1 in 4 men: Christopher's eating disorder story
For Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Christopher speaks about his long battle with anorexia nervosa. Although his eating disorder negatively impacted his studies, self-esteem, social life and physical health, Christopher is on the path to recovery, rekindling what he has lost. He now works with charities to raise awareness around eating disorders and to challenge gendered stereotypes. Here’s his story.
I’m honoured to write about my own experience with an eating disorder. I want to try and be a minor chink in the armour of stigma, that often still portrays eating disorders as more of a female distress. I want to show how easy it is to be romanced into the trap - regardless of age, gender, sexuality and/or ethnicity - as eating disorders do not discriminate, but infiltrate your heart and being to destroy.
I write for those that have found themselves to be a puppet strung along by anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binging. Prisoners once or still trapped in a cage that was your body. A dark place where the masterful chameleon of so many shapes, forms and persuasions constantly taps on the bars that is the head, so that you can’t sleep or eat; too numb to speak or plea for help.
That was still me until only three years ago, after almost a decade of endurance. Ten years before my eating disorder, I had a life: a close network of friends, a close knit family, a home. A time when I still adored my mother’s home cooked meals, my grandparents’ Sunday dinners, and wasn’t forced to feel shame for enjoying the odd biscuit or piece of cake. The way it should be.
I didn’t know that the rules of restriction set by anorexia, would result in breaking my parents, grandparents and sister.
I was a determined teenager and had already set out a life’s path to follow, step by step: university, graduation, getting the ideal, stable job, meeting my future wife, having children and my own family house. Naively, I thought all of this was straight forward, that anything on the contrary would derail my purpose.
Months after I achieved my A Levels and a place at my first choice university, all of my friends had naturally veered off into different directions to either study or work. Unfortunately, higher education offered too big a class environment, with students I couldn’t relate or talk with. I wasn’t offered the close contact and reassurance I needed from teachers. So, I dropped out. To me, this felt like an utter disgrace and a failure. I turned into an introvert; too scared to leave the house, to face other people. Without career plans going forward or the nerve to be preoccupied socially, I cut myself off from the rest of the world like a recluse.
The only social interaction I had was through the filtered manipulator of social media. Every day, I’d see old friends enjoying their studies or jobs, partying in nightclubs, starting intimate relationships; everything I wanted but didn’t have. My reaction turned to hating myself and how my body looked.
I cut myself off from the rest of the world like a recluse.
I lost control over my own destiny. My mind instilled a belief that I could regain what was lost - my plans of education, a job, wife, kids and a perfect home - by simply dieting. Less input, more output would achieve a better look, a better outlook, and in tandem, a better me.
Please note that this internal 'voice’ was in fact my first interaction with anorexia nervosa. This ‘voice’ was conceived as my own; pretended that I was the one choosing to diet. And that’s it! Look how easy it was for a male to fall for future years of debilitation. All because I believed that. When I noticed my body was changing shape, that the hard work was indeed working, I couldn’t resist. I continued beyond a normal dietary plan, to change my image even more.
I didn’t know that the rules of restriction set by anorexia, would result in breaking my parents, grandparents and sister, having no friends and surviving only on a minimal diet for 18 months. By the age of 28, I was unable to walk up and down the stairs, had jaundice in my skin and eyes, had thinning hair and trapped leg nerves. I was unable to lift my three year old niece up to hug. I was given the choice of either a voluntary hospital admission or being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. I was an inpatient for nearly 6 months to relearn how to eat, drink, sleep and converse. All of this because I believed in my eating disorder.
I want to show how easy it is to be romanced into the trap - regardless of age, gender, sexuality and/or ethnicity.
Fortunately, I was discharged in mid-2020 and have been in recovery since. I’ve rekindled the family unit, reconnected with the friends and social life I’d lost. What is not lost is my passion in making sure that no one makes the same, sometimes irreversible, mistake I did. I’ve now become a co-facilitator for dedicated charities and organisations, like Eating Disorders North East, to raise awareness.
I was only two days away from death. Anorexia took everything away from me. I don’t want that to happen to you, or someone you may know. You can find help and live life once again, both men and women alike. I believe many men, like women, also have eating disorders in the UK. Sadly, most suffer in silence to not damage their masculinity or be seen as weak. But the stigma needs to stop now. Please talk.
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