Today marks day 1 of NEDA Awareness week, and the theme is “Everybody Knows Somebody.” Todays post is written by Jackie Tanner, a person in recovery, from the perspective of her husband. It is how she felt her husband felt. I am also including a bio of Jackie, to help you get to know her! Her post and story are long, and I want to make note that some people may be triggered by her story, but I felt it important to share not only her voice, but her story, so please be mindful of where you are in your recovery, and if any part triggers you, stop reading.
This week, in honor of NEDA Awareness, I really wanted to have pieces that were not only powerful, but sharing a new ‘voice’ on eating disorders. I am sure we have all wondered and imagined how our loved ones felt watching us struggle, and this post really touched me. We are daughters, sons, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends. Eating disorders affect all of the people around those who struggle. We all have a voice, and all matter. Look for a new post everyday this week!
Written by: Jackie Tanner
I can remember when you came downstairs all dressed up ready for a night out for her friend’s birthday. ‘How do I look,’ you asked. I replied with, lovely, that dress makes you look ever so slim!!!!
Thinking back now I probably knew something was not quite right, but was unsure of what to say. You had been a good ten years well, with only a few little manageable hiccups along the way.
So I ignored it, pushed it to one side and carried on as normal.
I did notice a change in your personality. You seemed withdrawn, not your usually bubbly self. You would take yourself off to bed at mealtimes complaining of stomach aches, headaches, any excuse. You spent periods of time on your own, often going off on an evening walking whilst listening to your music. How did I not notice what was going on?
It was one evening when we had been out to the pub; you were a little worse for wear and became upset. You started telling me how you were feeling, showed me the anti-depressants the Doctor had given you. I dismissed it, saying it wasn’t the right time to talk and we would do it in the morning. Drunken conversations about serious matters so not work.
So we did talk in the morning. You told me about how you were being ill again, how you were restricting your diet, how you had already been to the GP and had being hiding this from me for the past few months.
How did I not know, I should have recognised all the signs from last time. To be honest I didn’t think there would be a ‘next time.’
You asked me to come to a support group with you, i refused. I still have vivid memories of the ‘last time,’. Listening to a group of emaciated women talking about how many years they had been locked in the hell, was this what I had to look forward to in our relationship?
As the days went into weeks then into months I just watched you disappear before my eyes.
You became weak and lifeless; you had lost your sparkle and your zest for life.
I was terrified the morning I found you on the sofa down stairs and couldn’t wake you, I honestly thought I had lost you. That scared me……
I stopped commenting on what you were eating as nothing I did was right. I tried to get you to eat, even getting diet produce from the supermarket just in the hope that I could tempt you. Nothing I did seemed to help. If I didn’t say anything I didn’t care and If I did I was nagging and being patronising, I couldn’t win.
How could I tell you what you really looked like, that I was finding clumps of your hair in the shower and on the pillow?
I was scared to hug you in case I hurt you.
We were due to go on holiday and you had managed to hide yourself away, I was shocked when I eventually saw you in a swimsuit.
I just couldn’t understand why this was happening again, last time I could understand the circumstances, but this time I had no idea. Whatever was going on in your life you hid it from and kept it to yourself?
I was so pleased when you took the step to go to counselling and still listened to your pathetic excuses why you couldn’t eat certain foods.
I dreaded our summer holiday, couldn’t see you being up to it physically but was so pleased to see a little bit of the old you come back even though you were at your lowest weight.
You actually seemed to enjoy the meals out even though I could see the initial stress the menu choices were causing you. You even relaxed enough to tell me what was worrying you and what your thoughts were, I think that must have been a huge relief.
I think this was the worst period of Anorexia I have seen you go through, and I felt so helpless, I wanted to understand, to make it all better but I couldn’t. I felt so lost and helpless. You stopped going out after a nasty comment from an acquaintance. I went looking for him one evening to tell him what affect his cruel words had on you, I may not be able to make you eat but I could stop others hurting you.
It got to the point where ‘it’ wasn’t discussed anymore, only the practicalities around Christmas meals and other social events. It more almost accepted by you but it wasn’t by me. You tried so hard at Christmas, OK they were all your rules and you controlled everything but you did it. I was so proud.
You slowly began to get better, day by day, and I do believe you were being honest with me. I know you have been scared and I know there have been very dark times.
I thought you had reached a turning point and then your Mum died. I didn’t see you for three weeks and I was scared that you would not be taking care of yourself. When I saw you I was honest and told you I knew you had lost weight. You were honest and told me there were scales in the house!! I was so happy when you came home and it was like a switch being turned on, you went back to trying.
Now things are back as they were. I do worry still. I panicked when you gave up smoking then after your operation in case you put on weight. You reassured me and explained it’s not about the weight and food, you were happy and things were going well. All was good.
You continue to go to your support groups and I have thought you may need to take a step back sometimes but again you tell me it’s OK.
I am so proud of what you have achieved but I still worry about you, I try not to look at what’s on your plate or comment on your food, but you know I still do at times. You accept this now.
As long as I can remember, even as a child I have never been heavy. I was what you may class as naturally slim. As a teenager I even attempted to buy ‘weight on,’ tablets in an effort to gain a few pounds, so my preoccupation with food and weight loss later in life was a surprise to most.
I was born on march 17th 1967 in Middlesbrough in the North east of England. My parents were North East born and bred, both came from typical working class backgrounds and had typical Northern values.
I arrived several weeks early with a weight of just over 3 pounds!! having to stay in hospital for many months until I had reached my healthy weight. This was not the only time in my life this was to happen.
Fast forward now to several years later, I’m 11 years old and in secondary school. The next 5 years were to be some of the worst days of my life.
I was a very nervous and quiet child which to some made me a pushover and an easy target for the bullies.
I was small for my age, skinny and lanky, national health glasses and an extremely unflattering uniform. What little self confidence and self esteem I had was soon to be bashed and taunted out of me. I couldn’t escape when passing the school gates either, I was taunted by kids I didn’t even know. I didn’t feel able to confide in anyone and although I loved my parents dearly parenting does not come with a manual and most of us learn from experience…..
I reached puberty late in life and whilst those around me were blossoming and trading in their vests for ladybird bras I was lagging behind and this didn’t go unnoticed!
Our school P.E department had those horrible communal showers and we had an evil teacher who would insist that we all showered together after games. This was embarrassing enough but even more so when you had a chest as flat as an ironing board. One day whilst showering a group of girls turned the water temperature up full making sure I had to run out. They had of course hidden my towel and my clothes and left me standing there naked, in tears whilst they all pointed and laughed. This was one of many incidents too many and hurtful to mention.
I didn’t have a huge amount of friends at school, just a few who knew me in class but didn’t know the real me. It was many years before I would let anyone know that person.
I was generally a good kid. Didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, helped with the jobs at home, had a paper-round, went to Girl Guides, Sunday School, church and did my Duke Of Edinburgh award but still there was something missing inside me. I tried to find it within the church, I became a Christian, read my bible daily, went to fellowship groups and tried to be ‘good,’ I did make some good friends during this time, real friends but ultimately when I started college a few years later this was just something else to add to my long list of things to tease me about.
At the age of 18, only a month after leaving college I moved 300 miles away on my own with a suitcase, a tape player and ten pounds in my purse. I had managed to get a job in a little Somerset village with live in accommodation. My new life had begun, or so I thought.
The people I worked with were really friendly although most a lot older than me, the job was good but extremely unsociable. We all worked long hours then spent most evening together in the local pub.
Drinking alcohol was not something I was used to and very soon I had started on the hard stuff. I was still very lonely; a long way from home and the only spirit I was receiving was in a bottle of Gin!!
At the age of 18 I had never had a boyfriend, not for the want of trying!! One evening I had a friend over for dinner, a male friend who was several years older than me. We drank some and without going into detail he pushed the friendship a little too far.! I was made to feel it was my fault; it was a situation which made future attempts at relationships difficult.
I made two very good friends in my first few years in Somerset, one which had a huge impact on my life and things which had happened. I even bought a house with them and went on what was to be be the first of many foreign holidays. We would sit and share stories of our lives, where we were brought up, things that had happened. It was during one of these evenings that I had a realisation, a realisation that made me question certain aspects of my life. With these questions came sadness, more alcohol and a gradual downward spiral in my life.
I would take the long coach trip home several times a year and it was on one of these trips that I had a comment from my gran.. Have you put on weight? You’re looking a little chubby.
It was on the same trip back that the sandwiches cut into little triangles that Mum had made went into the bin when I arrived back.
Now I’m not blaming dear old gran for my eating disorder that throw away comment possibly triggered something brewing anyway. I was already feeling pretty low, hated the way I looked, I saw myself as ugly and never dreamed that anyone could love me how I was. My life was pretty shit and I was going to make it better. Or so I thought.
The next period of my life is a bit of a whirlwind involving starvation, bulimia, alcohol, exercise and laxatives. I have no idea how long it went on for but it ended with a diagnosis of Anorexia and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. I will never forget the day that my friends drove me to the beautiful village of Wells in Somerset, (where the film Hot Fuzz was filmed) I had agreed to go in as a voluntary patient to try and make me well again. To be honest at that point I was so physically week I would have agreed to anything.
It was a stereotypical Victorian ‘asylum’ building, a huge, haunting but beautiful piece of architecture set in the most amazing grounds and gardens. I was on an open ward in a side wing with patients who were less vulnerable. I can remember being checked in, my bags being searched for any prohibited items then having a full physical examination. At the point any dignity I had, had just left the building never to return again.
The hospital had very strict rules. I was not allowed to exercise, could not do any occupational activities or see the therapist until my weight had reached an acceptable level!! I was to eat three meals a day plus snacks, which was ridiculous considering I didn’t eat. I was given a certain amount of trust until a fellow patient used to swop plates with me and leave me with an empty plate. Good old George. After getting caught I then had a Nurse chaperon and poor George got a ticking off.
Mendip hospital was a depressing place to be. I shared a room with 5 other women, some who would wail in the night and scream before they were due to go off for their electric shock treatment, You couldn’t bathe after 8pm as there was insufficient staff if you killed yourself in the bathroom and the washbasins were all communal. Hideous. I would relieve the boredom by going to the pub for the evening with friends then finding the front door of the hospital locked on my return. The night staff was not impressed when I had to ring the bell to get back in.
The consistency of care was dreadful. I would be weighed every other day, at different times in different times!! I would even pop into town to the chemists to pick up ‘supplies’ without being found out. Generally though, I was a good girl, I did what I was told…eventually, and discharged myself before I got to my target weight and buggered off to Holland on a camping holiday.
I met my first Husband shortly after leaving hospital and we hit it off straight away. The first few years were amazing. We went to concerts, theatre, ballet, meals out the works. He was the first man I met who really loved me and honestly didn’t care about all the superficial stuff. Despite people thinking we were an odd couple I thought we were a match made in heaven. Things move pretty quickly, we got married, had an amazing wedding and at the age of 24 we had our first and only child. 6 years later we had separated.
I still feel sad that things didn’t work out as I see it a a failure but we are both happy now. I was a complete bitch for a lot of our married life and I think that’s due to me not accepting myself and not liking myself. I was very insecure.
It was a very hard split ultimately due to the fact that a child was involved. This saw my eating disorder again rearing its ugly head, trying to give me some control and order in my life and numbing the painful feelings. This was also the first time my new Partner and now Husband had any dealings with ‘it.’ This time though I had become more devious and more secretive. This was something I was bloody good at. It was a lot of pressure on him as I had lost a lot of friends through my separation and also through a change in job. I’m surprised he has stuck around for so long and is still with me now.
It’s weird how each period of past disordered eating remains fuzzy to me now, chaotic and madness.
I had a 10 year clear of ED. I have probably had the same body image issues that most people out there have, my stomachs too big, my thighs are wobbly blah blah blah.I would have a few hiccups where I become obsessive over calorie counting, restricting food but would generally snap out of it.
This time, and probably the worst period of my illness crept up quickly. I was referred to the gym due to problems with my hips and muscle strength. At the same time I had booked a holiday and was worrying about a bikini body, along with this I was struggling with insecurities over a friendship…all combined a sure disaster and a full blown eating disorder.
For the next 10 months my life was a nightmare of depression, self-loathing, panic, hatred, fear and anxiety. My life involved around food. I would lie, take to my bed pretending to be ill, say Id eaten, throw food out, binge, vomit, drink too much, overspend on cookery mags, trawl through pro anorexia websites. My face would be puffy from crying and vomiting, I had toothache, sores on my knuckles, hair on my face, it hurt to lie down, I was constantly dizzy, couldn’t sleep, freezing cold, joints hurt, stomach swollen, throat hurts, headache, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, passing out, osteoporosis.
All this I thought would make me happy, would make me feel good about myself, would make others like me………it wasn’t about being thin. Yes, I would look at myself and want to be thinner, but it was the achievement, the sense of control over your life, the ability to numb the feelings and emotions and not accept what was happening, just one more pound, then another, then another.
The more I got deeper into it the harder it was to get out. I was taking medication for depression and was sinking further into a dark hole of despair and nothingness. I had no care for myself or even those around me. I was selfish and self-loathing an empty shell of a person. I had reached rock bottom and now it was either do or die. I decided to DO. What helped alongside the support of family and friends was my understanding of the illness, the way malnourishment affects your way of thinking, the knowledge given to me on how my body would change through recovery and what to expect.
Recovery was hard, please never underestimate what a person with an eating disorder has gone through in order to recover, not just those with anorexia but also those with bulimia, or other ed. I cannot express how much emotional pain and anguish I felt throughout, but need to stress how worth it the journey was. And it is a journey, I doubt I have reached the end and maybe never will but in Eating Disorders Awareness week I want to tell others that you can do it, it is worth it, and you are worth it. Please do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help.