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Dublin: 3°C Friday 4 December 2020

Opinion: I thought my eating disorder gave me control, but it was really controlling me

Talking to people is so important – keeping everything bottled up inside only leads to disaster.

Méabh Corr

WRITING THIS AND sharing it with the world is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time but I’ve never really had the courage to do so. However, around this time three years ago marks the stage where my life changed for the better and, being honest, I never thought I would get to where I am now – so it’s cause to celebrate!

Since I was about 15 I have suffered with an eating disorder. Shocking right? A teenage girl with an eating disorder, sure it’s obviously all about vanity and wanting to be thin. Wrong. There are so many misconceptions and pre-conceived notions about eating disorders and before I get into what happened to me I would like to clear them up.

  • Eating disorders are not always about vanity
  • Eating disorders do not only affect girls
  • Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice – you can’t choose to stop having one
  • You can’t tell when you look at someone if they have an eating disorder
  • Recovery from eating disorders is possible
  • Eating disorders are serious and dangerous

These are just some of the common myths surrounding eating disorders and I think, for me, these are some of the reasons as to why I was so reluctant to talk about this for so long, for fear of what people would think of me or say about me. But these misconceptions are so far from the truth. Eating disorders are a very serious form of mental illness and should not be taken lightly.

I placed ridiculously high expectations on myself

If you started to read this in the hope to read a heartbreaking, traumatic event that triggered my eating disorder then I’m afraid you will be disappointed. I have had a happy life, I did well in school, I played sports, I had lots of friends, I never wanted for anything. I was an over-achiever and placed high expectations on myself that were sometimes too ridiculous to maintain. From the outside I seemed to have it all together, but on the inside I was crumbling. I felt a serious lack of control in my life (yes, very cliche I know but it was a control issue) and I turned to food as my source of control in my life. I couldn’t control so many things in my life, but what I ate? Yeah, I could do that. So I did.

I am an extremely stubborn and determined person, so there were times in the early stages when my mother or father would notice my eating patterns and sit me down and try to get to the root of it. There was always tears – always – followed by the promise that I could stop, that I had it under control, that it didn’t happen all the time, that I didn’t need help, that I didn’t have a problem.

The constant threat of going to hospital was hung over my head and I didn’t want to let that happen so I would say anything to pacify my parents for another while. And it worked. It worked for at least three years. And, sure, everything was fine – I still did well in school, I still played sport, I got the odd blood test done and I was the picture of health, why should I stop using this control and stress coping mechanism if everything on the outside seemed to be fine? Because it is not healthy and it is not normal behavior. I would have days where I would completely break down in tears for no reason, but that was due to the stress of the Leaving Cert, right? Yeah… that was it.

Another downward spiral 

The summer after the Leaving Cert was good, I had finished school and had not a care in the world. My eating patterns even got someway normal and I was happy. But, then, the CAO offers came out, and I didn’t get my first choice. I had my heart set on going to UL to do PE teaching and I was 5 points short. I was devastated and this, of course, sent me on another downward spiral. But I was independent, I was tough, I didn’t talk about these problems. (I did get to go to UL in the end on a second round offer). I would use events like this as an excuse for my behavior and then say it’s OK, I’ll start fresh on Monday. But Monday never seemed to come.

Everyone loves college right? Well, my first year of college was shit. Don’t get me wrong, I made new friends, I went out a lot, but I also spent a lot of time on my own. I drifted from my friends from home, I completely isolated myself from them. When I wasn’t in a lecture or going on a night out I just wanted to stay in my room and be alone. I knew at this point that I had a problem, I felt sorry for myself and annoyed at myself that I couldn’t fix it – yet I was still reluctant to ask for help.

It wasn’t until the end of first year that my mam made an appointment with me to see a doctor in a clinic in Dublin. I agreed because I thought it would be like most doctors visits – I would lie about how I was really doing and they would buy it. Unfortunately, I was wrong and two weeks after that I was admitted into St Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin for two weeks. It was the hardest two weeks of my life and I would never want to go back there (it’s actually great motivation to stay on track).

When I first went in I had my bloods done, and continued to have them done three times a day, every day, for the two weeks. I now hate needles. My first blood test came back saying my potassium levels were dangerously low, so low that they were considering putting me on a drip. Do you know what can happen when your potassium gets too low? It can stop your heart. And, believe me, hearing that fact nearly stopped my heart. This is just one of the many extremely dangerous side effects that can accompany an eating disorder that the majority of people are not aware of.

I worked really hard for the two weeks I was there. It wasn’t easy. We had to talk about our feelings a lot, and keep a food diary in which we had to talk about how we felt about food. I hated this, I had no problem with food, I loved food I just didn’t like to keep it down. The part that I hated the most about the hospital was that for the two weeks I was in there Ireland decided to have a mini heatwave, and I couldn’t go outside. To say I was tempted to delete my Snapchat, turning off the images of all my friends who were having a great time, is an understatement.

You need to talk to someone

If there is one piece of advice I can offer to someone is that you need to talk to someone. You don’t necessarily have to talk about your problems all the time, but you need to talk to someone. I was lucky, I met this person that I could confide in just before I went into hospital and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his help and support. Just having him there to talk to was what got me through my two weeks. Even though he had no idea why I was in the hospital, he was the help I needed to get through it.

Now that I have come out the other side of all of this, almost two years later I still have to work hard. Every day is a new challenge and I have come so far from where I was three years ago. I used to think that my eating disorder gave me control, but in reality it was controlling me. Going into the hospital was the scare I needed to focus my life and get back on track. Talking to people is so important too, keeping everything bottled up inside only leads to disaster! I still struggle with this at times but I like to think I’m getting better.

The road to recovery is long

One of the most important things to remember is that the road to recovery is long, and it won’t happen overnight, but just because you relapse is not an excuse to give up and go back to the way you were. When a relapse happens you need to pick yourself up and look at tomorrow as a new day.

I wanted to write this because I used to feel like I was so alone in my struggle, but the truth is so many people suffer from eating disorders nowadays, and there are so many great organisations and people who can help you.

I hope that by reading this it could help someone who is struggling to find the courage to reach out for help, it’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Or ,for those of you who suspect someone you know may be struggling, talk to them, sometimes all you need is a friend to talk to. And, finally, for those of you who are still consumed by your eating disorder or any other form of mental health illness I can promise you it can end – with the right help and support you can get better and live a happier life.

Méabh Corr is from Clonmel, Tipperary, and is 20 years old. She’s currently in third year in UL studying to be a PE and Irish teacher. She love to play sports, with Gaelic Football being her chosen game . She’s had a very normal, happy life for the most part but – like so many others – has had her battles with mental health.

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About the author:

Méabh Corr

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