Community: Real Life

Battling an eating disorder

Jo is 23 and has battled with eating disorders since school. Here she explains how much her friend Kelly's support has helped her.

I first experienced problems with eating in the second year of secondary school when I was about 15. In the first year we were just stuck in classes according to our surnames, but at the end of that year we were streamed and I found myself in all the bottom classes. I was at a public boarding school, and I worried that I was wasting my dad's money and I just felt like I was useless. After that I started to restrict what I was eating and starve myself by only eating boiled potatoes for the entire day.

When friends at school found out what was happening they all got over-concerned about it, so I found other ways to do it so nobody would know and I'd appear to be normal. That's when I started eating but making myself sick afterwards. I was also experiencing depression and I was self harming, so they knew I still had problems, but they stopped nagging me so much because I appeared to be eating properly. My teachers never tried to get to the bottom of it I didn't feel like they cared at all. I just kept myself to myself at school and never really talked to any of them about it because they seemed to adopt the "just pull yourself together" attitude. When I started binging on junk food friends began fussing again because I wasn't eating the right types of food. I felt like screaming at them: "well, it's not staying in my body, so who cares?"

When I was at school my parents were told that I was self harming and the teachers also told them that I wasn't eating. All I ever remember my mum saying on the subject was "try and eat something" as she dropped me back to school from a weekend at home. She never tried to talk to me about it at all which made me feel isolated, like they didn't care really.

I left that school at 18 and went to live with my parents in Germany for six months. I worked a bit over there, but I hated it. I used to ring the same lady at ChildLine every week from a phonebox and she was like my lifeline - I really don't think I'd have survived those six months out there without having someone to talk to who knew about my problems. I just felt so alone; I didn't have any friends out there because they were all German and I didn't speak the language.

When I moved back to England I got a new job and that's where I met Kelly. I was still bulimic at this stage and it was all very erratic. I'd go from eating the same thing all day for a week or so to not eating anything and then binge eating. I was on a mission to be really thin, but I didn't lose lots of weight, so physically it wasn't very obvious what I was doing.

Although I always got on well with Kelly, I hid my problems from everybody at work because I thought I'd lose my job if they found out. But, in April 2001, I tried to commit suicide and shortly after that everybody at work found out. I went to stay with my parents in Leicestershire for a while and I rang a colleague at work and told her. She persuaded me to tell my manager when I got back home. People at work couldn't understand why I had wanted to kill myself, but Kelly was really supportive, so I figured that if she knew about that she might as well know everything. I think she was shocked at first because she hadn't noticed that anything was wrong.

About a year and a half ago I moved in with Kelly and that's helped so much. Before I was living on my own in a flat, which was horrible. Since I've moved in, it's really helped me that Kelly has become more aware of how I can sometimes feel. She's been there for me when I need someone and she listens to me and my feelings, and I know I can always text her if I need to. She's probably one of two friends I've got that really understands and I know will always listen if I need to talk. The other person is a school friend who I've known since I was 12, but then she understands because she's actually been through similar issues herself. Because Kelly hasn't had the same history, she tends to help me by listening more than advising and she's so patient, which is a massive help in itself.

She will help me in more practical ways, like reminding me about appointments I have to go to and taking medication, and I'm sure she would come with me if I wanted her to, but I don't usually ask for that kind of help. The biggest thing I have ever asked Kelly to do was to take me to hospital after I self harmed and she's brilliant in situations like that because she always remains calm and deals with it. I think she does get frustrated at times like that and probably wonders why I didn't call her beforehand to talk to her.

The best thing that you can do for a friend you're concerned about is just be there for them; even if they are having a really tough time and appear to be pushing you away, try to stick by them. Try to encourage them to go to the doctor or at least share their thoughts with somebody so that they can try to get some help before things get really bad. I think if people get help sooner it wouldn't take so long to recover it's been a part of my life for such a long time and I definitely feel that my problems have become bigger because there wasn't any help at school. It has helped me so much to have somebody to talk to, though, and thankfully, with that help I am slowly getting better.

Updated: 19/10/2008


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