Today’s blog post is a guest post written by the lovely Niamh Ramsden.
I was first introduced to Niamh around 4 years ago when she tweeted me to say that the success of my business had inspired her to start making jewellery. We have been in contact ever since and throughout this time Niamh has been battling against Anorexia Nervosa.
For those of you who don’t know what Anorexia Nervosa is – It is an eating disorder and a serious mental health condition where the person keeps their body weight as low as possible. Sufferers usually do this by exercising excessively, restricting the amount of food they eat and/or making themselves vomit. A high number of sufferers also have a distorted image of themselves, thinking that they’re fat when they’re not.
I am extremely pleased to say that Niamh has fought her Anorexia and is in recovery right now! I couldn’t be prouder because I have seen how she has suffered, the person she was back then and the person she is now and she is so strong and confident. I asked Niamh if she would like to write a guest blog post about her story and Niamh jumped at the chance! She is extremely passionate about helping other sufferers and feels this is a great way to give them hope and evidence that you can beat it. So, here is Niamh’s Story:
“Anorexia – A word that I often find myself struggling to say”
From a very young age I always saw myself as ‘the bigger one.’ At the age of 7 I was in bigger sized clothing to my friends. It didn’t help that I was a lot taller them. These thoughts stuck and seemed to have affected how I socialised. I never felt comfortable.
It wasn’t until the age of around 12 that I started to feel more and more uncomfortable with my weight. I wasn’t eating healthily and my portions weren’t small. I found myself using food to cope with the stress that was occurring around me. I remember at the age of 13 I became poorly, I was being sick and couldn’t keep anything down. This resulted in me losing a fair amount of weight within a short period of time. However this wasn’t intentional. From this point on I found myself stepping on the scales 2-3 times a day just checking if the weight hadn’t gone back on. I was starting to believe that maybe I could lose more weight healthily and feel better about myself. The weighing myself carried on for months but my eating habits didn’t change drastically. That Christmas I remember eating far too much that I felt very sick. The feeling that most people get at Christmas which results in them sitting and feeling sorry for themselves. What I didn’t realise was that this would be my last Christmas for a while that I would enjoy food and I wouldn’t cry over eating a piece of stuffing or a bite of chicken.
January came around and my new year’s resolution was to lose weight, I was doing well with exercising and eating healthily until I ended up having a panic attack one lunch time at school. I got myself so worked up that by the time I calmed down I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything. That was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. The next day I thought ‘Oh well, I skipped lunch yesterday, maybe I could do it today?’ This carried on for months. After a week of skipping lunch I managed to skip breakfast and eventually tea. I’d find myself eating a slice of bread and a cup of apple juice for the whole day. It did get to a point where I went all week with no food and very little liquids. I had an amazing support teacher and family telling me I’d lost control of my eating and was sliding down the eating disorder route. ‘No I’m not I’m just watching what I’m eating’ was always my response. It wasn’t until I was sat in a corridor watching other girls walking past that I realised there was a voice in my head telling me that I needed to be like them with the skinny legs and perfect figure. This voice seemed to be looking out for me (that is what I thought) I wanted to keep it quiet but I was also scared as to why there was this voice, had I lost control? From this point on I was very emotional and my mood swings were dreadful. One minute laughing and joking to the next crying and scared.
I was eventually referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.) I met with a mental health nurse who took one look at me and said ‘You have anorexia.’ No I didn’t! What was he on about?! That was it, the voice went crazy! ‘You don’t need help’ ‘Push them away’ ‘Don’t listen, I’m your friend not them’ ‘ They’re trying to make you fat.’ From then on I attended CAMHS every week. I wasn’t getting anywhere though, I was too scared to tell anyone what this voice was saying, they wouldn’t believe me anyway and they would try to stop me from losing weight. ‘Losing weight = gaining friends’ It wasn’t until I was pulled out of school in the April and sent to hospital for an assessment for inpatients that I finally turned things around. I was at home everyday on bed rest and I was eating what was put in front of me. I managed this due to the fact my anxiety was sky high as I was on the verge of going into hospital. I gained a healthy weight and mentally I was doing ok.
September. New uniform. New routine. New weight gain. My head was ready to explode with the fact I had gained all of this weight and people were going to look at me and comment on it. This sent me spiralling backwards.
I stepped on the scales at CAMHS to hear the words ‘You’ve lost’ and the joy and happiness I felt was amazing. (It’s only now that I can see how sad that is) Often I kept this feeling to myself but I was secretly proud. One day I had lost a considerable amount of weight and I started smiling at the scales, I was told that this wasn’t a laughing matter and that I was getting worse each day. I switched from three other CAMHS workers after this as I wouldn’t co-operate with them. I had people telling me I looked extremely ill, however when I looked in the mirror I saw that I was fat. I look at photos now and I remember taking them and crying because I thought I was huge!
I kept losing and losing weight and by the time Christmas 2015 had come around I was counting calories religiously. I was eating 300-800 a day and wouldn’t go over. I would count everything from 100ml of milk to 15g of cereal. It took me awhile to get up to 1000 and then that was my set point for at least 6 months. I was losing weight every week and becoming weaker and weaker. This didn’t seem to bother me though. I was freezing all the time. Even in Summer when it was shorts and t-shirt weather I was sat with jeans, hoodies and blankets trying to keep myself warm. I was very numb and lifeless. I had one close friend and nobody else, I’d pushed them all away. I spent most days inside bored but I couldn’t eat out because that meant I didn’t know the calorie content or who might see me. I wouldn’t even eat at home if there were visitors. When I sat my GSCE’S in year 11 I was living on 350 calories and to this day I have no idea how I passed them all because I don’t even remember them. I was in such a state that I can’t actually remember much of that year.
After several attempts at recovering then going backwards again, I got told that I was going to be an inpatient at a unit in Sheffield which was 1 hour and 40 minutes away from home. This freaked me out, my anxiety rocketed and I was scared. I’ve never liked being away from home and having to stay somewhere else was enough to scare me into recovery. I upped my calories to 1500, was taken out of school and my weight increased but not by much as I was still not eating enough. By the time the 29th December came around (which was the assessment day) I had gained weight and felt okay. Tests were done, I was weighed and asked questions. By the end of the assessment I was told that I met the criteria for admission. That was it, I freaked out! However what I didn’t know was that it was voluntary! I turned the offer down and told them I was determined to recover at home with the help of my family. As soon as I’d walked out of the building the voice was very loud, ‘You’ve got away with it’ ‘Go backwards now’ but this time I didn’t listen to the Anorexia because I was determined! I carried on counting calories and was eating around 2500 calories to help my body repair the damage that had been done. The voice was still very loud and I often cried when I’d gone to bed due to the amount of guilt that it made me feel for eating.
Things went well for a good few months until I slipped AGAIN! (recovery isn’t straightforward) I started skipping lunch at school again and was losing weight, I was so unhappy and wished I could just get back on track. I didn’t feel strong enough. I carried on eating minimal amounts but enough to keep me ticking. It wasn’t until I went back to school in September 2016 that I spoke to a Teacher and told her things weren’t good. From September to this day she has provided constant support and has helped me to stay on track. The more I stayed on track the more I realised that there is so much more to life than starving. I found that I could function properly, I was finding my sense of humor, I was able to walk and not feel faint. I did have days where I thought ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’m never going to win this battle’ and I thought my only way out would be to end my life. Dips in your mood and spending a few weeks restricting then getting back on track is all a normal part of recovery! I had to have those bad days in order to have more good days. It’s taken a long time for me to stop counting calories and at the moment I’m 4 months free from it. I now look at photos from when I was underweight and I no longer wish I looked skeletal. I’m not 100% happy with the way I look now but who is? I’ve learnt that the way you look isn’t as important as society makes it out to be. My body shape doesn’t show people my personality, my caring nature, my quick sense of humor that has people in stitches. I AM NO LONGER DEFINED BY THE NUMBER ON THE SCALES!!!
My message to anyone who is suffering from any eating disorder is that things do get better. It’s a very long journey and its bloomin’ hard work. You will cry, you will scream at people, you’ll be convinced people are lying to you, you slip up more than you think, you’ll realise that the voice gets louder the harder you fight BUT it does quieten down, you will also gain your life back! I will never be fully recovered from anorexia. She will always be there in the background but I am aware she’s there. The difference is I listen to her and do the opposite. I am stronger than her and the more I stay on track the quieter she will get!
If you suspect you may be suffering from Anorexia Nervosa, or any other eating disorder then please do seek help and support from your GP, Family and Friends.
Alternatively you can contact:
The UK’s Eating Disorder Charity
Advice and support for young people affected by Anorexia
Anorexia and Bulimia Care
A national UK eating disorders organisation providing on-going care, emotional support and practical guidance