At first glance it might seem that I am just a happy, normal girl who loves to bake and walk her dog. However, I have suffered with an eating disorder since I was 13. It was only in May 2014 when I realised that this Voice in my head was slowly but surely trying to kill me. And so began the long, hard, and painful journey which is recovery...

I want My Cocoa Stained Apron to be a special place...a place for reflection, memories, shared stories...and of course a little bit of cocoa-staining ;) Recovery might be the hardest thing you ever choose to do in this life. But it is also the bravest and best decision you will ever make.:)

Monday, 18 August 2014

College, leaving home, and realisation.

So when I left School, I was still probably the size, height wise, of a girl much younger than me; and that, combined with the fact I was only a slender size 6, often fooled people into thinking that I was under eighteen – oftentimes I can get away with buying child fares for things if I wanted to; and I’ve been told that I look about twelve or thirteen on numerous occasions before, by both family and complete strangers.
This didn’t unduly bother me. Well, I sort of wished I was a little taller, and
every day I looked in the mirror I would still be disappointed by what I saw
and grumble to myself about my lack of height. But then I would admire the slenderness of my legs and the flatness of my belly and assure myself that at least that was alright. I took courage from the fact people would never be able to look at me and say, “She’s fat. She’s a bit on the plump side”. Why did I not look at it in the reverse and say to myself, “Well…they might not be able to say that, but…won’t they be able to say ‘Gosh. She’s way too thin. She looks awful!’” But of course,
to me, there wasn’t anything really wrong with being skinny. Being fat or obese – the thought of that, to me, could only be described as nightmarish, and it was as if I had to remove every single minute possibility of becoming just that one bit chubbier by choosing to eat as little as possible.
So let’s take a look at the stuff I was doing, while I was in school, which had now established themselves as part of my every day routine and which were, of course, ensuring that I maintained my tiny size as well as completely distorted my relationship with food. Here’s a sample of what I would eat on a typical day before I started secondary school; when I was a healthy and happy twelve year old.
  • Breakfast: Bowl of cereal and a piece of toast
  • Morning snack: Cake or biscuit
  • Lunch: sandwich or roll with ham or other filling. Yoghurt and piece of fruit.
  • Afternoon snack: bar of chocolate
  • Dinner and pudding.
  • Hot chocolate before bed.
(It’s funny, but in those days my hot chocolate addiction hadn’t quite established itself. I suppose hot chocolate was, in my childhood days, an extra special bedtime treat which Mam and Dad would make for me to help me sleep, and in this way it assumed an almost sacred significnace: what could be more wonderful, my most favourite ever sweet thing, chocolate, being magically produced in drinkable form!?)
After school, as I mentioned before, the ritual was to go straight to the small cupboard in the kitchen where a dainty straw basket containing numerous bars and packets of treats was strategically stowed. I would happily dip my hand in without looking and pull out one of these colourful
packets of chocolate delightfulness, sneaking it back in if it wasn’t quite
what my taste buds desired that particular day or in the likelihood that I just wanted to have one of my favourites: these being, if I remember correctly, namely a bar of Galaxy Milk, Cadbury’s Caramel, Maltesers, Galxy Ripple, and various others. I loved them all, though, to be honest.
So that was when I was healthy, and free from the eating disorder. Given below is an example of what I would eat on a typical day at secondary school, when everything had begun to change.
  • Breakfast: Small bowl of cereal with very little milk
  • Morning snack: fruit or nothing, or a very small cookie or cake, which I would pick chunks off usually or give away to friends, saying “I don’t want this, please have it”.
  • Lunch: sandwich or roll, with very little filling. I sometimes picked out the filling and threw it away. Yoghurt: I began to try and have fat free ones, if I had one at all. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat it and put it back in the fridge when I got home.
  • Afternoon: Nothing normally, I pretended I had my usual chocolate but really I didn’t have anything most days.
  • Dinner and pudding: I would be as minimalist as possible if I ever got to the chance to serve myself. I often didn’t finish my pudding and would wash or throw away leftovers.
  • Hot chocolate: Again I would often, if I thought no one was looking, pour away half the mug.
This pattern of eating became my norm for most of my school days. Sometimes, I would eat less than that; which I would automatically regard that as an achievement of sorts and derive a sense of reassurance from. I would think that, because of what little I had had that particular day, there would be less pressure on me for the day after to be exceptionally minimalist and that if something went “terribly” wrong - as in, if I was forced to eat something extra than planned in order to please my family, or fit in with friends - I could feel secure in the knowledge that my frugalness in my intake the day before would ensure that I would not lose my skinny, skinny shape.
In September 2012, I went to college in Dublin to study English, moving into student accommodation and leaving the comfort and security of my beloved home in the country far behind. I have always been a homebird and, consequently, I found the sudden transition and the enormous, humungous differences between the school and college settings extrememly hard to adapt to. And then, of course, there was my eating. As you can see from above, what I was consuming on a day-to-day basis was far from great. But I suppose, before I went to college, what saved me from becoming dangerously skinny and allowed me to function sort of normally was the fact that I did still have to eat. My Mam would ensure I would always eat a proper dinner in the evening, after all, and in a house where family mealtimes were an important and imperative part of the daily routine, simply skipping them entirely was out of the question. And though I was bad then, for sure, it actually never did really occur to me to skip an entire meal altogether.
However, now I was on my own in the big bad world, and it was up to me to literally fend for and look after myself – and this, of course, included eating. I was desperate to not let my Mam down and to not lose weight. My Mam, now well used to my odd behaviour around food, had anxiously implored me to be careful when I was away during the week and to make sure I ate properly, maintaining that I could not, after all, possibly afford to become any thinner than I already was. I tried to be hopeful at the beginning of my college journey, despite the feelings of homesickness, nervousness and apprehension all mixed up inside me. I tried telling myself that it would be an exciting and memorable experience and that even, functioning for myself would be fun and liberating in that I could choose to eat what I wanted at anytime and I would be able to cook every single day. But in the very first week of being away from home I found myself completely and utterly at sea in my new environment and I felt scared, confused, overwhelmed, and pretty miserable. I wouldn’t say I was depressed but I can safely say, looking back at it now, it was one of the most difficult and stressful periods in my life. Not only was I homesick, I was lonely, too, and I was finding it very hard to make friends and fit in. In addition, I had discovered, to my extreme disappointment and distress, that this English degree that I had always so badly wanted had not met my expectations by any means. I could find nothing enjoyable or engaging in doing it, and this, combined with everything else, all worked to contribute to the horrible feelings of ineptitude, uselessness, despondency and even despair that I experienced during that time: and to worsen my already unhealthy and abnormal attitude towards eating in general.
For, unfortunately, that stress had a really damaging and negative impact upon my relationship with food. I found that eating now had become nothing but a chore; an unnecessary act of self-gratification I suppose, which I felt as if I did not deserve. I had no appetite and felt bloated and sickly because of the stress. Eating my meals alone in my lonely little apartment – so cruelly and horribly different to those noisy, warm family mealtimes back at home that I was used to – ; buying food and trying to decide what I was going to eat on any particular day, even cooking and preparing what I finally did decide upon, if anything - I could find no pleasure in any of it. And so off I went on some sort of path of self-destruction which could have ended really, really horribly for me, if I hadn’t, only last month, in my second year of college, realised what I should have openly acknowledged to myself years ago. And this is when I made one of the most important and brave decisions in my life.

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