Cool people can say things like that. They trip off the tongue lightly, of no real consequence.
I was never cool. I was a goody two shoes as a child, very protected, very naive. The nice girl in the avenue, teacher’s pet at school, favourite child. But a bit straight laced, blushed purple if embarrassed, couldn’t talk to boys properly.
Enid Blyton based her books on my young years I’m sure. I felt very loved and secure. My father was a constant, loving figure. Always there but in the distance if you know what I mean. Not tactile at all, never told me he loved me. But I knew. I knew because of how he talked to me and looked after me. If he was around I felt safe.
My mother was a very tactile, loving, fussing and a bit cloying. Quick to give advice. Never afraid to offer her opinion. She was a traditional mother so her world was probably very insular and revolved around my older siblings and then consumed by me, nine years younger. I felt like an only child, as they flew the nest just as I entered my teenage years. I grew up but my mother never grew away. Her fussing became cloying and claustrophobic. I needed to break out , to exert some independence but I felt it was impossible with someone there always keen to tell me what to do, how to do it and never afraid to speak without thinking. I felt I had no control over anything in my life.
At 14 years old I noticed the cool girls at school. They all seemed to be skinny against my ‘healthy’ blossoming figure. I yearned to have the thigh gap they had, to look ethereal as they did. If I tried a diet like the ones detailed in my ‘Jackie’ or ‘My Guy’ magazines, I too could then be one of them. It was easy. I stopped eating all the crisps and chocolate I enjoyed and I saw a difference really quickly. I had a few hunger pangs but no pain, no gain. The thigh gap was possible!
The trouble was I had forgot about my mother’s quick tongue. She soon noticed and made worrying comments to anyone and everyone. I felt I was under the spotlight big time. But the amazing, wonderful thing was, she couldn’t stop me. If I didn’t want to eat, short of anyone holding me down and forcing food down my neck, I didn’t have to. If I could just divert people’s attention from me, keep out of sight when food was around or act all energetic to show how healthy I was, I could get away with this. And the feeling of power was energizing. Power over my life. For the first time ever.
I cut out more and more foods. At my worst point I was on a baked onion, a piece of toast and an orange a day. If I threw caution to the wind I would have two Ryvitas with cucumber, sliced tomatoes and exactly half a teaspoon of Branston pickle. But that would have to be on a day that I was feeling particularly wild and crazy.
My periods stopped and as the hair on my head fell out, so it grew on my back.
What was that all about? Climbing the stairs was a marathon. I felt absolutely wiped out and exhausted. Bizarrely though, if I felt I had overdone the eating – maybe that day’s onion was just a tad too big – I would find this superhuman energy to exercise like a nut case. I was an expert at sit ups and could skip for England. My ribs stuck out, my hip bones jutted out sharply and my arms were stick like. And that made me high as a kite.
The secrecy and deceit was unbelievable. My mother began to work as a nurse on shifts which filled me with glee. No-one was around at meal times so the lovely cooked dinner she left for me to heat up was flushed down the loo and the plate left on the draining board. To all intents it looked like I had a feast every night. The excuse that I had already eaten whenever anyone else sat down for lunch got me out of many a stressful occasion. Yet I loved to cook for others and watch them tuck into my homemade cakes and other delicacies I made from recipes in my mother’s ‘Woman’s Own’.
By now the Anorexia Nervosa had grabbed me well and truly by it’s 16th Century translation of ‘without appetite’. At this advanced stage I couldn’t actually eat if I had wanted to. The absolute terror, and I don’t speak lightly when I use the word terror, of putting food in my mouth and swallowing it made it impossible to even contemplate eating anymore than I did. It was terror of putting weight back on, of being unable to stop eating and becoming obese but more importantly the terror of handing back my new found power, the little bit of control I had gained over my very closeted life.
I thought I was controlling my eating but now I was controlled by it. My mother telling me to just eat up was as stupid as telling someone with a broken leg to run around the block. It just couldn’t be done.
All this happened in the 1970’s. There was no social media, support forums or websites that could have helped me. Counsellors were unheard of in the small town I lived in. No-one really seemed to understand. I was on my own. I was unaware of the horrendous ‘add-on’ to Anorexia. The ugly, older cousin. Her name was Bulimia Nervosa.
Anorexia handed out hunger pangs and Bulimia came along and like a dealer and offered me an escape. When I eventually caved in and ate an extra onion or a bigger piece of toast the guilt was overwhelming but it was accompanied by an ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ mentality. If I was going to have more toast I might as well raid the whole kitchen cupboards. Digestive biscuits topped with strawberry jam were a favourite – not one or two but the whole packet. Once started it was impossible to stop, handfuls of nuts, pieces of cakes, packets of crisps. All were devoured in one sitting. With stomach distended the wretchedness then set in. With head fuzzy and confused with the madness of it all I would bend over the lavatory and watch it all come back up again. Purged, I would vow never to do it again – until the next time.
I can’t recall how I eventually stopped this long, sorry cycle but I did it all by myself. I left home and escaped the claustrophobic atmosphere at 18 years old and I think that was the start of the long, slow recovery. For years after I could still recite the exact calorie content of most foods and I still can’t look at a digestive biscuit without thinking about a white porcelain bowl.
Eating disorders are well understood today and expert therapy is available to help those suffering.
Mothers come in for an unfair amount of flack and blame but in my opinion, because a young person has limited control over their lives it might be worth just holding back on that opinion that seems so valid or that critical remark that seems so innocuous. I didn’t have the courage to rebel by dying my hair pink or dressing like a punk but it would have been a hell of a lot easier to wash the colour out of my hair than recover from Anorexia.
Susie Pinchin is a student Counsellor, working towards her level 4 Diploma. She is an Education Welfare Officer and volunteers for Cruse Bereavement Care.
Having completed Brief Solution Focus Therapy and practised through an Academy in London, with students of all ages, she is passionate about helping young people and vulnerable people. And combined with a passion for education Susie aims is to establish a private practice combined with work as a school counsellor.
Her loves are driving her TR6, riding motorbikes, music and the arts. If you'd like to get in touch with Susie you can do that through Twitter here