Alice's story: 'People forget that an eating disorder is a mental health disorder'
I’ve never fitted in. I’ve felt alone for most of my life and was severely bullied as a child which made matters worse. And as a young child whenever I was upset or confused, I ate.
The problem was that as soon as I stopped eating, all those feelings of hurt instantly came back. The solution: eat more. From the ages of around 7 to 10, I was eating around three times what I should have been. I gained a lot of weight and people around me weren’t afraid to let me know about it.
I was miserable and believed I had to change. I was still in primary school when I first skipped lunch. The second change was to address my personality. I'd never been 'the popular girl' at school so I became the clown: always smiling, laughing and making jokes. People were laughing but it wasn’t cruel, they were just entertained. However, maintaining this act, was exhausting.
I loathed myself. My weight had reached a high of nearly 10 stone. In July 2012, I was offered a bag of crisps by a friend but I felt pure fear at the idea of eating them, so I refused. From then on I never ate breakfast - I'd fill a bowl with milk to make it appear as if I'd eaten, I never ate lunch and my dinners became smaller. The lack of food meant I had no energy to concentrate despite being in the middle of my GCSEs. I became obsessed with calories and would constantly run my hands over my ribs, collar and jaw to try and feel my bones.
Commonly people with eating disorders wear baggy clothing so people won’t notice them getting thinner - I didn’t. I wore as tight a clothing as possible so that I could at least appear normal to other people. What I didn’t know was that I didn’t appear normal to other people. My mother contacted the school and I was called into my head of year's office where I was confronted about my weight loss.
Although other people began to notice, I saw no change in myself. I knew what I was doing wasn’t healthy but I always said I wouldn’t let myself become anorexic – I was in control. By the time my exams started my parents confronted me. They said that as soon as exams were over they would take me to the doctors. I battled through around 20 exams and received 10 GCSEs whilst living off hardly any food. Three days after my exams, I collapsed and fitted - twice. I attended clinics but I did not find them to be of any help. I felt that all the doctors were concerned about was getting me into hospital to be force fed.
What people forget is that an eating disorder, is a mental health disorder. It's not about gaining or losing weight. It's about how you feel about yourself, thinking you're not good enough and wanting to change. There is no 'anorexic' or 'mentally ill' look, only anorexic or mentally ill behaviour. Mental illness does not discriminate, so neither should support.
People romanticise mental health issues, using the phrases ‘I’m so depressed’, ‘kill me now’, ‘I hate my life’ without a second thought to their impact. These expressions are extremely triggering to someone with mental health problems - they are life consuming, life altering and potentially, life ending diseases.
I still struggle with my mental health every day. But the progress that I’ve made in the last two years is phenomenal. And I try every day to keep it that way.
Beat provides helplines for adults and young people offering support and information about eating disorders. These helplines are free to call from all phones.