Anyone with any understanding of eating disorders wouldn’t tell someone with Anorexia to; ‘just eat more.’ No matter how frustrating the illness can be, both for those diagnosed and for their family/friends, it just isn’t a comment that would be made. Why? Because the fact is this; if it was that simple, if all eating disorder sufferers needed to do to recover was ‘eat more’, eating disorders wouldn’t exist, and the mortality rate certainly wouldn’t be as shockingly high as it is (20%.)
Eating disorders are certainly more well known today, which means that more people are aware of what to say/what not to say to those with the illness. Unfortunately, however, exercise addiction, a very real illness that, like eating disorders, has very real, and, if left untreated, very dangerous consequences, is not so well known, and therefore people don’t know what to say/what not to say to those struggling with the illness. Even health care professionals, as discovered from my own experiences, don’t, or at least, didn’t, know what to say.
When, in 2017, I presented with what was, unarguably, an addiction to exercise, I was told by CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services), to just ‘stop exercising.’ If only it was that simple…
Unfortunately, I received no support at all for my exercise addiction. No therapy to help me explore the reasoning behind it. Nothing. It was completely overlooked and, instead, I was immediately diagnosed (wrongfully) with having ‘Anorexia Nervosa’, a result of my low body weight. Now I did end up with Anorexia, though, in my opinion, this was caused by a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ I was told I had it, and so I behaved as though I did and, eventually, I had it ‘for real.’ The root cause of it all though, was my extremely unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship with exercise. If that had been addressed first, when I initially went to the Doctors back in 2017, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up so dangerously unwell, because as is the case with all illnesses, both mental and physical, early intervention is key. The longer the illness gets left untreated, generally, the worse it gets.
It saddens me when I consider the idea that, if only I was taken seriously, maybe I wouldn’t have caused my body lasting damage, landing myself with the onset of Osteoporosis at the age of just 17, and, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up sectioned, spending the best part (or, more appropriately, the ‘worst’ part) of a year in hospital, away from my family, my home, and my life. It’s sad, it’s frustrating, and, more than anything, it needs to change. It needs to change so that anyone else struggling with the very real and, in some cases, life threatening, certainly life debilitating illness, gets the support they need (and so very much deserve…)
I must admit, I do feel like a bit of a ‘fraud’ writing about exercise addiction when it feels like I was affected by it another lifetime ago, but rationally I know that I can push that feeling away. Because, despite me no longer feeling an impulse to exercise myself into oblivion (I have completely recovered from that part of my life now), 16-year-old me did feel that impulse. It was what her whole existence was centred around- walking at least 10,000 steps per day. Running at least 40 miles per week, all whilst ignoring her body, and her minds, cries for rest. All whilst she was, ultimately, slowly killing herself.
And so, I remind myself why I must tell my story, not ‘in spite’ of being recovered/of no longer struggling, but because of it. Because I have the headspace to do so now. Because I no longer spend every waking minute exercising or thinking about exercising. Because I have lived to tell the tale, despite living, for someone who was intent on destroying themselves, being far from guaranteed. This is why I tell my story, and I hope that it proves that recovery is possible, despite how far away it can seem when you’re in the midst of it all. More than anything, my hope is that it provides just that- hope– to everyone who needs it.