If You Have An Eating Disorder, Please Reach Out And Talk.

This year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week ran from Monday, February 23rd to Sunday, March 1st.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week provides the opportunity to raise awareness and an understanding of eating disorders, while challenging greatly outdated stereotypes and stigmas.

For me, however, this week meant so much more than that.

It was the week I finally decided to change my life.

After struggling in silence for so long, I cannot even begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of freedom I am experiencing just by typing these very words.

You see, for the past few years I have had an extremely self-destructive relationship with food.

It all began when I was 15 and was asked to accompany a guy to his debs.

Fifteen was quite a young age to be attending a debs and immediately, instead of being overjoyed with the invitation, I was filled with a harrowing sense of dread at the possibility of being looked down upon by all the older girls who would be in attendance.

I came to the rather irrational conclusion that the only way to avoid being scrutinised was to ensure that I looked perfect.

This planted the seed that would change my life – that looking good meant being skinny.

From this point on I became obsessed with the idea of losing weight and food became my number one enemy. I began skipping meals as often as I could without drawing any unwanted attention and began to exist on a diet solely consisting of Rivita crackers and apples.

However, I still remained blissfully unaware that I had any sort of problem.

Eating disorders are an incredibly secretive illness and when I finally started to realise my thoughts and habits were extremely unhealthy, instead of seeking help I retreated into myself even more.

I blamed myself entirely for my illness and due to the fact that I viewed it as self-inflicted, I felt as if I didn’t deserve any help.

I spent years lying to myself, trying to convince myself I could ‘get better’ on my own. Some attempts were more convincing than others and on some occasions I even managed to gain a good bit of weight, but even then, when all appeared to be going well on the outside, on the inside I was crumbling.

With each defeated attempt to beat this illness, I was becoming more and more estranged from the confident, fun, outgoing, life-loving girl I once was. I was fighting a painfully frustrating internal battle with my own body and mind… and I was losing. Badly.

It took me four years to finally break my silence.

I confided in my best friend but instead of feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders panic struck again. I was terrified that in an act of concern she would tell one of my family members, that they would then intervene, and encourage me to do what I feared most – gain weight.

It was in that moment that I realised that this was about so much more than a desire to be thin. However, as much as I hated the illness that was consuming me I wasn’t ready to let it go. It gave me a sense of control and it wasn’t the thought of getting fat that struck terror into me – it was the thought of handing over that control to others.

It really wasn’t until last Christmas when I was at home with my family that I decided I couldn’t live like this anymore. I have two younger sisters (one of whom is currently 15, the age I was when it all began) and I wanted to be a better role model for them. After all, how could I possibly be any sort of role model if I couldn’t even look after myself?

On Wednesday, February 25th of this year, I finally came clean to all of my friends and family via a Facebook post ( I know, what a way to break the news), about the illness I had spent so long desperately trying to conceal.

However, my choice of media was not unjustified as I decided to come clean in such a public way for two main reasons.

The first being in the hope that if any one of my Facebook friends were in any way struggling with their own eating disorder, my post may provide them with some sort of inspiration to reach out for help.

Asking for help is paramount to recovery as eating disorders are too horrible a disease for anyone to even attempt to defeat on their own.

The second reason stemmed from the idea that coming clean in such a public way would respectively force me out of the dark reserved corner that I had been hiding in for so long and more importantly prevent me from ever having the cover of secrecy to enable me to retreat there again.

For the first time in a long time I am actually excited about my future. I know I still have a long way to go regarding my recovery but I am finally on the right track.

If there is one piece of advice I can offer to someone is that you need to talk. While I know that even the mere thought of this is probably terrifying, I’ve been there and it will be the best decision you will ever make.

Furthermore having an eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Eating disorders are illnesses, not character flaws or choices.

The support I have received in the past few weeks genuinely still leaves me speechless and although the road to recovery may be long, the day that I acknowledged that I had a problem marked the first day of the rest of my life.

Sarah Fallon

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