I'm so angry that anorexia has been glamourised
EMMA Scrivener (34) battled life-threatening anorexia as a child and adult - to the point she thought she might die. now, the Belfast-born writer and Oxford English graduate has written about her own struggle, in an attempt to deglamorise eating disorders and highlight the agony that is anorexia.
The face of anorexia is a terrible thing. It's not a glossy model in a perfume ad. It's not a lifestyle choice, like taking up yoga or picking out a new outfit. It's not a size-zero celebrity, airbrushed to perfection. It's not a delicate patient, emaciated, yet beautiful.
You won't find the real face of an eating disorder in the fashion pages. Or on the TV. You might think you see it there -- but the reality is too disturbing to show.
It's a cadaver, cloaked in sequins, modelling her new clothes. It's a starving animal, circling the empty cupboards. It's a creature, splattered in vomit, blank-eyed and vacant. It's a child, rocking back and forwards in the darkness. Foraging through bins for mouldy food, chewing it and spitting it out.
Anorexia looks like a friend. But it's a death sentence instead. I should know: as a teenager and then again as an adult, it almost killed me.
Death wasn't my intention, you understand. I just wanted to be thin. But what started as a choice became a tyranny. It stripped me of my looks, my mind, my friends, my family and my life. Glamorous? You must be joking.
Here's a snapshot: I was twenty-seven years old. A talented student at Bible college. I had my dream job, leading a thriving Sunday school. I'd been married for four years to Glen, a church minister in training. And I was slowly but surely killing myself.
I was starving. When I stood up I felt dizzy. I had chest pains. My body was covered in a thin layer of downy hair. My ankles and wrists were swollen. Even in the middle of summer, I was freezing cold.
My periods stopped. I couldn't think. I couldn't follow conversations, headlines or a single train of thought. It was like swimming underwater. My brain was wrapped in cotton wool. The outside world was a shadow -- insubstantial, dreamlike, distant. Nothing was real. All that mattered was losing weight.
I could barely speak, let alone study. I dropped out of college and quit my job. I was ravenous. My head swam, but my stomach, hollowed and hardened, was silent. I'd rather die than eat.
I dreamt about chocolate, cheese, potatoes, butter. I awoke to the taste of terror and ran to the bathroom to rinse out my mouth. At night I ran my fingers back and forth across my ribs, counting, checking that I hadn't put on weight. I couldn't sit down because my tail bone hurt -- but it still wasn't enough. I had to lose more.
That's the thing you see, it doesn't matter how much weight you lose, or how much exercise you do. Oh, you tell yourself it does -- just a couple more pounds, then I'll be happy, then I'll stop. The reality is very different: other people will gasp in horror, but you'll never see it. Even when you're dying, it won't be enough.
You feel in control -- but you're utterly enslaved. You tell yourself you're stronger than everyone else. You don't need them and you don't need their help. You lie about everything -- your body, your thoughts, your habits. The trips to the bathroom. The meals you've eaten 'elsewhere'.
You lie so much you forget the truth and then you no longer care. Every day, your world shrinks along with your body. You're not powerful or in control. You're scared and isolated and lonely. You're killing yourself but you don't know how to stop. But nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, right?
Look in the glossies and it can seem like starvation is where it's really at. What's a few ribs between friends, eh? After all, there's nothing sexier than brittle bones, heart failure, bad breath and enough body hair to shame a coconut.
Eating disordered? Me? Of course not; I just 'work out' (morning, noon and evening). On a diet? No! I eat what I like (as long as it's cabbage. And since you see me rather than smell me, you'll be none the wiser). When I do break down, it's because I'm 'exhausted'. And that's nothing a holiday can't fix -- right?
I'm ranting. But that's because I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed that I fell for this. I'm ashamed of being an addict; of the lies and the pretence and the hurt and the broken promises.
I'm angry, too. Angry that anorexia is air-brushed and glamorised. Angry that it's sometimes presented as a lifestyle choice -- a hobby or diversion you can pick up and discard once you hit your target weight. It doesn't work like that. In fact, it doesn't work at all.
Being thinner won't get rid of your anxieties. It won't give you meaning or fix your family or your friends or your life.
It just makes you less. That's it. And then it's game over.
But it doesn't have to be that way. There is hope for anorexia and there is a way out. For me, my faith has been an enormous part of recovery: but whether you look to God or not, you can't do it alone.
If you're struggling, talk to someone. Whatever happens, don't try and carry this by yourself. It might sound strange, but thinness will only crush you.
Emma speaks and writes about her experiences of anorexia at www.emmascrivener.net. Her book A New Name; Grace and Healing for Anorexia is published by IVP on July 20 (ISBN: 9781844745869), and can be ordered at the website above or at http://www.ivpbooks.com/9781844745869
CONVERSATION WITH ANNA COOGAN