assaulted, so much of our energy was invested in treading on egg shells and keeping the peace. It was always a relief when he went back to work and harmony returned.
Not long after I started school, which I loved, my parents separated. My mother collected me from school sporting a black eye, and took Anna and I to Nanna and Grandad’s by bus. We lived there long enough that I had to change schools, which I hated, but essentially this was a very settled time in my life and I look back upon it with fondness. Eventually, my parents reunited and my two younger sisters came along. Their relationship continued to bump along in the same way, however.
A taste of things to come
Is it possible to predict that someone will develop anorexia, and is there a typical ‘anorexic’? The condition has been well researched and a number of biological, psychological, developmental, and sociocultural risk factors have been identified but the exact cause remains unknown. Looking back over my own life, however, there were some very early signs.
When I was just 7, I remember having some navy blue gym shorts for school. It upset me hugely that a girl called Stephanie had the same shorts. It wasn’t really that she had the same shorts, it was more that she had nicer legs than me — longer, slimmer, more tanned — or so I thought. A year or so later, my teacher, Mr Craggs, gave us a talk on the ills of too much sugar (obviously ahead of his time!!) Having been brought up on a sugar laden diet, which included lots of tea with 2 sugars, I came home and announced that I was giving up sugar. I was barely 10. My first cup of unsweetened tea tasted vile, but I persisted, and I haven’t taken sugar in my tea for 40 years… and I drink a lot of tea!
I was quite an anxious child, very shy, and one who was really eager to please and conform… especially outside of home. I was maybe only 6 or so when we were leaving the hairdressers above the launderette. I was sliding down the bannister, something I did at home, at my Nanna’s, and at every given opportunity, when a lady said to my Mam, ‘what a naughty little girl!’. I was distraught. Even now, when I recall this probably very minor event, it has the power to make me cry.
When I was 12, on the verge of puberty, my mother again left my dad. She waited until my dad had returned overseas before taking all 4 of us girls to live with a man she had started a relationship with. This was a very bad time in my life. We lived in a pub and saw much less of our Mam, who now worked in the pub. We ate differently, and I was often responsible for getting my own meals. I didn’t like the change and I didn’t like him. To top it all, I didn’t like my changing body
Falling foul of the demons
My years at the pub were unhappy ones. I didn’t like my step father at all, and this created a wedge between me and the rest of my family, and especially between me and my mother. He would push me about, throw things at me, and say the most hurtful things. I became quite a recluse and spent long periods of time on my own. The rest of the family would spend weekends at ‘the caravan’ and I would stay behind to focus on homework. I’m sure there were regulars in the pub that didn’t even know I existed! I came in and went out through the back door…
I think I was 14 when renovations started on the pub. We lived in a static caravan next to the pub in the meantime. There was no getting away from my stepfather and no privacy. I was truly miserable. I stopped eating… completely! I also stopped drinking. My Mam seemed to be concerned about me, for what seemed like the first time in years, and she brought the family doctor to see me. Dr Small noted that I was no longer the happy, healthy girl he knew and had me admitted to hospital — a psychiatric hospital. I was placed in a room next to the nurses station, where they could observe me through the window, and was forbidden to get out of bed. I was brought food on a regular basis and rewarded if I ate it. Initially the reward was being allowed out of bed to socialise, but the ultimate reward was being discharged from hospital. I wasn’t really motivated by that. I felt quite safe there and, in fact, this place was to become my second home in my 20s. In the meantime, however, my nervous, half-hearted reports of emotional and physical abuse by my step father were ignored and I was discharged.
My eating became more erratic, and there were some days that I would eat nothing more than a tomato. Becoming accustomed to fending for myself, I began to resent having to join in family meals, and I remember a big argument stemming from me refusing burgers for tea. I can still picture my mother crying in the kitchen as my stepfather picked me up and threatened to throw me from an upstairs window. I fled, without shoes, to my aunt’s house, and refused to go back. News got back to my Dad, and it wasn’t too long before my mother, my sisters and me were moving back into our old family home. For a very short time — a week or so — I was happy again.
My step father didn’t give up easily. He knocked on the door one day and demanded that my mother go back to him. I sat half way up the stairs, pleading with her not to. I refused to go…I couldn’t face it, but she went back! She took my sisters with her, and so, at 15 years old, I was living on my own and fending for myself.
The wilderness years
Although I was living alone, I had plenty of people looking out for me… teachers and people from Sunday school mostly. They all wanted to feed me, and so I maintained a pretty normal weight at this time.
My mother and stepfather’s relationship didn’t actually last much longer. I sat my O levels in the meantime and did pretty well considering, but I by no means fulfilled my potential. The plan was to do 4 A levels at 6th Form, but I didn’t adjust well to 6th form and left before the first year was out.
During that first year at 6th form, my Mam left my stepfather again. Without me to abuse, he became more abusive towards my mother, and she made the break. She and my sisters, bizarrely, moved into my Dad’s neighbour’s house. I used to talk to my sister, Anna, through the wall. My parents got back together, and our family home was sold to buy a bigger house a short distance away… far enough away from my dad’s local our Mam was hoping!
Sixth form wasn’t going well for me. I just wasn’t grown up enough, and I didn’t fit in. I didn’t really fit in at school, but I’d found refuge in the music block. I was a fairly talented cornet / trumpet player, and had latterly learnt to play piano. My cornet tutor suggested that I apply to do a diploma in music at Huddersfield Tech, in the heart of brass band country. I applied… and I got in. My Mam cried as she saw me onto the train — I can’t remember how I felt about going away, but it upset me to see her cry.
Initially, I was very unhappy. I was lodging with a family miles from college, and I hated it. I had a few other temporary placements before landing myself in an attic bedsit on the edge of Gledholt Park. I was much happier here. I could do my own cooking, come and go as I pleased, and I still had the security of a family living downstairs.
College was a different matter. I had been one of the more talented musicians at school, but here, out of my comfort zone, I felt pretty mediocre. On top of this, my tutor could be very unkind with his feedback, and I found my self confidence nose diving. When everyone else was applying for courses at The London Academy and The Guildhall, I couldn’t bear the thought of being rejected and was perfecting my avoidance techniques. I went to work in the local tax office.
The bare bones
My work at the tax office suited me. It was pretty task orientated and low stress, and the people were lovely. However, it was temporary. At the end of my temporary contract they weren’t able to take me on, but I managed to get a job with the inspector of taxes in Shipley, which involved a lengthy daily journey by public transport. I also had an operation to remove a bony tumour, or osteoma, on my skull just prior to starting at Shipley. It was at this point that anorexia really began to take a hold on me.
It began with being organised and, I don’t know why, eating the same thing every day. The college band had been to Switzerland the previous summer, and I had pocketed all the jam portions given out at breakfast. My day looked something like this:
5am – Alarm goes off
Eat toast with jam — one slice and crunchy cereal from pick and mix shop
5.45am – leave the house
6am – catch bus to Bradford (terrifying!)
7am – catch another bus to Shipley
8am – Start work (mindless, brainless processing of data)
Lunch – few nuts and raisins
4pm- leave the building as soon as I possibly could to catch the first available bus to Bradford (terrifying!)
5pm – catch the bus the Huddersfield (relief)
6pm – walk home via the pick and mix shop
6.30pm – eat toast and jam — one slice and crunchy cereal.
That was it! Every day!! I didn’t know what to do with myself between morning and evening toast and jam and crunchy cereal at weekends… so I visited the health food shop..
Soon the jam ran out and it was just cereal. Then the milk became soya milk. Crunchy cereal became AllBran, and then porridge. Porridge soon had to be weighed out (I still have those scales) and made with water… and before I knew it I existed on 2 bowls of porridge made with water and 2 apples a day.
I had a new neighbour in my attic and she invited me to see Wayne Sleep in ‘Song and Dance’ in Leeds. It was a break to my routine, but I went along. I took a laxative for no other reason than my routine was disrupted, and I knew this was a turning point!
My landlady casually asked me if I was ok. I shrugged it off, so she bought me some black strap molasses… as you do!
Back at home, my parents had separated again and my Mam was living in a rented house with little money. We ate Christmas lunch off a door supported by a chair at each end. It was actually great! Some time shortly after this they remarried!! Nuts!!!
Eventually, I managed to get a job back at my original tax office in Huddersfield. My weight loss was evident, and my eating habits were under scrutiny. Colleagues tried to feed me, to the extent that my boss took me home to his wife under the pretence that he needed a babysitter. By now, however, I was an expert at covering up and normalising my behaviour.
The world began to close in on me, or so it felt. My landlady insisted on taking me to see her GP to ‘see if I was anaemic’. Her GP weighed me, which was the first time I’d been weighed, and advised me to eat an extra half a slice of bread — I weighed 5 stone 3 lbs. I don’t know whether they were all colluding with each other, but it felt like they were. My boss announced one day that he’d arranged for my transfer to Middlesbrough… and my mother was picking me up over the weekend to take me home. My landlady knew all about it, and I think I was beyond caring.
Our journey home was hilarious! Unless she was driving to Asda and could drive forward into a car parking space, my mother hated driving! She managed to drive to Huddersfield to pick me up, however, and we got home in one piece… albeit with an unintentional detour to Saddleworth Moor.
I started work in the tax office at Middlesbrough immediately. Everyone was lovely, and I wasn’t at all unhappy there. I was also persuaded to see our family GP soon after getting home — she also advised me to eat some bread, but this was out of the question. All I ate now was porridge made with water and an apple or two each day. I also took laxatives frequently.
Soon after returning home, on my 21st Birthday in fact, a psychiatrist visited me at home. He asked me a few annoying questions, looked through our kitchen cupboards, and asked me to come into hospital for ‘a three week holiday’! I smelt a rat and refused, much to my mother’s obvious dismay. I did agree to see him as an outpatient, however, and she came along to my first appointment to drop me in it with regards to taking laxatives. Now they were both trying to persuade me to have a 3 week ‘holiday’ in hospital. Instead, I bought my first flat!
In the short time that I’d been back home I had discovered that being in control of my eating was more difficult in a family home. My dad was still unpredictable and volatile and, in my current condition, I felt truly terrified of him. I sold all my musical instruments for a deposit and managed to get a mortgage. Just a few weeks after moving in to my tiny flat, however, I was admitted to hospital for that ‘holiday’!
The morning after I went into hospital they weighed me. I was 4 stone 12. They put me to bed and stopped me going to the bathroom, which was common practice when treating people with anorexia — it possibly still is in some places. They expected me to eat 3 meals a day (2 courses), with snacks in between. Of course, I didn’t take this laying down (pardon the pun) I turned into a person I didn’t recognise. I would have tantrums, throw food, beg and plead, call people names. It was like I had turned into a toddler overnight, and there was a part of me that wanted to be treated like one too. I longed for someone to take complete responsibility for me, and I longed to be picked up and held on someone’s lap — to be told that everything would be alright. Another part of me, however, fought and argued against all of that, and to me that became one of the worst things about anorexia — the constant battle in my head that was to torture me for some years yet. It was like living with two opposing minds in one body. One rational — the other completely irrational.
Towards the end of my hospital holiday I noted that my Consultant Psychiatrist had gone on holiday. I reminded his registrar that I was due to be discharged — my 3 weeks were up! She told me I couldn’t go, I wasn’t well enough, and that she wasn’t able to discharge me. I would have to wait for the Consultant to come back. I had a meltdown severe enough that my Mam was called to the hospital. She refused to take me home. I was like a wild animal backed into a corner, but when my rage was done I was reduced to begging and pleading — literally on my knees. My youngest sister, who would have been about 11, started to cry and asked our Mam ‘please take her home’ and so she agreed to take me on a week’s leave. I was 5 stone 3lbs and I had to gain weight if I was to be discharged after a week.
I stayed in my own flat and part of me wanted to gain that weight, if only to get out of hospital, the other part didn’t. I was also wholly out of touch with ‘normal’ eating and completely underestimated how much energy I needed just to survive, never mind thrive. Conversely, I totally overestimated what I did eat in terms of its calorific value. Of course, I knew how many calories were in everything, even dust, but I didn’t trust ‘the little men who counted the calories’ so would round things up by several hundred calories. I lost weight in that week, as everyone believed I would, and I stayed in hospital for some time. In fact, this hospital would see a lot of me over the next 5 years!
My admissions all get muddled in my head. I remember that I discharged myself when I weighed 5 and a half stone. My irrational self thought this was ok. I went back to work and continued with my punishing lifestyle, literally existing from one miserly meal to the next. At this point I think I was eating a crumpet with 1/2 a small tin of beans for breakfast, a small dry roll filled with salad for lunch, and something like a fish cake with veg for dinner. I also had a diet yoghurt before bed and would agonise over the 1 or 2 calorie difference between flavours.
I became more and more obsessional. What time I ate, down to the second, how many bites I took, which plate I used, where I sat, and even what I watched on TV whilst I ate. I also walked compulsively. I would get the bus to work, but walked up 6 or 7 flights of stairs to get to my office. Then I would walk during my lunch break, and up and down the office to get files. As soon as I’d eaten my evening meal I would go on a march — either to my Mum’s, my sister’s or my Aunt’s — and I’d stay there until I could March home again and fall into bed.
I say bed, but I was eventually reduced to sleeping on the floor. My bed folded into the wall, and one day I was almost crushed under it as I’d lost the strength to take its weight. I started sleeping in a sleeping bag in the floor, right next to a radiator. My body struggled to retain heat. Unless I was touching something hot, I felt cold constantly. I would often grill my hands, it was that bad…
One of my admissions came about following an outpatient appointment. I had gone straight from work, and it disrupted my rigid routine. To top it all, the clinic was running late. I remember pacing up and down the waiting room, becoming more and more agitated. When I saw the Consultant he was concerned and wanted to admit me again. Of course I fobbed him off with some excuse. Knowing that I was very fond of her, he told me that one of the nurses the on the ward was keen to see me, and encouraged me to pop in. I popped in and was persuaded to stay. I was 4 stone 10lbs and I stayed until my weight reached the 5 and a half stone mark — although I think I reached the dizzy heights of 5 stone 10lbs on this occasion.
I don’t think I managed outside of hospital for long this time. Again, I’d visited the ward and the nurses were concerned enough to get the ward doctor to review me. He made veiled threats of using the Mental Health Act, so I reluctantly agreed to go home and get some clothes. My Aunt dropped me back to the ward and I didn’t leave for a very long time. I was now 4 stone 7lbs and very tortured by this illness. There were days when I cried just because I had woken up and had to face another day of fighting my own thoughts.
I think I was a reasonable weight by the time I was discharged, but it didn’t last. I simply could not take responsibility for eating well – I still had battles in my head and had to justify everything I ate. While I was in hospital I could eat things because I was being told to, but I couldn’t allow myself to eat anything if I wasn’t supervised. If the supervising nurse turned away, or left me on my own with food, I had to hide it because the guilt of eating something by choice was unbearable. I always had crumbs in my knickers! Milk could be soaked up if I ‘accidentally’ dipped my tissue in it, and spreading food about or crumbling it up could spare a few calories. Desperate measures! Anyway, there is an argument for an alternative approach to treating anorexia, but I do understand the dilemma. This is a life threatening condition, and it is necessary to focus on restoring weight.
The absolute pits
I think my weight hovered just above 5 stone for a while, and at the time I considered this healthy. I can’t think of anything that triggered another decline, but I think that it was a fairly gradual result of my rigid eating and compulsive activity. The more weight I lost, the more irrational my thinking, and the more restrictive my ‘rules’. I found it more and more difficult to work, I was exhausted, and work got in the way of my rituals.
I attended another outpatient appointment on the way home from work. My Consultant ushered me into his consulting room where there was another man sitting. ‘This is Dr Peters, and he is going to take care of you now, because I no longer know how to help you’ As he was speaking, he was inspecting my now barely 4 stone ‘bag of bones’ beneath my clothes and I felt awkward. I disliked Dr Peters instantly, because of the situation largely. He didn’t score himself any popularity points when he asked ‘Do you think you look attractive like that? because I don’t find you attractive!’ The last thing I wanted to be was attractive — I wanted to disappear, to be invisible. This man didn’t understand me at all… but he would become quite an important figure in all of this.
Dragging my sorry bones out of the pit
My weight was now barely 4 stone, and everything about life was hard. My speech was slow, my thinking was slow, and my face was expressionless. I never laughed, and even crying was rare. My head was tortured. Sitting was uncomfortable and, without an ounce of padding, my clothes rubbed on bony areas and made me sore. Walking upstairs felt like walking up a mountain with lead boots on, and yet still I did it, and I continued to walk miles every day. I did have periods of euphoria and bursts of energy, but by the end of every day, I was desperately tired and ready to fall into bed (I now had a sofa bed!) Even so, I would struggle to go to sleep and tended to wake very early.
When it was suggested that I needed to be admitted to hospital again, part of me was relieved. Dr Peters, however, didn’t want me to be put to bed, and he wanted me to take responsibility for my meals. There is much about this period of my life I can’t remember clearly — I was very ill, but I seem to recall that the nursing staff found this approach very difficult. I was failing to take responsibility for my meals and losing weight before their eyes. My weight dropped below 4 stone and I started to have some strange experiences — possibly seizures. I knew I was in a very bad state and I was terrified.
Slowly, however, things turned around. I managed to set myself a goal that wasn’t specifically food or weight related, but health dependant. I decided to apply to train as a nurse, and this proved to be a vital focus over the next few years
I applied to do my nurse training from hospital, and was given day leave to attend an interview in York, which sounds very bizarre now. I was still underweight, but had improved on my 4 stone significantly. I was open about having had anorexia, but perhaps I didn’t tell them that I was an in-patient at that time. They offered me a place, subject to medical clearance. Of course, the occupational health doctor failed me on the spot, I was still under 6 stone, but she gave me another appointment for a year later. She told me I would need to be at least 7 stone and to have been at that weight for 6 months. It seemed daunting, but at least I had a goal and a future.
I can’t remember too much about the rest of this last admission, only that it was a bumpy journey to 6 and a half stone. I had managed to increase my weight in a very controlled way, following a plan given to me by a dietician, supported by nurses to eat food prepared by the hospital kitchens. I was discharged to be an out-patient looked after by Dr Peters. He was clear that if I lost weight he wouldn’t treat me. Somewhere along the line I had been retired from the Tax Office on health grounds and had sold my flat, which had felt like an albatross around my neck for some time. I was discharged, therefore, to a hostel run by TOC-H. I hated it! The other residents pinched my food, which was still a pretty big deal, so I retreated to my room and took my food with me. I probably wasn’t eating properly, and when things in my life felt unsafe or unpredictable I tended to tighten up on my eating to ‘get things back in order’.
When I saw Dr Peters for the first time as an outpatient he noted ‘You look like you’ve lost weight!’ He took me into another room to weigh me. I’d lost weight, and he told me he wouldn’t see me again. No discussion. Just like that!
I was very upset, and I suppose a bit angry. It often felt to me that my value as a person was based on my weight. I was rewarded for putting on weight and punished for losing it, at least that’s how I saw it. I’d also learnt that he had told a teacher of mine who visited me often, that I was a hopeless case. Once again, I felt like a lost soul without direction. My eating and my weight suffered — plummeted even.
Luckily I had a fabulous CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) Doreen, who picked me up and dusted me off. ‘Prove him wrong!’ She told me. I was up for the fight — and I think Dr Peters knew what he was doing, but I only came to appreciate this in recent years.
All the time that people ‘pussy footed’ around me and accommodated my anorexia, I had no motivation to change. It had become my identity and part of me thought that without anorexia people would stop caring about me. Being rejected by Dr Peters, because that’s how it felt, caused me to be concerned that anorexia was actually pushing people away. They, whoever they were, were tired of it, and tired of me.
I failed my next nurse training medical. As I weighed less than I had the year before I knew I would, but I went to face the music! Doreen took me. I moved out of the hostel into a bedsit created for me in a friend’s house, and Doreen visited me frequently — often at mealtimes. I had a supportive dietician who wrote me a plan — I stuck to it religiously. Slowly, I gained weight. I took up cross stitch to distract me and focus my mind, I learned to drive, and I began voluntary work on an elderly medical ward.
Meanwhile, my parents had separated — this time for good. I went to live with my Dad for a while, then I went back to my Mam. My sister had a baby, which had quite an effect on me, and my uncle died of cancer. He’d had quite an effect on me at my Nanna’s funeral a little while before when he noted ‘look at us — we are both dying, but you can still do something about it!’
I wasn’t quite 7 stone when I went for my next medical, but the occupational health doctor acknowledged my comparative health and passed me fit to start nurse training. I moved to York in September 1993, aged 26, and the healthiest I’d been in almost a decade.
Ups and downs
I really enjoyed my 3 years at York, but it wasn’t without ups and downs. I’d missed out on a ‘normal’ adolescence, so living in residence buildings with young partygoers was right outside of my comfort zone at times. I wasn’t ready for that (and I’m still not!)
I found my niche, however, and had a nice group of friends. Sometimes I could manage eating out, but needed plenty of notice and I still tended to compensate by eating less for a few days before and after. I tended to eat in private, in my room, and food was still a big issue, but I wasn’t tortured as I had been, and I was a healthy weight.
Without the pressure on me to maintain a certain weight, however, the urge to ‘tighten up’ on my eating became strong again. I did lose weight and I began to walk for miles, but I managed not to slide right back down the mountain I’d just climbed — even when my mother became very ill.
In my final year of nurse training, my mother was affected by Stevens-Johnson syndrome after taking antibiotics. She developed septicaemia and we thought she would die. It was pretty horrific and she would never be the same again. She would certainly never see again. Although not a conscious thought at the time, it was a reminder that life can be short and you should enjoy what you have while you have it.
It was about this time that I started to turn yellow! Really!! The palms of my hands and the soles of me feet were noticeably yellow and an embarrassment. Rather than getting it checked out, I tried to hide them. I was also sleeping a lot, and would fall asleep if I sat still for more than 5 minutes. I didn’t worry about it too much — I had a new job to go to and I was moving to Kent. I’d secured a nursing position in child and mental health services, and I would work in this field for the next 20 years.
Not long after moving to Maidstone, in Kent, my GP noted that my thyroid function wasn’t quite up to scratch. I went and researched hypothyroidism and came across a mention of yellow palms and yellow feet. I brought it up with my GP, was started on thyroxine and I’ve been taking it since. I have no idea whether anorexia played a part in my thyroid giving up the ghost, but I believed so at the time.
Another part of me that didn’t function well was my reproductive system. It might sound strange, but I can’t remember my periods ever starting. My mother thinks they did start when I was 14 or thereabouts, but they certainly hadn’t been established, and I was quite happy not to have them. Periods were part of growing up and I hadn’t wanted to do that. I didn’t actually menstruate until I was 30 years old and had gained a little weight when my thyroid function was low. I wasn’t sure if my fertility had been permanently affected, but I feel very lucky that I now have 2 boys. My first son was born just before I turned 37 and my second just before I turned 45.
Having my own children definitely made me feel grown up and responsible, more so than buying a house, working as a nurse, and getting married. Up until then, I admit that my eating and my body image remained disordered. My weight didn’t become critically low after the age of 26, but I continued to go through periods of ‘tightening up on my eating’, chewing food and spitting it out, and over exercising.
Considering the terrible way I treated my body, it isn’t in too bad a condition. I never binged and vomited, but my bones seem to have survived anorexia better than my teeth. A bone scan in my late 30s showed bone density better than average for my age, and I have just suffered my first ever fracture at the age of 49 (a sporting injury). My back teeth, unfortunately, are few and far between. Brain function, I strongly suspect, has been permanently affected. I struggle to concentrate these days, and I am very emotional. I’ve always been a restless soul, but I can’t sit still for long either. Running regularly takes care of that problem.
Up and running
Shortly before having my first child, I discovered the magic of running. Ironically, when I was a patient of Dr Peters, himself a runner, I was falsely accused of running around the hospital to burn off calories. I knew it was rubbish because, weeks earlier, I had been almost run over by a car — I was so weak that I was unable to run out of the way. Admittedly, however, I did have an urge to run.
Unless I am able to do something well, I don’t do it at all. This has been true all of my life! When I was very young, I did gymnastics… until I wasn’t considered the best in my junior school. Then I did music, but my confidence was completely demolished at college in Huddersfield. I sold all my instruments to put down a deposit on my first flat, and I haven’t played since. So, until I was in a fit state to be remotely good at running, I wasn’t even going to try it. I started by walking long distance walks when I moved to Kent, the longer the better. Then, when living briefly in New Zealand, I entered the Auckland marathon without having run a step. Before I was able to do it, I made plans to come back to the UK — I was homesick — so I entered the London Marathon and was accepted! I still hadn’t started running. I began running in February of that year (the marathon is in April — I’m a great procrastinator!) and jogged around in 4 hours 20. It was wonderfully painful, and I was instantly hooked. I went home and booked a place in New York Marathon which took place 6 months later.
I still run. I have tried other things: cycling, lifting weights, squash… but only running ticks all the boxes for me. It can be hard, and I feel better when something is physically hard, and it involves moving. I have always felt the need to keep moving. Running has won me some prizes, so it has been rewarding in that way, but most of all, running has helped to me, finally, to feel comfortable in my skin. It is a crucial piece in the jigsaw that is me, and personally, that’s what anorexia was really about — feeling comfortable and content with who I am and where I fit in the world, managing my feelings and having a sense of control.
Feeling comfortable in my own skin
‘You’re not even half the person you used to be!’
This was something my Mam said to me when I was ill. She was absolutely right, and she wasn’t just talking about my weight.
Nowadays, however, I’m almost twice the weight, almost twice as old, 1 inch taller, 100% more healthy, and 1000 times happier.
I don’t worry about what I eat, I don’t ever weigh myself, I’m fitter than most women of my age and I enjoy good health. Family life is good and I can’t imagine life without my boys.
Having spent 20 years working as a nurse in child and adolescent mental health services, supporting young people with eating disorders and other mental health challenges, I have taken a break from nursing to focus on other things. In truth, lack of health service resources in recent years left me feeling that I wasn’t really helping anyone in my role.
I’m still fairly shy and retiring, I have a style all of my own, I don’t strive to keep up with ‘the Jones’s’ – I’m feeling comfortable in my own skin these days.