It started as an innocent desire to be a “better human being” – healthier, more active and attractive (especially to the opposite sex) – but it soon turned into an obsession that poisoned the mind of a young boy desperately seeking his peers’ approval.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is quite well known among the many unfortunate mental illnesses that plague our species, but it is constantly associated with the female branch of the human race, and although the majority of sufferers are in fact girls and women, there are a number of males who are also traumatised by this scary and potentially life-threating condition.
According to statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association in the USA, males represent 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa, and are at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later since many people assume males don’t suffer from eating disorders.
I was unlucky enough to be one of that percentage of males suffering from anorexia, and although I survived it, the scars have not and most likely will never heal till the day I die. This is the case for thousands of sufferers worldwide and in the current climate of a number of individuals attempting to raise awareness on the importance of mental health awareness, I feel it is my duty to tell my story and encourage other people to tell theirs and seek help, just as I did.
I won’t bore you all with the details of my story and will stick to the abridged version, but it is important to keep in mind that although the story is short, the journey was not. It all started at the age of 13, that time in a young boy’s life were social priorities change and it is no longer “cute” to be the chubby kid. I knew I was heavier than most, but until that time I had not thought of it as an issue. That changed surprisingly quickly. I no longer concentrated heavily on the arts as had been the case in the past, but instead made it a point to try my hand at any sport I could, no matter how bad at it I was! What and how much I ate also changed dramatically, cutting out sugary food and drink and concentrating more on fruits and vegetables.
I’m sure that at this point you, the reader, are thinking that these are all great steps in the right direction for a young man to take, and you’d be right in thinking that. For me, however, healthy choices soon turned into an unhealthy obsession and a desire to garner weight loss results at a much quicker pace. That’s when things really started to go downhill.
In a matter of less than 2 years, I went from an unhealthy 86 kilograms at just under 14 to an even more unhealthy 49 kilograms at the age of 15. When most teenagers were putting weight on as part of the natural process of growing up, I was losing weight at an alarming rate. This could not go on for much longer without serious consequences and my friends and family knew that.
Before I go any further, there are some points that you need to understand about someone suffering from anorexia:
- Denial IS just a river in Egypt! We will not admit that anything is wrong, as in our mind that is exactly the case.
- Don’t try to control us! We are masters of control. Most people have issues controlling what they eat, when they eat it, how often they exercise, and other aspects of a supposed healthy lifestyle. We think we are the ultimate experts so what you have to say doesn’t matter!
- We’re running on fumes so we are constantly irritable, especially if you bring up food. Hangry is taken to a whole new level!
- When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we don’t see what you do. We actually see the exact opposite. We are ugly, fat and nowhere close to our goal of “perfection” (and we never will be).
- You may want to help, but we don’t want your help because nothing is wrong with us, so stop asking! In actual fact, the exact opposite is needed as without loved ones taking an interest, I probably wouldn’t be here to tell this story.
In essence, we’re right, you’re wrong, so leave us alone to get on with what we’re doing! Although that is what will be going on in our minds, that is the last thing that you should do if someone you love is suffering from this horrible illness. I can’t speak for everyone as I am neither a trained psychotherapist or a true expert in the subject, nor can I generalise when it to comes to issues of the mind. We are all different and although the mind is still somewhat of a mystery, we know that each one is unique in some way or another. That being said, in my case, having my friends and family fight for me to realise what I was doing to myself and pushing me constantly to seek help, both mentally and physically, I can honestly say that I am not sure whether I would still be alive today, and if you read my points above, you should understand that this was not an easy feat for them.
It is with this in mind that I would like to thank each and every one of them for what they’ve done for me – giving me the ultimate gift of life. I am now able to say that I had fought this horrible illness and am able to live a relatively normal life almost 14 years later. Although the scars will remain and certain obsessive habits will be there for years to come, I am able to forge ahead with my life, career, hobbies and relationships, all thanks to the amazing people I have in my life.
Praise and thanks aside, the main message I want to convey as part of this story is that one of the most important parts of recovery from anorexia nervosa, and possibly a host of other eating disorders and mental illnesses is talking about it and being there for each other through the great times and the horrible ones. Although my loved ones were paramount in me getting better, my psychotherapist was also an extremely important part of my recovery, as sometimes you need a professional who can look in from outside the situation and the closeness of family and friends. Her compassion and insight were an amazing help towards my recovery.
So, remember, talk about your issues with loved ones and, if the need arises, with professionals who can truly help you with any issues you are experiencing, not just eating disorders.