18th July 2021
I never set out for this to happen
My memories of school are not the best. They are not horrific, I did have some happy times, but on the whole I was a rather uncomfortable and awkward teenager.
I went to boarding school from the age of 9 and was always the ‘chubby’ girl of my class. We all know children are mean but at my school the teachers could be mean too. My German teacher helpfully advised me to describe my body as ‘Schtabile’ meaning ‘stable’ or ‘well built’, much to the sniggers of the rest of the class. I remember sitting cringing as she told all the other girls to say they were ‘Schlank’ or ‘Klein’ meaning Slim or Small. Meanwhile my Classical Studies teacher always referred to me as ‘Big Jen’ much to the amusement of my peers. The boys in my class would often taunt me with offers to join the rugby team as they said I would make a ‘great prop’ I remember to this day the shame I felt when I found out that was often the ‘sturdiest’ player on the field.
This was just the way it was throughout school but this didn’t turn me towards Anorexia. It was rather the opposite, I would eat my feelings, if I felt sad I would have another chocolate bar, if I was happy I would celebrate with a ham baguette after dinner. I hated being bigger but I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t talk about it though. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about i and if my teachers were reinforcing that I was big then clearly I was just that … big, ugly, in the way and useless. I remember feeling big, hopeless, unlovable and always in the way. These feelings were not nice, I was not happy in myself but it was not until trauma hit our family, and our family broke, that I really broke.
Since being a child I had always been able to sort of ease things, I was the joker of the family, the one that always tried to make everyone laugh.
We didn’t talk about our issues outside of our family, we kept a shiny exterior. We were sort of the model family I suppose, Dad had a good job and worked really hard, Mum was an amazing teacher loved by all her students and their parents, my brother, sister and I all went to boarding school. We were a ‘normal’ expat family living in Saudi. We were not rich or poor we were just average.
Funnily enough I did always feel just that, Average. I wasn’t exceptional at anything. I wasn’t overly academic, I wasn’t sporty, I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t skinny, I was just average. I craved to be something, to get some kind of acknowledgement. Then my family broke and something inside of me finally broke. I was 15 years old and I was in free fall, everything as I knew it was gone and I wanted a way out. I wanted to run away from everything and everyone. I am ashamed now to admit it but I wanted to escape my life, my family and my world. I wanted to change everything I was. I made a pact with myself that I was going to do just that, I was going to disappear.
I never knew that meant Anorexia, I didn’t know what Anorexia was, I had never heard of it or eating disorders really. I just believed that if I changed me then I would be better, I could control what I ate and how I looked through food and exercise. I couldn’t do anything else but I could definitely do this and people would finally like me. I had a plan, I would make myself desirable, transform from this disgusting beast into something people wanted. I would show them all that I too could be skinny and pretty and perfect. I wish I had told somebody. So there it is, that is how it all began.
I wish they (the teachers, the adults) hadn’t joined in with the cheerleading in response to my rapid weight loss.
The more I lost the more attention I got the more I pushed harder. It was like the highest high, as my clothes hung off my hip bones I walked taller swished my hair a little more, my confidence grew but I was never truly happy. I couldn’t get enough, I needed to extend the high each time, taking one less bite, wiping away a bit more grease, cutting out a few more snacks or a different food group until there was nothing left.
The worst decision of my life was to buy that fateful book – The Blood Group Diet – that book was the final straw. I followed the ‘rules’ for my blood group but, already in the grip of Anorexia Nervosa, I took it to an extreme. That is what Anorexia does, it makes rules, unattainable, unthinkable rules for its victims. These rules are so stringent that if one day you do something in terms of exercise 10 times the next you do it 15 and the next 20 and so on. On the flip side if it is food related you are allowed less and less each day. Within months I was in need of severe inpatient medical treatment. I could no longer walk and had weeks to live and nobody was more shocked or afraid than me.
This disease that I didn’t really know anything about had crept up on me over the last 3 years, it had ravaged my body reducing me to that of a 13 year old girl in a 19 year old’s body.
I was angry all the time, I was losing my hair, my teeth were falling out, I was cold all the time, I lost my friends, my family were distraught, I hated life, I didn’t laugh, I didn’t cry, I had no emotion at all unless somebody tried to challenge my ‘routine’ or the ‘rules’. I followed the voice in my head, my best friend and my worst enemy, Anorexia.
I knew deep down I was in trouble but I didn’t know the way out. Before I knew it Anorexia had stolen my life. I wish someone had helped me, I wish I had known more about it, I wish I had been brave enough to talk about it sooner. I wish it hadn’t happened. I wish by talking about my struggles I can help prevent others from hurting the way I did.