Happy, Successful, Father of Three...And Overtaken by Anorexia at Aged 34
In this deeply candid article, Charles shares how he, as a 30-something year old father of two, fell into the grasp of an eating disorder....
"My Anorexia started in 2017, as a 34 year old dad of 2 beautiful, bubbly and healthy children – yet over a 3 year period I watched them become afraid of me, for me this is my biggest regret and I know I have a lot of work to do on this front and now realise I have no one to blame but myself, time to take accountability. We had quickly gone from doing everything as a family to me being absent.
With 2 children I was oblivious to the impact I was having on them in every way. Having a 6 year old daughter offering you her lunch and asking “why aren’t you having lunch Dad?”, a 6 year old starting to ask “how many calories are in this”, asking “why is daddy crying” at the dinner table as I sit wallowing in guilt of having eaten and the impact I have had on my family. I recall a trip to Blackpool with the kids and remember me ruining the 3 days being awful to them, I am simply ashamed of how I was back then.
My now wife was always very frank with me as was one other close friend, other were quick to compliment the weight loss, usually because they did not know what else to say!! Being told how ‘athletic I looked’ just spurred me on, then I would get the reality check of getting home and being told how awful I looked, I simply could not see it having dropped more than half my body weight, I now see how awful I looked, passing down clothes to my 11 year old son I look back and wonder how it got to that
How did this happen to me? I wasn’t someone who would be affected by an Eating Disorder, I was the first up to a buffet, I was the first to laugh off the lifetime of fat jokes, my appearance was never a concern to me. I look back now with curiosity in many ways:
- How did I end up spending 3 hours at a time looking at labels when on a shopping trip
- How did I end up as someone always looking for the best way to dumb down a recipe
- How did I end up needing to wear the same clothes every other morning to get weighed in the gym
- How did I end up travelling around Glasgow for 90 minutes to find a set of scales to get weighed at 6am in the morning because it was weighing day.
- How did I get to a point where I weighed every gram of food that went into my mouth
I look back in disbelief with some of the behaviours I developed and also in surprise at just how easily some of these behaviours were broken in order to drive my recovery. They seem easy now, but at the time were challenging, but key in driving recovery.
As someone who had always played different sports (badly) a knee injury meant I could no longer do this and quickly found the gym would replace this, which sadly led to excessively over exercising. Having spent 6 months in denial of people highlighting my obvious problems, I then spent 12 months chasing help from various doctors. Initially I was seeking help having being accused of having an affair, by my now wife, frankly something I was not capable of! Later we found this was due to the impact my ED had on my testosterone levels and the physical impact this has.
As I presented initially at a ‘healthy’ weight and the concerns I had I was told it was probably just diabetes as to why I was losing weight, nothing to do with restriction and over exercising, “just eat more rice and chips”. I continued to pursue help, only for heart doctors to tell me my 35bpm Heart rate because I had the heart of an athlete…really!! Even when help was offered it was the wrong help, being offered help for diabetes, I am not and have never been diabetic (even in recovery I am asked how this has impacted my diabetes because of the consultant I was referred to).
In the early days of my ED my now wife was accusing me of having an affair, frankly something I was not capable of at the time, as I later found out my low testosterone drove this, all an impact of my ED. Even now I am told I would not be able to have any more children. I am so blessed to have 2 beautiful children already.
I remember a therapist I visited for 6 months in 2018, who would constantly question “why don’t you just eat”, “just stop weighing yourself”, “just don’t go to the gym” – no help as to how to break the behaviours just repeating the same conversation time after time, I was only referred to this therapist due to the lack of understanding of Eating disorders by my own GP, after 6 months of going nowhere my GP referred my to a diabetic consultant who instantly diagnosed me with Anorexia Nervosa…finally a diagnosis.
Three months later I was sat in front of someone from the eating disorder services who said it could be 4 months before I was offered any specialist help, the next day I was called in to a meeting due to my poor health and told I was one of the worst cases they had been presented with. Something I did not believe; they were just saying that surely? Looking back, I can see I probably was.
My second meeting with a Psychologist we discussed my behaviours and fear of letting go as well as the need for me to stop going to they gym, point blank refusal from me until I was informed of their intention to admit me under the Mental Health Act, that very moment my mindset changed.
They had took my now wife to one side and informed her of their intention to admit me whether I like it or not. After a discussion I managed to avoid being admitted on condition I cut down on the gym and started to gain weight. I did start making limited progress, but not enough. The way this whole meeting went with what I felt was the slyness of them taking my wife aside to tell her and them not just telling me and having an adult conversation with me, I felt they were treating me as a child, this broke the trust I had.
This was later damaged when the same nurse told me I would have to attend the local hospital for a blood test as he was unable to get the results quickly enough. The reality was very different and I suspect he knew it. That morning I left the house and went to the gym, I missed my kids going to school as I arrived home too late, I then left for the hospital expecting to be home that afternoon.
Following a blood test and examination I was told I was not leaving the hospital and would be admitted. Something I found ludicrous, and begged to be able to go home, if nothing else just to say bye to my kids and give then a hug. NO was the answer, you come of your own accord or you will be assessed.
In my recovery I can totally see how necessary this was, for me it was how they went about this. At no point prior to being sent to hospital did anybody point out the dangers of the state of my physical body, the dangers of being so underweight and just how close to the edge I was. It is amazing how quickly the fog lifted on this morning.
Luckily for me this was not an ED ward, there were no beds at my local ED hospital. This meant for me I was the only ED patient, I had no one there to compare notes with, I was alone, which I felt was best for me, I could concentrate on myself, hit the reset button.
Initially struggling to eat, but working with the dietician on the hospital helped (I had seen her previously and she commented what a scared little boy I looked 6 months earlier).
Once I discovered the canteen food rather than food on the ward that was fine, apple crumble & custard and Rice pudding particular highlights. The instant regret to what I had done to my family drove me to hit the goals set for me in hospital, of course all based around weight.
Day service followed for 3 months, I felt my allocated nurse often lied to me or did not follow through on what we discussed. I asked when in hospital to not see this nurse again, this request was ignored. For me I realised I would have to put the hard work in myself, take accountability I set out to break my 2 key behaviours weighing both myself and my food, this was a game changer for me.
In some ways work helped me drive my ED, the nature of my role spending nights away, giving opportunity to over exercise in the gym without this being notices, no challenges around what I was eating at meal times.
My behaviours got worse, my attitude towards people, questions in meetings I could hear people asking whether or not I was OK, people constantly covering for me. Being sat freezing on meeting rooms when I could see others almost passing out they were so warm, I was baffled by this at the time as I was sat shivering.
Sat in hotel rooms quivering over the thought of having to go for meals with my colleagues distraught at the through of having to choose something for a menu, on occasions I was so bad I had to just withdraw from the mealtime. Meltdowns when restaurants did not have my safe foods. Did I really enjoy constant subway salads?
One of the hardest calls I had to make was to my line manager, in tears telling him I was going to be admitted to hospital, they were great with me, I convinced myself I would not let this impact my role, in truth it already was, luckily I managed a team of good people who were very supportive of me. Work throughout this period was challenging, but gave opportunity for me to continue my behaviours, I should have taken a break!!
To this day my own mother does not know I was ever admitted to hospital, there were only 3 people who knew initially – my wife, line manager at work and one close friend. Throughout the 3 years of my illness those I considered friends where nowhere to be seen other than 1 or 2 who would constantly tell me how awful I looked and frankly how stupid I was being.
I had one close friend visit me in hospital, whereas I had life time friends who knew of my illness and seemingly disappeared, it is amazing how alone an Eating Disorder can make you, largely down to your own behaviours and attitude, after all who would want to spend time with some one as obnoxious and arrogant as I had become, I was self-obsessed, nothing mattered to me other than losing weight.
I found being in hospital for a week difficult from the point of view of the ‘reality sandwich’ I was being vien daily, realising the impact I had on my kids, many a tearful conversation with my wife and one visitor about my feelings of how I had treat my kids.
This is what drove me to eat to get better, that and the pass for free food in the canteen…including the best apple crumble & custard I have ever had (we even tried going back there on several days after I was discharged, but to no avail). One positive of being in hospital was my discovery of White Chocolate Snickers, something which certainly helped my recovery! It was almost like I was discovering things for the first time again.
For 12 months I would say I pretended to myself I was in recovery, I wasn’t, I was getting worse and losing sight of all that was important to me…my family!! This is why I would say Covid came at the right time for me, the fog lifted once more and I have never looked back.
Early on it felt like 2 steps forward and one step back, but changing the voice in my head was the challenge I had. My first steps in beating this were to stop 2 big behaviours, getting weighed every other day and weighing every piece of food I ate, I had stopped these in my initial recovery, but they crept back in.
Having a family holiday in August 2020 was make or break, how would I cope? What would I eat? How would I deal with the choice at an all inclusive hotel? How would I exercise? A long week I anticipated turned out to be a perfectly ‘normal’ family holiday, within a day the worries were gone…I had never eaten so many desserts as I did in that week, the food was amazing and certainly helped me on my way back to normality, the momentum continued when I got home, the holiday certainly helped me reconnect with my family, especially my kids.
For 3 years I was awful to my kids, focusing on myself. The impact I have had on their thought processes highlighted by a then 5 year old asking “how many calories are in this” or a 10 year old telling me in a restaurant “you didn’t ask the man to make your meal with no oil”, in the midst of my illness these seemed normal, now they horrify me and highlights the impact I have had on them in so many ways.
As a parent all you want is for your kids to be happy, what I developed was a situation where my 2 kids were both scared of speaking to me, they had no idea of how or what to say to me, any question would be met with a smart answer, any mistake and their head would be bitten off, their every move scrutinised and yet the sadness in their eyes at times shows how much they care.
My daughter would often ask my wife questions about “why is dad so thin” or about my health generally, no 7 year old should need to be asking these questions. I had an 11 yesr old boy who we were very open with, who never wanted to talk about how he felt, probably in fear of being told he was wrong.
I have pushed them to the extreme at times, now is the time for me to repair these relationships and move forward. I don’t want my kids to be scared of me and I try my hardest to work on this every day. Things are still not perfect, buy I am trying on this front. I can talk all day to anyone who will listen if it helps, but talking about the impact on my children really hits me!!
People constantly tell me what a shocking year 2020 has been, for me and my family it was positive, I started real recovery, we had our first family holiday and I got married to my now wife.
In summary, I look back and cannot believe this happened to me, how did I let 3 years of my life pass me by? The one learning I have taken is I need to be accountable for this, even with the help that is out there I need to lead my ongoing recovery and cannot rely on others to give me the answer I found this within myself and it is never too late to start this.
It really does not matter what other thing, it is what is important to me that matters!! My big frustration over the time of my illness was that I was very open and honest initially with any health professionals I spoke with, that was not something that was given back at times, again something that led me to realise I had to lead my own recovery."
- Jun 2021