Archive for the ‘eating disorder’ Category

Poem by Ali Valenzuela

March 4, 2008
Ali wrote this poem about her experience of recovering from an eating disorder and kindly sent it to me for publication on this site. I would like to take this opportunity to commend Ali’s courage, determination and generosity. In her struggle to gain treatment for anorexia and despite being desperately ill, she has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of eating disorders in Wales.

I was lost and alone, didn’t know who to be,
and felt like an outcast, unaccepted for me.
When I needed a friend; a voice to console,
I heard a small whisper: “You’re not on your own.
I’ve seen you around and you’re needing a friend,
and i promise to be there right until the end.”
I jumped at the offer of close company,
but little did I realise quite how close it’d be.
I felt proud to decline food-it showed me my strength
To say bno to the things I would want at great length.
I felt so in control and my confidence soared,
what with all of the exercise, I was never bored.
People said “what willpower it takes to do this!”
but little did they know it came with a twist
I was hungry and needed to eat a good meal
But the voice would get louder and started to squeal:
“what the HELL are you doing, you fat, dirty BITCH?!
We’ve got you SO far, now you shovel down THIS?!
It doesn’t make sense to delay your progress!”
But by this point, I only began to obsess
about every morsel that passed my lips
Added shame and disgust to the top of my list.
Temptation’s no match for this beast that’s insidethat slowly consumed me- I had nowhere to hide.
It was eating me up, and rotting my soul-
If it were to continue, it’d swallow me whole.
My clothes wouldn’t fit and my body was frail,
but no matter my state I couldn’t possibly fail
The anorexic voice that drowned out the lot
of my terrified family, begging me to stop.
Who crept into my room in the dead of the night
To see if their daughter was still breathing alright.
People gasped at my bones that protruded my skin,
pointing with horror at ‘the girl that’s so thin!’
I was ashamed and afraid, so much internal pain,
I thought i would never become me again
It was the worst nightmare i could possibly know
as even when I woke up, it was there in full flow.
At a rock bottom where I could have easily died
Finally, hospital help had arrived!
It took all away control of anorexia’s ways
and slowly but surely I started to change
My passion for life started to get on track
I can’t tell you how good it feels to be back!
With recovery started, I learnt to control
The anorexic voice, and listen to my own.
But I still live in terror of the voice I followed,
Dragging me back to it’s world of sorrow
So I’m sharing my story of horror and pain
to prevent this from happening to anyone again
I can never repay those who supported me through
the hardest time of my life- all i say is Thankyou.

xxx
Ali Valenzuela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eating Disorders and Pregnancy

February 29, 2008

Eating disorders and pregnancy

Having an eating disorder can have serious consequences on one’s health. When the body is not getting significant nutrition, it may respond by stunting bone growth and allowing it’s muscles to waste away. One of the most important muscles in the body is the heart, and unhealthy weight loss can result in an irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and the very real possibility of cardiac arrest. While these problems affect one’s health to a great degree, there can be an even greater strain placed on the body when one is pregnant and has an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. In this article, we’ll discuss the problem and offer some help when it comes to dealing with it.

The damage that is done to the human body through an eating disorder can truly have a negative effect on a woman’s endocrine system. This system is crucial when it comes to proper pregnancy, as it regulates the hormones that are responsible for proper development. For that reason, some women who have had eating disorders that they’ve successfully treated in the past may still be threatened with the aspect of having a risky pregnancy. Sadly, roughly twenty percent of all female visits to fertility clinics are made by women who have had an eating disorder in the past.

If you currently have an eating disorder and you’ve become pregnant, it’s important to do all that you can to save yourself from the disorder before the baby’s health is threatened. You should immediately seek the help of a physician or a counsellor in order to bring your body back to where it needs to be. Unfortunately, women who have eating disorders face a much higher risk of miscarriage. There is also a greater chance of having the baby prematurely, which can result in a host of developmental problems. Also, those with eating disorders need to consider how pregnancy works. Babies sap much of the nutrition that their mothers eat, so if your own health is not stable, your child’s life can be threatened as well as your own. Women with eating disorders often have low levels of calcium, and when the foetus begins to demand calcium, osteoporosis may occur, causing your bones and teeth to become weak and brittle.

Another thing to consider is the mental state that you are in. If you are busy being concerned about your self-image due to an eating disorder, you may be unable to give your growing child the attention that it needs. Before making any decision about becoming pregnant, be sure to consider all of the facts when it comes to the child’s development. Do your best to get yourself back to a healthy way of living before considering bringing a child into the mix; the resulting stressors can heavily outweigh your desires for having a child. Make a responsible decision before you do anything rash, and be sure that you’ll be able to provide a loving and peaceful setting for a child should you decide to have one.

Article by Mike Serov

EDAW… failing families?

February 24, 2008

EDAW’08 Report:

Failing Families?

No one who loves and cares for someone with an eating disorder should feel ashamed; no one should feel so responsible and so alone. Yet time after time, families tell us that is exactly what they feel.

BEAT are launching Eating Disorders Awareness Week with a damning report, Failing Families?

“It has devastated us all. We have lost someone so precious because we were trying to do our best but did not have enough information or knowledge. It is difficult to bear the guilt and to carry on.”

We ask a simple question. Why are so many families being failed by services that should support them?

To read the report in full please go to the national eating disorder association’s web page: www.b-eat.co.uk

The Globalization of Eating Disorders

February 24, 2008

This is a wonderful short essay  by Susan Bordo which was originally posted by Patsy Clairmont on her blog:

Butterflies are just around the corner… adventures of a starving artist.

It is so interesting, insightful and filled with common sense, I just had to re-print it here.

“The young girl stands in front of the mirror. Never fat to begin with, she’s been on a no-fat diet for a couple of weeks and has reached her goal weight: 115 lb., at 54–exactly what she should weigh, according to her doctor’s chart. But in her eyes she still looks dumpy. She can’t shake her mind free of the “Lady Marmelade” video from Moulin Rouge. Christina Aguilera, Pink, L’il Kim, and Mya, each one perfect in her own way: every curve smooth and sleek, lean-sexy, nothing to spare. Self-hatred and shame start to burn in the girl, and envy tears at her stomach, enough to make her sick. She’ll never look like them, no matter how much weight she loses. Look at that stomach of hers, see how it sticks out? Those thighs–they actually jiggle. Her butt is monstrous. She’s fat, gross, a dough girl”.

 

As you read the imaginary scenario above, whom did you picture standing in front of the mirror?

If your images of girls with eating and body image problems have been shaped by People magazine and Lifetime movies, she’s probably white, North American, and economically secure. A child whose parents have never had to worry about putting food on the family table. A girl with money to spare for fashion magazines and trendy clothing, probably college-bound.

If you’re familiar with the classic psychological literature on eating disorders, you may also have read that she’s an extreme “perfectionist” with a hyper-demanding mother, and that she suffers from “body-image distortion syndrome” and other severe perceptual and cognitive problems that “normal” girls don’t share. You probably don’t picture her as black, Asian, or Latina.

Read the description again, but this time imagine twenty-something Tenisha Williamson standing in front of the mirror.

 

Tenisha is black, suffers from anorexia, and feels like a traitor to her race. “From an African-American standpoint,” she writes, “we as a people are encouraged to embrace our big, voluptuous bodies. This makes me feel terrible because I don’t want a big, voluptuous body! I don’t ever want to be fat–ever, and I don’t ever want to gain weight. I would rather die from starvation than gain a single pound.”

 

Tenisha is no longer an anomaly. Eating and body image problems are now not only crossing racial and class lines, but gender lines. They have also become a global phenomenon.

 

Fiji is a striking example. Because of their remote location, the Fiji islands did not have access to television until 1995, when a single station was introduced It broadcasts programs from the United StatesGreat Britain, and Australia. Until that time, Fiji had no reported cases of eating disorders, and a study conducted by anthropologist Anne Becker showed that most Fijian girls and women, no matter how large, were comfortable with their bodies. In 1998, just three years after the station began broadcasting, 11 percent of girls reported vomiting to control weight, and 62 percent of the girls surveyed reported dieting during the previous months.

 

Becker was surprised by the change; she had thought that Fijian cultural traditions, which celebrate eating and favour voluptuous bodies, would “withstand” the influence of the media images. Becker hadn’t yet understood that we live in an empire of images, and that there are no protective borders.

 

In Central Africa, for example, traditional cultures still celebrate voluptuous women. In some regions, brides are sent to fattening farms to be plumped and massaged into shape for their wedding night. In a country plagued by AIDS, the skinny body has meant–as it used to among Italian, Jewish, and black Americans–poverty, sickness, death.

An African girl must have hips,” says dress designer Frank Osodi. “We have hips. We have bums. We like flesh in Africa.” For years, Nigeria sent its local version of beautiful to the Miss World competition. The contestants did very poorly. Then a savvy entrepreneur went against local ideals and entered Agbani Darego, a light-skinned, hyper-skinny beauty. (He got his inspiration from M-Net, the South African network seen across Africa on satellite television, which broadcasts mostly American movies and television shows.) Agbani Darego won the Miss World Pageant, the first Black African to do so. Now, Nigerian teenages fast and exercise, trying to become “lepa”–a popular slang phrase for the thin “it” girls that are all the rage. Said one: “People have realized that slim is beautiful.”

 

How can mere images be so powerful? For one thing, they are never “just pictures,” as the fashion magazines continually maintain (disingenuously) in their own defence. They speak to young people not just about how to be beautiful but also about how to become what the dominant culture admires, values, rewards. They tell them how to be cool, “get it together,” overcome their shame. To girls who have been abused they may offer a fantasy of control and invulnerability, immunity from pain and hurt. For racial and ethnic groups whose bodies have been deemed “foreign,” earthy, and primitive, and considered unattractive by Anglo-Saxon norms, they may cast the lure of being accepted as “normal” by the dominant culture.

In today’s world, it is through images–much more than parents, teachers, or clergy–that we are taught how to be. And it is images, too, that teach us how to see, that educate our vision in what’s a defect and what is normal, that give us the models against which our own bodies and the bodies of others are measured. Perceptual pedagogy: “How to Interpret Your Body 101.” It’s become a global requirement.

 I was intrigued, for example, when my articles on eating disorders began to be translated, over the past few years, into Japanese and Chinese. Among the members of audiences at my talks, Asian women had been among the most insistent that eating and body image weren’t problems for their people, and indeed, my initial research showed that eating disorders were virtually unknown in Asia. But when, this year, a Korean translation of Unbearable Weight was published, I felt I needed to revisit the situation. I discovered multiple reports on dramatic increases in eating disorders in China, South Korea, and Japan. “As many Asian countries become Westernised and infused with the Western aesthetic of a tall, thin, lean body, a virtual tsunami of eating disorders has swamped Asian countries,” writes Eunice Park in Asian Week magazine. Older people can still remember when it was very different. In China, for example, where revolutionary ideals once condemned any focus on appearance and there have been several disastrous famines, “little fatty” was a term of endearment for children. Now, with fast food on every corner, childhood obesity is on the rise, and the cultural meaning of fat and thin has changed.

When I was young,” says Li Xiaojing, who manages a fitness centre in Beijing, “people admired and were even jealous of fat people since they thought they had a better life….But now, most of us see a fat person and think ‘He looks awful.’”

 

Clearly, body insecurity can be exported, imported, and marketed–just like any other profitable commodity. In this respect, what’s happened with men and boys is illustrative. Ten years ago men tended, if anything, to see themselves as better looking then they (perhaps) actually were. And then (as I chronicle in detail in my book The Male Body) the menswear manufacturers, the diet industries, and the plastic surgeons “discovered” the male body. And now, young guys are looking in their mirrors, finding themselves soft and ill defined, no matter how muscular they are. Now they are developing the eating and body image disorders that we once thought only girls had. Now they are abusing steroids, measuring their own muscularity against the oiled and perfected images of professional athletes, body-builders, and Men’s Health models. Now the industries in body-enhancement–cosmetic surgeons, manufacturers of anti-aging creams, spas and salons–are making huge bucks off men, too.

 

What is to be done? I have no easy answers. But I do know that we need to acknowledge, finally and decisively, that we are dealing here with a cultural problem. If eating disorders were biochemical, as some claim, how can we account for their gradual “spread” across race, gender, and nationality? And with mass media culture increasingly providing the dominant “public education” in our children’s lives–and those of children around the globe–how can we blame families? Families matter, of course, and so do racial and ethnic traditions. But families exist in cultural time and space–and so do racial groups. In the empire of images, no one lives in a bubble of self-generated “dysfunction” or permanent immunity. The sooner we recognize that–and start paying attention to the culture around us and what it is teaching our children–the sooner we can begin developing some strategies for change.

Woman over 25 with eating disorders

February 14, 2008

Information about eating disorders in women over 25

Eating disorders are not only for young teenaged girls. The stereotype has been proven wrong year after year as children, adults, seniors and men are diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating syndrome.

In general, men develop eating disorders later than woman, and the onset of bulimia is later than anorexia. We are also facing the relatively new problem of long-term anorexia and bulimia. Individuals who were diagnosed in their teens but received no successful treatment, and who are now in their thirties or fourties.

The following information is taken from:

http://eatingdisorders.suite101.com/article.cfm/eating_disorders_in_adult_women

The article is called “What happens after Recovery?” by Lori Henry.

“One of the recent phenomenon is the discovery that adult women are still struggling with these issues. Those who had suffered in their teen years were still effected, but could not be diagnosed with an eating disorder because they fell under the radar for specific symptoms.

There is also a huge jump in women who develop eating disorders later in life, usually due to the many changes and stressors that present themselves as their children grow up, they go through deaths, possible divorces, pregnancy, and age changes their perspectives and bodies.

Not many studies have been done, though, on adult women who suffer from full blown eating disorders and especially those who are suffering but are not quite diagnosable.

In Trisha Gura’s new book, Lying in Weight: The Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders in Adult Women, she diligently explores this hidden epidemic that is ruining millions of people’s lives. Chock full of scientific research, personal stories and the author’s own experience, the read is both a fascinating and shattering one.

The book doesn’t stop there, though. Trisha also provides answers to difficult questions about eating disorders in adult women’s lives, as well as inspiration for those dealing with these issues.

What happens when girls with eating disorders grow up into adults? We hear from them in direct stories about their struggles and how aging has effected their latent eating disorders.

Women she interviews range in age and experience, but all share the growing battle with disordered eating. One woman is 92 years old and developed anorexia in her senior years because “there was just too much she wanted to do in her later years” (Lying in Weight, Harper Collins, 2007).

Trisha Gura is not only someone who empathises with the subject matter, she is a scientist herself and has spent 15 years as a medical journalist. She holds a doctorate in molecular biology and has written extensively in such publications as Science, Nature, Scientific American, the Chigaco Tribune, the Boston Globe, Child, the Yoga Journal and Health, to name a few.

Above all, she offers hope to those suffering or who know someone who is suffering. Mixed in with her scientific research are the women’s stories themselves who have shared their own experience in order to shed light on their age group.

Lying in Weight: The Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders in Adult Women is available from Amazin and is a great read for laypeople and professionals alike”.

addiction?

February 13, 2008

 

 

 

 

Are eating disorders an

 

 

 

 

 

 

addiction?

 

 

 

Can compulsive eating be compared to an addiction like compulsive gambling?

 

Is the chemical hit produced by periods of starvation similar to that of heroin?

 

Are eating disorders an addiction?

 

 

…This is surely one of the most controversial and emotionally laden subjects in the mental health field. In this article I will explore ways in which an eating disorder is (and isn’t) like an addiction…

 

 

 

 

I personally do not subscribe to the idea that anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are addictions. This is because eating does not create the biological dependencies which are implicit in addiction to drugs such as nicotine or crack cocaine.

For example, chemical changes occur within the body of an alcoholic so that they physically need alcohol to function in a “normal” way.

 

 

When I suffered from anorexia I was emotionally and mentally dependent on starving. There were a million reasons why I felt “unable” to eat, and physically I was unable to digest very much food because my stomach had shrunk. But I did not physically need to starve so that I could function. My need not to eat was primarily mental rather than physical.

 

 

 

 

“Addictive personality”…?

 

Up to date research suggests that only 5% of drug or alcohol users become chemically addicted and that particular personality “types” are most likely to become dependent, regardless of the chemicals used.

 

 

Certain childhood behaviours may predict adult addictive tendencies… there are “early warning” signs. You only have to sit in an AA or NA meeting to hear people in recovery describe how they knew they were an “addict” long before they ever picked up their first drink or experimented with their first drug.

 

 

Common features include childhood feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and isolation. Children who are very shy or very loud. Unhappy children who use ritualistic behaviours to soothe their internal pain. Repetitive tapping or stepping, talking to one’s self, making up secret “rules” to manage anger or anxiety.

 

 

When I was a child I said individual prayers on behalf of everybody, everybody I knew, every night. I even said a prayer from the people I didn’t know. I said one from the people I would meet one day and another from those I would never meet. I said extra prayers in case I forgot anybody… it took hours. I wasn’t a religious child, but I would wake up guilty and terrified if I forgot anybody.

 

I never stepped on cracks, I only sat on the floor at home, I touched things the same number of times with my right hand and then my left. I walked the long way to school to avoid passing the Golden Labrador pup. All the children loved to pet him ~ but I couldn’t bare to leave him. I couldn’t go until I saw another kid in the distance and knew he wouldn’t be alone.

 

I failed miserably to communicate with children my own age and preferred to play by myself. I wasn’t bullied, but I had no friends. I could go on and on… mostly small, quiet things which nobody ever noticed; but my childhood was a series of carefully balanced rituals planned to avoid or justify feelings of guilt. Such disassociative actions could be perceived as the early emergence of addictive behaviour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addictions and Eating Disorders

 

 

 

Shared Characteristics

 

 

Eating disorders certainly share many characteristics, symptoms and behaviour trends with addictions. It is common to hear people describe themselves as being “addicted” to chocolate or salty foods. They also feel deprived when they can not eat these foods and crave them.

 

 

People with eating disorders (for example anorexia) may achieve both an emotional and physiological “high” when starving. A bulimic might experience stress release of tension relief when purging. Compulsive eating can provide both a rush of energy with sugar, than drowsiness when satiated. At the beginning, there is always a “reward”.

 

 

 

Some shared

 

 

 

characteristics:

 

 

Secrecy

 

 

Deception and lies (e.g. pretending to have eaten)

 

 

Ritual (Rules and specific patterns of eating, a particular routine for vomiting, etc)

 

 

Pre-occupation (constantly thinking about food)

 

Use of a behaviour or drug to “cope”

 

 

Prioritising compulsive behaviour or addiction above all else

 

 

(e.g. above relationships, finance, physical and emotional health) etc

 

 

Illegal behaviour to support behabiour (such as shoplifting)

 

 

Social withdrawal and depression

 

 

Gradual reduction in the “positive” effects of their disorder or addiction and an increase in drug or behaviour use to compensate.

 

 

Ultimately, eating disorders can become the centre of a person’s life in the same way as any chemical addiction and sufferers are likely to feel emotionally unable to cease damaging behaviours.

 

 

The relationship between eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

disorders and chemical addiction

 

 

 

 

 

Statistically, there is no hard evidence to suggest that people with eating disorders are more likely to have alcoholics or chemical addicts as close family members. I personally find this surprising to the point of disbelief.

 

 

The majority of sufferers I know have some family experience of addiction.

There is evidence to suggest that somebody with a close family member who has an eating disorder is four or five times more likely to develop one themselves. But this could be learned behaviour. We already know that amongst young girls who are not genetically related, a single sufferer can significantly increase the risk of eating disorders in her peers.

 

 

Finally, there is much written about the prevalence of cross addiction or co-morbidity. It is indisputable that a huge amount of people with eating disorders also suffer from a chemical addication or self-injury (self-harm). There is so much to say on this subject… I guess that’s another blog.

 

 

Addiction or not – an addiction model can be a helpful form of treatment. OA (which adopts the AA 12-step recovery model) provides free self-help groups world wide. And whilst the abstinence model may be negated (a person with an eating disorder must learn to manage eating healthily if they wish to recover) the emphasis on peer identification, openness, acceptance and personal responsibility can be empowering and supportive.

 

 

Interested in this subject? You may find the short film below helpful………

 

 

 

The Reality of Bulimia…..

February 10, 2008

 

Bulimia

The true horror of eating disorders is minimised. Whilst the media and social forums glamorise anorexia as being “heroin chic” ~ bulimia nervosa is almost completely ignored as socially taboo.

Adding to the problem is the fact that the Welsh medical community still diagnose the severity of an eating disorder in terms of bmi (low body weight). This entirely inadequate diagnostic tool all but disqualifies severe bulimics from accessing a level of help appropriate to their need.

Bulimia does not always cause low body weight. In fact, severe bulimics who consume huge quantities of high calorie, sugary food before purging are more likely to be slightly over-weight. This is because their body digests a percentage of the food they consume almost instantly.

Bulimia kills

Bulimia kills. It causes a range of chemical imbalances in the body which trigger cardiac arrest (stopping the heart) or brain damage.

Bulimia can also cause gastric rupture (rupture of the stomach), leading to death. Lung collapse, internal bleeding, stroke, kidney failure, liver failure; pancreatitis and perforated ulcers. Depression and suicide are a high cause of fatality in bulimics. The affects of binging and purging on an unborn child are brutal and irreversible.

This short film documents some of the fatalities resulting from bulimia nervosa. (There is another, far more brutal film at the end of this blog entry).

minimised

The physical affects of

 

Bulimia Nervosa

Malnutrition
Dehydration
Electrolyte imbalance (Can lead to cardiac arrest, which can also result in brain damage by stroke.)
Hyponatremia
Damaging of the voice
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Teeth erosion and cavities, gum disease
Sialadenosis (salivary gland swelling)
Potential for gastric rupture during periods of binging
Esophageal reflux
Irritation, inflammation, and possible rupture of the esophagus
Laxative dependence
Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis
Emetic toxicity due to ipecac abuse
Swelling of the face and cheeks, especially apparent in the lower eyelids due to the high pressure of blood in the face during vomiting.
Callused or bruised fingers
Dry or brittle skin, hair, and nails, or hair loss
Lanugo
Edema
Muscle atrophy
Decreased/increased bowel activity
Digestive problems that may be triggered, including Celiac, Crohn’s Disease
Low blood pressure, hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension
High blood pressure, hypertension
Iron deficiency
Anemia
Hormonal imbalances
Hyperactivity
Depression
Insomnia
Amenorrhea
Infertility
High risk pregnancy, miscarriage, still-born babies
Diabetes
Elevated blood sugar or hyperglycemia
Ketoacidosis
Osteoporosis
Arthritis
Weakness and fatigue
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Cancer of the throat or voice box
Liver failure
Kidney infection and failure
Heart failure, heart arrhythmia, angina
Seizure
Paralysis
Potential death caused by heart attack or heart failure; lung collapse; internal bleeding, stroke, kidney failure, liver failure; pancreatitis, gastric rupture, perforated ulcer, depression and suicide.

 

 

 

Bulimia in the UK: Fast facts

 

Approximately 1-2 percent of women in the UK suffer from bulimia.


Every year there are as many as 18 new cases of bulimia nervosa per 100,000 population per year.

Between 1 and 3 percent of young women are thought to be bulimic at any given moment in time.

According to some studies, as many as 8 percent of women suffer from bulimia at some stage in their life, and it affects about 5 percent of female college students.

People who have close relatives with bulimia are four times more likely to develop the disease than people who do not.

Studies indicate that about 5 out of 10 people with bulimia are healthy 10 years after diagnosis; while 2 out of 10 still have bulimia and 3 out of 10 are partially recovered.

Approximately 5 percent of bulimia sufferers go on to develop anorexia nervosa.

 

The final film/audio here really brings home the horror of death by of bulimia nervosa.
Please be aware that this film contains some graphic imagery and is explicit re. details of death. Although I am familiar with reading about stomach rupture and organ failure, I personally find the narrative deeply upsetting.
I spent a long time considering the merits of including such a film, and have decided to do so; because the majority of people who access this blog are sufferers and for them it may be of benefit. That said, I do not reccomend that everyone watch it.

 

 

Short film – anorexia nervosa

February 10, 2008

suicide, eating disorders and self-injury links

February 5, 2008

Suicidal Young Girls Need More Help

Monday, February 26th, 2007business-card-imagejpg.jpg

BBC on-line

Young girls are crying out for help – last year one in six calls to a 24 hour mental health helpline came from young girls considering suicide. Depression, eating disorders sexual abuse and bullying seemed to be some of the main problems affecting young girls – according to the article on the BBC website, rates of depression and anxiety have increased among young people in the UK by 70% in the last 25 years. That’s a huge percentage, and an extremely worrying one.

Joelle Leader, assistant director of ChildLine said “At the moment, there are simply not enough therapeutic services for children with these problems, and we are urging the government to give this issue urgent attention.”

More doctors

Eating problems also featured high on the list of mental health concerns, with 1,854 girls and 158 boys ringing for help and advice.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, said the charity had recorded an increase in the number the number of calls to its helpline from young people who self-harmed – sometimes in a brutal fashion.

“Those young people calling about self-harm report an almost doubled rate of suicidal thoughts than non self-harmers, and a significantly higher incidence of past suicide attempts.

“What is alarming is the numbers of those taken to A&E departments who are sent home without any follow-up help.

“We need doctors and teachers to be more alert to the potential risks, and many more therapists available, to prevent the vicious cycle of relief by painful self-harm.”

 

 

holy anorexia

February 4, 2008

 

 

Sister Marie Thérèse:

‘Anorexia has been a

friend’

She devoted her life to God, but Sister Marie Thérèse couldn’t let go of her lifelong eating disorder – until she faced up to a childhood scarred by abuse

Interview by Peter Stanford
Sunday, 27 January 2008

“Anorexia has been a part of my life for more than 50 of my 61 years. It has been a friend really. Having it is like being with somebody who takes away your feelings. Anything you can’t cope with, you put into anorexia. Once you confront it, as I have in recent years, you are left alone.

I grew up in Luton, one of four children. My parents, who married in 1939, were not well matched. Nowadays their marriage would have ended quickly but they were good Irish Catholics and marriage was for better or worse. When I was small my maternal grandfather came to live with us. Mother would never see him as anything other than a perfect gentleman. When my two sisters were born, I was handed over more and more into his care. I came to be called “grandad’s little girl”. As far back as I can remember, he would take my upstairs, undress me and sexually abuse me. He died when I was nine.

I could always talk to God when I couldn’t talk to anyone else. He was the only person who knew everything and still loved me.

I didn’t think of being a nun until I went to a Catholic school at the age of 10 and met some sisters. I knew I wanted to be an enclosed nun, giving myself totally in prayer, living in a convent, as I do now, at a Carmelite monastery in London. I remember talking about such a life with my mother and she said, “They wouldn’t have you.” I thought, “Of course they won’t have me because I’ve been abused. I’m not good enough.”

So I decided to be a nun in an active order, giving my life to God as a nurse or a teacher. I joined one order at 17 but left at 19. By that time I was very anorexic. I can’t remember a time as a child when I ate normally, but my mother said I did until I was nine. I didn’t eat as I felt like the biggest sinner in the world. I wanted to die more than anything else; I thought I’d go to God and he understood.

I was very ill by the time I left the first order. I ended up in a mental hospital. I remember a doctor asking me what I wanted to do and I said, “I would have liked to have been a nun but I’ve taken two overdoses now, so that’s impossible. Nuns don’t do that sort of thing.” And he said, “I don’t see why not.”

So I discharged myself and tried again, in my mid-twenties. I entered another active order and spent four years with them, but I couldn’t make final vows. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be. So I thought I’d come to Carmel for a week and show God it just was not possible. But God showed me it was possible, so I became a Carmelite at 30. It wasn’t the end of anorexia, though.

After I’d discharged myself, I’d decided to live with whatever was wrong with me. I still didn’t think of it as anorexia. Everything I read about anorexia seemed to say to me that people who had it wanted to have a figure or be thin. And I didn’t want either.

Entering a contemplative order where fasting is part of the way of life was, with hindsight, a bad idea. There was an expectation in Carmel that you will eat everything put in front of you. You had no choice. One thing about anorexia is that you have to be in control of something – and that is your food. I couldn’t do that in Carmel.

I coped – not very well – by vomiting and using laxatives. There were a lot of questions and a lot of trouble about why I wasn’t eating everything given to me. They tried to be kind but food was a daily nightmare. I cried a lot of the time, but I don’t think those around me really knew what was wrong. It made me feel I wasn’t a proper Carmelite. In an enclosed monastery you are left totally with yourself. You have long hours of silence. Any psychological problem is magnified. Prayer gives you so much self-knowledge and there is no escape.

It was five years ago, when I finally went to an anorexia clinic, that I finally made the connection between the abuse and my anorexia. I met some other girls who had been abused and lived with the fear of normal body weight. In the clinic, they insisted on calling me Sheila – my baptismal name – rather than Marie Thérèse, which is my religious name. I didn’t want to be Sheila because I hated her, but I had to. It’s only now that I am beginning to realise that Sheila is living her vocation and has become Sister Marie Thérèse. They are the same person.

I struggled to admit to myself that I had anything to forgive my grandfather for. I didn’t want to go back to those memories. Then my sister brought me some photographs of myself as a young girl, and I got angry with my grandad for what he had done to that little girl. It took me time to work through that, but the love I’d had for him is still there somewhere. I think he must have been very sick.

Now, I can eat things that are put before me, but anorexia has damaged me so much physically that I have to be careful what I eat. The biggest change is that I don’t think about anorexia any more. I have something to eat and that’s it. I get on with other things. I now look back on my life and see so much value in it. It has made me who I am and it has formed my relationship with God, which has been such a precious part of my journey to recovery”.

Interested in this subject?

Suggested further reading:

‘The Silent Struggle’ by Sister Marie Thérèse of the Cross (Redemptorist Publications, £12.95).

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