As it’s currently Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I thought it would be a good time to revisit what I went through, based on what I’ve discovered about myself recently.
Growing up, I struggled a lot. I was bullied for being Chinese, I was socially awkward (I still am) and had a really strict dad. I didn’t have many friends and I had trouble communicating with those around me. There was a lot about the world and my own life that I didn’t understand when I was a kid. I ignored it. Everything was too confusing and I thought it’d all make sense as I grew up. Ha!! By the time I was about 13, I suddenly lost the few friends I had at school. To this day, I still have no idea why. Was it something I did or the person I was then? I’ll never know. What I do know is that I was alone at school. Nobody to talk to or hang around with. Whilst I’m happy to be on my own these days, it’s a different story when you’re at school. The people who were my friends would ignore me, say things about me and generally make me feel pathetic. Just what I needed. I didn’t fit in at home and felt suffocated by my overly strict dad around that time…I felt truly alone, full of anger, resentment, disappointment and confusion. I just let it fester. I was upset but couldn’t express it. When I was younger and I got upset, my mom would tell me not to cry. “You’re a boy, boys don’t cry” she would say to me. This is probably one of the first times I started to wonder about this: I’m not supposed to cry because I’m a boy…but I can’t help crying…so does that make me a girl inside? As we all know, anyone can cry so that put a stop to any kind of self discovery there.
A few years later, when puberty set in and I started to rebel against my family, something happened that would change my life. My mom asked me to go downstairs for dinner but I refused. I decided that I didn’t want to eat with them. Not just with them – I didn’t want to eat at all. I was back in control!! It may not be much to anyone else, but having that slightest bit of control gave me so much comfort. It was an amazing feeling. I couldn’t stop the bullying, nor could I do anything about my relationship with my family…but I could control my eating. And the real win was that nobody could make me!! My family thought I was just being stupid and left me to it, thinking I’d snap out of it eventually. From that day, with each year that passed, I became more and more attached to this control…something that I would later realise as an eating disorder (ED). When times got tough and I struggled to cope, my ED be my guide. It would comfort me and be the friend during the loneliness.
I was always a skinny kid and given my fear of change, my ED helped me to maintain that. I guess this was also the start of me being even more aware of my body and how much I hated it. I never knew why I hated it. There were a number of things like I hated my knees or my face, or hands etc. Lots of little trivial things which most people probably think about themselves too. However my hatred was much deeper. Not anything you could laugh off or just get over. It wasn’t trivial. But it wasn’t something I could explain…so I ignored it. I’d try to hide my ED as much as possible. I had to protect the thing that had given me so much. Whether it was wearing baggy clothes so nobody could see my actual body shape to restricting my eating times or habits, I managed to do quite well. To this day, I still can’t eat in front of people I don’t know or trust. I get too self-conscious. Most people see EDs as a “female illness” so nobody suspected that I could possibly have any issues. A few times, I did think that there was something wrong and that my ED was starting to get out of control, so I went to the doctor. I was told it was just a bit of depression and that my appetite would return. Recognising EDs is still something that doctors struggle to do, so I used it as an excuse to carry on. Each time I tried to do anything, my ED became stronger, more entwined in my life, like a kidnapper tightening their security after their victim just tried to escape.
When I as 26, things got really bad and I stopped eating. At the time, I thought it was down to a failing relationship, money troubles and the fact that I felt directionless. Looking back on it now, I realise that feelings of uncertainty around my gender and identity were to blame. I struggled to cope with suddenly not knowing who I really was, let alone why I felt that way. I went off the rails. I wanted to die. When alone, I would drink to forget the pain before attempt to kill myself. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but the whole gender conflict was becoming more important in my life. My ED gave me hope. If I stopped eating, I could solve all my problems. I would be the one in control of my life, not those around me, plus I could stay thin – maybe a (subconscious) way to find a way to control my body shape seeing as though I felt the one I had was wrong? I was such a mess. And a really fucking horrible person to be around. Maybe I should have died. At least nobody would have had to put up with my shit. I wasn’t able to work as I didn’t have much energy to move, let alone think. Thinking…that was something else that suffered. Something which made me lose sight of my real struggle. Being so consumed by my ED, I could only think of control and body shape. I couldn’t take a step back to think rationally. I was on a downward spiral and unknown me, losing control…losing everything around me.
I was eventually admitted to an eating disorder unit, where I had one on one therapy and group therapy, as well as regular meets with a dietician. It was going ok and I got lost in the thought of coming out the other side completely fixed. Hoping in some naive way that curing my ED would also cure the internal torment of my identity. Yeh, I’m going to lie – I was desperate for somebody to tell me that I’m not going crazy, that I only felt confused over my gender because of my ED. I needed somebody to validate my life and give me something to blame or some kind of explanation over why I was this way. After being discharged from the eating disorder unit, I was in recovery and managed to convince myself that I was fixed. Recovery is an ongoing process, something that you work on every day to stop yourself from falling back into old habits. Like an addiction really. I was addicted to my ED and the ideals it promised me. If I was able to manage my ED on a day to day basis, then I could manage any irregular thoughts over my identity and be able to go about life like any other normal male. Sadly, that didn’t last. Gradually, the real problem started to creep back into my life, through the patchy and heart-arsed attempts at burying them.
If you are struggling with eating or know of anyone that is, then I would definitely recommend seeking help as soon as possible. Don’t do what I did and invite it to stay or try to live with it. If your doctor doesn’t take it seriously, then push for a second opinion. The UK’s eating disorder charity, Beat, is always on hand to help and their site is full of info/support.
Featured image: via Google