Learning to Survive and Grow When Life Deals You a Bad Hand; Eating Disorders Such as Anorexia and Bulimia Have Robbed Many Young Women of Their Confidence, Relationships and Dignity. but Is There Suitable Help Here in Wales for People Who Suffer Such Crippling Mental Health Problems? Here, Campaigner Claire Greaves Opens Up about Her Own Fight with Eating Disorders Which First Began When She Was Just Five Years Old

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), September 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Learning to Survive and Grow When Life Deals You a Bad Hand; Eating Disorders Such as Anorexia and Bulimia Have Robbed Many Young Women of Their Confidence, Relationships and Dignity. but Is There Suitable Help Here in Wales for People Who Suffer Such Crippling Mental Health Problems? Here, Campaigner Claire Greaves Opens Up about Her Own Fight with Eating Disorders Which First Began When She Was Just Five Years Old


Byline: Claire Greave

My battle with mental illness began at such a young age that I don't really know what it's like not to have one.

But I can understand how it must be difficult for someone to understand it if their lives have not yet been touched by it.

I've seen the stares, heard the comments and read the hate I've been sent over the internet. Being unwell is hard enough on its own without the added ignorance and stigma.

I became fearful and anxious around food when I was five years old. After seeing a family member become unwell I thought that I would become poorly if I ate food too.

As I grew older food became more of an issue. First it was about fear, then it was about perfectionism and control. I was seven years old and banging my head against the school toilet walls for getting a question wrong.

By the end of primary school not eating had become my identity. Other children in my class were good at PE or art or maths. I was known for eating "like a bird" and I finally felt like I had a something that I could do. Secondary school complicated life even more. I was bullied, I didn't feel welcome in any of the friendship groups that I tried to hang around with. I felt geeky, ugly and hated myself.

I saw the bigger girls wearing gym knickers in PE and I was scared that I'd get big and be laughed at in my gym knickers too.

I began to walk for hours before school, I'd barely eat anything and anything that was eaten would be thrown up.

I was self-harming several times a day and overdosing at the back of class - and yet my school didn't get me help.

At this point I didn't even know that I had a mental illness. Once I left school life became more difficult because with each sad event that happened in my life anorexia and depression seemed to grip their hands tighter and tighter around my neck.

I became withdrawn and isolated myself from everyone. It's scary how mental illness can blend seven whole years into one big blur of hospital admissions, detentions under the Mental Health Act, numbers, scales and suicide attempts.

Growing up I wanted to be a nurse or a dancer, battling severe mental illness was not a part of the plan.

Often eating disorders are on a spectrum and it is recognised that symptoms change.

Someone who meets the criteria for anorexia may months or years down the line meet the criteria for bulimia, or binge-eating disorder.

I have certainly experienced many different symptoms with my eating disorder. My primary diagnosis is anorexia. Many months of my life have been spent surviving - or dying - on very little food.

I would eat so little food that my body couldn't keep itself warm. I'd spend my day in the bath or leaning against a radiator.

The cold that an eating disorder brings is different from the cold of a winter's day. It is unbearable, painful and numbing. I'd see the number on the scale drop and the outfit options in the wardrobe became minimal as nothing would stay on my tiny frame, and yet the reflection in the mirror never changed.

The girl I saw in front of me didn't seem to be shrinking, and therefore any weight I lost did not feel like enough.

I'm not sure it would ever have been enough. I was slipping towards death, not happiness, perfection or body satisfaction.

Then comes the bingeing and purging. The uncontrollable binges that extreme hunger brings. I'd sit on the kitchen floor and eat and eat and eat. …

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Learning to Survive and Grow When Life Deals You a Bad Hand; Eating Disorders Such as Anorexia and Bulimia Have Robbed Many Young Women of Their Confidence, Relationships and Dignity. but Is There Suitable Help Here in Wales for People Who Suffer Such Crippling Mental Health Problems? Here, Campaigner Claire Greaves Opens Up about Her Own Fight with Eating Disorders Which First Began When She Was Just Five Years Old
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