Ever since I was about 16 or so I have had disordered eating habits. Not an eating disorder per se as I have never had an official diagnosis, but non-normal eating – binging, making myself sick, overdosing on laxatives, eating tissues to fill my stomach, fad diets, drinking salt-water and purgatives, to mention a few.
Before I left the UK for NZ, I was working at a place where you got free food. Yes. Free. Food. Chocolate, crisps, buffet lunch, hot meals. Mana from heaven.
Had I been single and living alone, I would have been fine (and saved a fortune on grocery bills), but I had dinner with Tareka every night, so I couldn’t have more than a sandwich for lunch without piling on weight.
I overate. I ate everything in the staff kitchen that I could. Then I felt guilty and started taking laxatives. Then my work started to suffer as I was running to the toilet so often, I had to find a way out of this hell of my own making.
I had heard of websites created by anorexic people (mainly girls) who wanted to maintain an anorexic habit but didn’t want anyone to find out. The movement was called Pro-Ana (as in Pro Anorexia). I wanted to be thin. I wanted to stop eating the fabulous food that was under my nose, tempting me, forcing me to overdose and then punish myself. I wanted to be thin so badly that I thought starvation was my only option. All or nothing. If I can’t eat some of the nice food without going berzerk then I would have to stop eating it all together.
I found a site called Project Shapeshift and went trawling through the threads to find out how to be anorexic. I joined up and poured out my pain and misery online to a bunch of complete strangers. I was hoping for punishment; to be suitably chastised for being fat, disgusting, weak and unworthy.
What I got was love.
People posted messages of support, of sympathy and empathy and even horror stories of how awful it was to be truly anorexic. I found people struggling just the way I was, and people who had learned to live with their eating disorders but still be fit and healthy. People who reached out across the anonymous void of the internet and showed me I was not alone, that I was among friends.
I have been part of that community for nearly 7 years now. The site has changed a lot over the years, not least in part to a massive schism in the founder members of the group which rocked the long time participants to the core, and forced a lot of people to take sides.
Those of us who carry on are still struggling with our demons, but still supporting each other. I have met 2 or 3 of them in the flesh, and spoken to a couple more on the phone. I am hoping to meet more over the next year or so, and I consider a lot of them to be truly great friends.
I went in search of a way to destroy myself and met people who only wanted to help me. The internet gets a lot of press for the bad stuff, and the uncontrollable nature of it all, but don’t forget that there is a lot of good to be found as well, if you look hard enough.