Coming back to life after hitting rock bottom series
Chloe’s story: What it’s like living with an eating disorder and how I continue to overcome it
“We are all messed up, but that what is beautiful about us.”
I believe we all have a story to be told and we all deserve to be heard and seen for who we truly are. I’m so pleased to be sharing with you a story of a beautiful soul Chloe that I had a chance to interview the other week.
Find out more about her journey of dealing with depression and eating disorder.
“The more I lost weight the more I wanted to.”
Tell me a little bit about you and your story…
In December 2018 I was signed off work for being too ill to continue. At the time I was struggling with the many ups and downs of the year, including the stress of multiple cancer diagnoses in my family, the purchase of a new home, my own gastrointestinal health and, above all else, work.
By the time the end of the year had rolled around, I was well and truly exhausted – physically, emotionally and mentally.
To this day I don’t even know how I made it to December, to begin with.
I had been on autopilot since the day we settled the purchase for our new home. That was in early February 2018 and was quickly followed with a succession of high highs and even lower lows.
My anxiety was crippling, often leading to panic attacks on the hard shoulder of the M1, and my gut was an absolute mess. Not to mention I had been dealing with frequent thoughts and dreams about suicide, but I had no further plans to act on it. I just fantasized. I would later be told by a therapist that this is what is known as being passively suicidal, and I’ve been feeling like this for quite some time.
I doubted myself and my ability on an almost constant basis, often going over work and conversations in my head long after they were finished.
Then there was the persistent weight loss.
Slowly at first and then rapidly towards the end of the year. Admittedly I was eating less and smoking more. My gut was often too full with my own worry and pent up despair to leave room for food. That and I was drinking buckets of water a day just to keep my gut in check which often left me feeling too full to eat anything bigger than a bag of crisps.
My friends saw it coming, as did my mother, but I was in absolute denial that anything was wrong.
In reality, my eating disorder, which had plagued me when I was both a teenager and a student in university had reared its ugly head again.
The more I lost weight the more I wanted to.
I set myself a goal weight, joined pro-anorexic Kik group and suddenly, I was part of a community where people not only supported me in my weight loss but in all the other areas of my life.
I would weigh myself every day and let the number on the scale dictate to me how the day would progress. I would sit in work, high from hunger and cigarettes, and just go about my day almost like a zombie. All I would think about from lunchtime onward was that I would weigh when I got home.
It eventually got to the point where I would stop drinking after a certain time until I was able to see the number on the scale.
I had it in my head that so long as I kept my weight in check everything would be fine. Anything could happen and, if my weight read lower than it did the previous day, I could cope.
Positive emotions? Negative emotions? Didn’t know them. Everything was numb.
In hindsight that was part of the anorexia’s purpose; to quiet everything except the voice of the disorder.
What was happening in your life before you hit rock bottom?
Work was stressful, life just wasn’t going right and multiple people in my close family circle had been given the dreaded cancer diagnosis.
I had handled it through a mixture of coffee, frequent insomnia, self-harm, and cigarettes. That translated into only eating dinner along with snacks every day due to the persistent feeling of anxiety and fullness in my guts.
Eventually, I slipped into the old, comfortable habit of eating little more than 500 calories every other day with intermittent fasting in between and lowering it as I saw fit.
I won’t mention the weight I was at when I was ultimately signed off, just know that my BMI (something health professionals insist on using) was somewhere around 16.
I was weak. I was trying to keep my emotions under wraps and I was suffering from chronic ‘brain fog’ (wherein you are unable to remember very much, unable to retain information and unable to focus due to malnutrition). I couldn’t remember getting up and going to work most days, let alone how I was meant to function.
Even being social was a struggle because I could barely keep up with conversations.
On December 10th we got the news that my paternal grandmother has terminal liver cancer.
Having been through cancer earlier in the year with my maternal grandfather, who at the time had just gotten out of the hospital and was on the mend, this was another big blow to our family. And just on the mouth to Christmas.
That morning I don’t remember very much happening other than our OHN was off. I sat in the office, dazed, wondering what to do.
I intended to go up and ask for advice from the HR manager. That’s all it was meant to be, advice, but I burst into tears and that pretty much sealed the deal.
I was signed off work and to actively seek and cooperate with recovery.
What was stopping you from asking for help when you were feeling the lowest?
I had toyed with the idea of taking time off to recover for a few weeks but had gone back and forth on the idea. I can’t tell you how many times I discussed it with my therapist, she must have been getting sick of me not making up my mind. Even my family were asking me to take time, something which they very rarely did.
My family members are all workaholics and this has been bred into me in a massive way. If we aren’t working, we’re failures and that’s just that.
Why was I so scared?
I’ve been working since I was 13. It’s all I’ve ever known and I’ve barely taken a month off, let alone a couple of them. Even during my teenage years when my anorexia was at its worst, I was still working. To take time off for the eating disorder just seemed so surreal to me. Surely it meant I was ‘weak’ or a ‘failure’ for letting the stress and mental illness do this to me?
Most of all, I didn’t want my manager to have to pick up the pieces by himself, which I knew he would have no choice but to do. I still feel guilty every time I see him.
As much as I have tried to tell myself otherwise, I ultimately feel undeserving of help.
Where are you now and what is your advice for anyone who might be “walking in same shoes”?
Everyday is a battle, not just in terms of my own health but the health of others around me. I’m exhausted and no amount of food or sleep seems to be able to make it easier. I continue to see a therapist and get weighed on a weekly basis, and I am still in contact with work in regards to my returning.
But it appears that life has other plans, as it so often does.
I realize now that I’m burnt out. I use the present tense because I’m still not in a place where this has healed. That being said I’m learning to look after myself and listen to what I need, rather than what everyone else tells me I need.
If I hadn’t accepted the help I was being offered I might not be here. I have no doubt that I would have continued to starve, and would either of ended up collapsing, being sectioned or taking my own life.
I’m eternally grateful for the help of my HR manager and my own manager, the OHN, my therapists and, above all else, my family for supporting me through this despite everything else going on.
I did deserved help, just like everyone else does.
Stop being so afraid of what could happen and what other people might think of you, and follow your gut. Listen to yourself. If you think and know deep down in your heart that the only way for you to get well is to up and leave your job, and if it’s possible financially, do it.
If you are holding out for a sign, take my journey I’m sharing with you as that sign. Assess your financial life and if it allows you to be free, then be free.
Find what makes you tick, what will make you feel better both inside and out, and go for it.