Young people’s mental health: ‘I felt like I didn’t have an eating disorder because I wasn’t really, really thin’

Written by Staff reporter on 7 August 2018 in Inside Politics

Holyrood spoke to series of young people about their experience of mental ill health. Here sixteen-year-old *Megan tells Holyrood about struggling with an eating disorder in high school

Mental health Scrabble tiles - Image credit: Pixabay

Can you tell me a little about your story?

I was kind of a fat kid until like primary seven and went to high school. I started comparing myself to everybody and felt very self-conscious about what I looked like. This was about six years ago. I started dieting and then it just got severe and I just stopped eating and developed – well, not developed, but realised I had – body dysmorphia, and for a while it was normal that I wasn’t eating all the time.

So for about two years I was just dieting off and on until it got pretty bad and I realised I had anorexia. And so I kind of decided, right, I need to get myself together, I can’t really follow a path like this. Because I felt like I had control, if you know what I mean.

So then I started to eat normally, but obviously when you restrict your diet so much you slow your metabolism, so I put on a lot of weight again and then I was like, I don’t really care about my health I just want to be slim, so I stopped eating, and if I did eat, I would make myself sick. I got very confused over whether what I had was [anorexia].

I started speaking to my guidance teacher, cos my friend had noticed I wasn’t eating at all and she went to my guidance teacher to speak to her. And my guidance teacher was awful. She said to me that, ‘You’re such a smart girl, I don’t understand why you’d do this to yourself, it’s disgusting,’ this sort of stuff.  So I obviously didn’t feel I could speak to her about it, so I lied.

And I was confused whether I had [an eating disorder]…I felt like I didn’t have an eating disorder because I wasn’t really, really thin… you see people with eating disorders are really, really thin. I wasn’t what I thought it would be like.

So I got really bad about four years in, so I’d been suffering for about four years, I lost my period for a year, my hair started falling out and I was eating, like, 200 calories every three days. I was an avid calorie counter and if I ate anything I would make myself sick.

About a year after that I went away with my grandparents and they noticed I wasn’t eating and they had none of it, they were like, ‘You need to eat’. So I came to realise that after losing my period that it was probably really, really bad. I started to eat normally again. Or ease myself into it. Because even now I don’t eat a lot, because I still have a very slow metabolism after almost six years.

And I’d been to the doctor once, who diagnosed me with having purging anorexia and not a lot of people know that… everyone I’ve spoken to has anorexia or bulimia, but they don’t know that there’s kind of a mid-point...

It’s something that I feel like I go in cycles. I’ve been recovered – not recovered, but in recovery – for the last four months, because I had a relapse, but it goes in cycles and I never really feel like I’m completely over it. But I’ve spoken to lots of people who’ve been suffering from eating disorders for some time and they’ve never really felt like they’ve got over it, like that constant thing on your mind and you’ve got to focus on keeping healthy.

And have you been able to talk to anyone? Obviously your friend noticed there was something wrong.

I had a friend who had really bad anxiety and we kind of just talked to each other, because there was no judgement. I didn’t really want to talk to my friends because it would just be like, ‘Oh you just need to eat’. So it wasn’t really comfortable for me. And my guidance teacher wasn’t any help, so I just, I felt when I was really deep into it I guess I couldn’t talk to anybody because I just wanted to be really thin and I didn’t really want anybody to change my thinking or change my eating patterns. So I guess I kind of just relied on myself.

Have you been able to have any professional help at all? Was there any support or have you just had to work this through really by yourself?

Really by myself… The issue I had was because obviously guidance teachers have a lot of people going to them and they don’t have all the time in the world and she would always rely on me to go to her, which wasn’t really an easy thing when I didn’t really want to go and speak to her but I kind of had to, and she also didn’t see me as bad, because I lied to her because of the things she said to me, she didn’t really think I was that bad and she never referred me to anybody and I didn’t want to be referred to CAMHS. She referred my friend but she didn’t refer me to CAMHS.

But for CAMHS they always tell your parents, and if you’re over 16 this doesn’t make sense to me, because at 16 you can go to the doctor’s by yourself and you don’t need your parents to know, but CAMHS always tell your parents, they have consultation with your parents, which doesn’t match physical and mental health in the way we’re meant to be approaching it. So that’s the whole issue.

If you could have changed things, what would you have liked to have been there over the last few years and now?

I think just possibly more people in school to talk to… because I feel like when people go to their guidance teachers in school, there’s a big stigma around it and everyone wants to know why you’re there, so maybe not even in school, maybe if there was somebody to speak to at a youth club or maybe just have access to somebody you can just talk to, because a lot of it is you’re going through it yourself and you just you don’t really know if you’re doing the right thing or you’re not.

And also I think there needs to be a lot more information available. If my friends – I’ve also had friends with eating disorders – if they had, or I had, information available about eating disorders, it would definitely help. Good things to say and things not to say. And I think my teacher definitely didn’t say the right thing, which made it a whole lot worse.

*name has been changed

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