#WhyWait – Guest Post 2

It couldn’t be anorexia- it just couldn’t

I am guest writing on my sisters blog to offer my perspective on what it is like to watch anorexia nervosa take over the minds of the two most important women in my life; my sister and my mum. The destruction that is anorexia nervosa creeps up and appears slowly, like a poison spreading through the body. I have watched it quite literally eat the person away until they are a shadow of their former self both physically and mentally.

How was I to know that only four months after dropping off my vibrant, social, confident little sister for her first day at Uni that she’d soon be coming home to us. I think I blocked out the worst case, told myself that it was just Olivia struggling to ‘settle in’ and that it would ‘sort itself out’. It couldn’t be anorexia- it just couldn’t. Olivia was soon brought home. It wasn’t just the unrecognisable physical changes that were most startling and hard to deal with, but the emotional ones that rocked us all. She was angry, unpredictable, I didn’t know what to say or when to say it.The disorder made her shout over things I couldn’t understand, cry at meal times and become withdrawn. There were talks that she wouldn’t be well enough to not only be my Maid of Honour at my wedding last year, but wouldn’t even be around to even see my wedding. I would watch my Mum look after my sister and feel helpless because anorexia is so difficult to understand. The care has to be kept in the family because the NHS couldn’t offer her anything- ironic that they would be able to offer her something if she got worse?!

My Mum recognised the symptoms before Olivia’s condition took her to a place that she might not have been able to have been brought back from. This sentence fills me with mixed emotions though, because the reason that my Mum was able to recognise these signs is because she too has battled anorexia for 25 years. We are lucky because Olivia’s deterioration was recognised and she was taken home to be her family to begin the long journey of unpicking her tangled relationship with food. However, are we lucky that my mum had an eating disorder and could then spot these traits that she identified from her own history? Is it right that the best possible carer for my anorexic sister is my anorexic mum?  My Mum’s eating disorder was not made aware to me until I was around 14. As a child up until this point I don’t remember my relationship with Mum being different to anyone else’s- a few random faddy diets stick out in my head but I was sheltered from it. Now that I am older I am exposed, trying to learn and adapt to the differences and similarities in the way the disease has manifested in each of them.

The biggest thing for me when I am faced with either of them whilst they are at the worst is expecting to carry on as normal and hold a conversation when I am afraid that even looking at their frail forms will knock them over. Sometimes it feels like they have a special bond- a bond that I can’t ever understand or be a part of. Sometimes I worry that they will judge me, my food choices, my exercise routine, how I look in my clothes. This is why Eating Disorder Awareness Week is so incredibly important and why we are trying to spread this message and share our experience. The #whywait campaign is designed to help people recognise all the symptoms of eating disorders, how to raise the issue and how to support them through- all areas I have struggled with and will continue to learn.

Where are we all now? They say that anorexia nervosa doesn’t go away, that it can be triggered and will lie dormant. It is important to remember that there is no cure and that this will be a continuous journey for them and for the family and friends who support them through. My sister found the courage and strength to be the most amazing Maid of Honour. She was attentive, loving, and a meticulous planner leaving nothing unthought of. She surpassed every expectation I could ever have had! I owe so much to her and my Mum and admire them everyday. They are the bravest women for being able to share their stories and hopefully our experience will provide an insight into what it is like to live with an eating disorder and provide some context around the importance of the #whywait campaign.

#WhyWait – Guest Post by Julia Bailey

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.

Hippocrates (460-400BC) 

Rewind one year to Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2017 and as a family we were struggling to cope. Olivia was fully immersed in her anorexia. My husband was totally bewildered by her illness. Olivia’s sister Ellen was unsure as to whether Olivia would be well enough to be her Maid of Honour at her upcoming wedding and their 13 year old brother went very quiet. And me, well I was angry. Angry because even though Olivia was obviously very ill, there was no specialist help available for her from the NHS.

I had no alternative but to take matters into my own hands. I have experience with anorexia. I know everything about this illness because I too, have sufferered. I know what it feels like to need control over my food, to be in such agonizing, silent pain and fearing the consequences of eating and weight gain.

After much research, I found a book about a treatment programme called the New Maudsley Method, which encourages family members to support and aid recovery. Its bottom line argument is that “All living creatures must eat to live – whether to eat or not is non-negotiable”. My aim was to restore her weight so that she could make rational decisions for herself. When the body is starved, the brain cannot function. The New Maudsley Method gave me a strategy to take on Olivia’s anorexia and help her get better. With support from my GP I made a plan of action.

Mealtimes became a battleground. I had to be firm, level-headed, calm and empathetic. I can assure you none of these qualities come naturally to me. But to see my gorgeous, intelligent, bubbly daughter fading away gave me determination even though inside I felt far from confident. Anorexia is an insidious illness but from my own experience, I know all the tricks, lies and manipulation a sufferer will go to in avoiding food.

Gradually, small changes happened. I was unwavering with my approach at mealtimes and Olivia’s anxiety around food improved. She took up yoga, which taught her to appreciate her body. The antidepressants she had been prescribed started to work and occasionally we would get glimpses of the fun loving Olivia we all knew. She started thinking about the future. She applied to university and Ellen involved her with wedding planning. Her recovery was not smooth or easy and we would often take many steps backwards before making progress.

One year on, and Olivia is fit and healthy, studying at university. She was a beautiful and competent Maid of Honour. She still finds some things difficult but the difference now is that she is more aware of her emotions and the impact they can have on her eating.

Anorexia is a complex psychological illness. Fortunately I had the experience and knowledge to take on the start of her recovery and weight restoration is just the beginning. I know that for most families it is a bewildering shock to realize their son or daughter is so ill. Early intervention from specialist professionals is essential and has to be offered immediately wherever you live. The sooner that help is given, the less chance anorexia has of digging in its claws and refusing to let go.

 

#WhyWait?

one of the most challenging conversations two friend can have

It’s officially been over a year since I went for the coffee which basically saved my life. It was probably one of the most challenging conversations two friends could have but also one of the most important.

I dreaded that coffee. Ella dreaded that coffee. There is no denying that we both wished that we never had to confront the issue. I wanted to pretend so much that there were no problems and she had no idea what was going on, I was so ready to lie. In reality though she saw everything and was brave enough to risk my reaction and our friendship and ultimately put my future and life first. We started talking, she explained how she felt, she explained what she could see me doing and she shared her own experience. She recognised what I was going through.

((I am not going to lie, I hated her. Well no, my disorder hated her but then my disorder hated everyone including me.))

In the end though, her talking, recognising what I was doing, showing me that I wasn’t alone, and her friendship was something I couldn’t ignore. I wasn’t suddenly cured, I mean she’s great but not a magician. I did get worse before I got better ((what does better even mean???)) and I held on to a lot of hate. But I did go home. I did want to get better. And I did start talking more. I thank you Ella for all that you have done for me and the support you continue to give me, you are an inspiration.

This week, from Monday 26th February to 4th March is Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2018. This year EDAW is asking the question #WhyWait? It’s all about having that lifesaving conversation with someone who you think may be struggling and recognising signs and symptoms as soon as possible.

Beat reported that on average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help. That’s almost 3 years, 37 months, or 1,043 days. Shockingly, it was reported that 34% (1 in 3 adults), could not name any signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Do you know any of the warning signs? ‘Being thin’ ‘weight loss’ ‘fasting’ ‘bingeing and vomiting’ do these spring to mind? Well, these have been listed as top answers to that question, but 79% of adults can’t even name a psychological symptom. Eating disorders signs and symptoms don’t just include these physical signs but incorporate a range of behavioural sign and psychological signs. I urge you to follow this link to find out more.

Fortunately, I have been surrounded by people who haven’t waited. Luckily, Ella saw a lot more than just what I looked like, and was able to recognise early certain behaviours and changes in me as a person. There was no hesitation to confronting the situation and enabled me to start my recovery quickly.

I can’t stress enough how much, talking about eating disorders, talking about mental health, physical health, your dog and cat’s health is going to help. Let’s not only campaign to improve mental health services in general ((because let’s be honest, they’re still pretty shitty)), let’s campaign to raise awareness, particularly enabling people to recognise signs and symptoms so we can encourage and empower friends and family to take action. Use this week as a chance to grab a coffee with a friend and have a chat, it might be scary (Trust, me and Ella were scared on so many levels) but #Whywait?

xxx

p.s If you wanna help raise more awareness post a picture of you in your favourite coolest socks with the #sockittoeatingdisorders ((hence the feature photo))