The annual tradition of Movember is hard to miss. It has become a worldwide event that unites participants with a simple patch of facial hair, serving to spread the word of Men’s Health, both mental and physical.
For me, this is a cause that lies very close to my heart: the work that Movember does regarding men’s mental health awareness is incredible, and their commitment to promoting messages of open & honest discussion about a whole variety of mental health issues is exactly what this world needed when it first came about in 2004.
In light of my own ‘tache adorning my upper lip at the mo’ (pun intended), I am going to revive the blog with a series of posts explaining my experiences with mental health inkeeping with the core values of the Mo’vement.
In the first post of ‘Fella’s, Let’s Talk…’ , I am going to kick the conversation off with my experience of Anorexia back in 2015…
A Dude With an Eating Disorder?!
Yes, believe it or not, eating disorders hit guys too.
1 in 3 people who suffer with an eating disorder are men; probably much higher than you expected, right?
The truth is, the main causes of why eating disorders develop don’t discriminate. Things such as ideal body image, exposure to social media, bullying at school etc. etc. : they don’t affect men and women differently.
For me, I remember starting to get anxious about my body around about the time I went to secondary school. Being a keen sportsmen, I was always surrounded with mates who, even at the tender age of 12, had incredible rigs. Although I didn’t conciously think about it at the time, it was always a question that I had in the back of my head: Why didn’t I look like that?
This background, seemingly insignificant thought, was the initial seed that would eventually grow into a pretty ugly being that became my Anorexia…
All About Control
When things started to ramp up at school in 6th Form (16/17), the pressure started to get overwhelming: questions about the future, about what I was going to do at Uni, about what path I was going to take in order to be successful in life.
It was a time of immense change, and exposure to so many life variables that were completely out of my control. So there came a time when the thing that I craved most was control, and that’s when I was introduced to tracking calories and dieting.
The cycle of restriction, weight loss & a percieved ‘better body’ became my safe haven: the one part of my life that I could control. It became my personality at a time when I was really struggling to work out who I was, and it became a coping mechanism for all the stresses going on around me.
I never recognised it as a problem, but looking back there were so many warning signs.
Looking into any reflection possible to check that my body still looked thin.
Measuring every single morsel that went in my body so precisely, down to the gram.
Running on a treadmill for 10k each and every morning, even if I felt like shit (which, to be honest, was every single day!).
All of these things were left to grow & be nurtured by a troubled mind that consumed the Old Me.
The Process of Recognition & Action
I did eventually recognise that I had a problem.
Everyone else could see me, and how f**king horrendous I looked: standing 6″5 weighing in just over 60kg’s. But, although I recognised that I had issues upstairs, when I first accepted my condition I was still in denial about how I looked physically.
I still saw something completely different: I would still fixate on every little bit of my body that I thought was wrong.
This exemplifies something that I believe to be an essential part of having an eating disorder: it draws a lens over your eyes, and places you in a completely distorted reality. Your thoughts become driven by a dysmorphic view of yourself, and trying to kick that in the ass was undoubtedly the hardest part of recovery.
In terms of HOW I went about dealing with my disorder, I was lucky enough to get into 1:1 therapy very soon after recognising the fact that I had a problem.
But that was just the start of a very long & winding road…
It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
My first 2/3 months of therapy for my eating disorder were pretty samey. I would turn up every week, anxious about stepping on the scales, only to find out that I had lost a little bit more weight. ‘What a shame’ was a classic line: ‘I don’t understand why, though: I have eaten so much this week…’
In my head, I would be screaming with victory: another week goes by where I am hugely underweight. Result.
This bullsh*t continued as I don’t think I genuinely believed the severity of my problem: and looking back, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ashamed to have wasted so much of Nina’s (my consultant at the time) precious time.
Getting into therapy is just the start: it’s not a question of ‘I’m in therapy, so I am sorted’. It’s got to be reciprocated by the self, and you’ve got to do the work. I spent so much time coasting, just letting myself rot in the hell-hole that was my mindset without truly recognising the need for change. It was until I started working with Nina that things started to change…
The main thing that drove me during recovery (following the 2/3 month period of denial, self-loathing & more weight loss) was learning who I was, and accepting that for what it is.
I was a bit alternative.
I liked cranky fashion, and I liked an eclectic mix of music.
I shared a passion for sport & physical activity with that of Jazz and playing the sax.
And I started to understand that I was who I was, and that I didn’t need to be a certain weight, have a certain body or eat a certain way in order to be that person.
I learnt that eating, exercising and my godforsaken bodyweight which had been my sole focus for the past year did absolutely f**k all in defining who I was as a person.
This self-acceptance came with an intent understanding of the situation within which I found myself: desperately underweight, desperately unhappy & crying out to be helped.
Yes, there were times when the mindset would rear it’s ugly head and say that I was a failure for not being able to sustain the condition I was in: but I learnt to recognise this as my alter-ego chatting sh*t.
Not even my alter-ego, actually: just a completely separate being who in no way represented even a semblance of who I was.
This again draws on something I believe applies to mental health more broadly. Whether you suffer from depression, bipolar, anxiety etc. , the condition which you have creates a separate being to yourself. One which ruminates, one which manifests itself with negative thoughts, negative feelings and negative behaviours that are explained as ‘symptoms of **INSERT MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION** ‘
The Remnants of A Troubled Mind
The time at which I have been referring to was between 2016-early 2018. I have since relapsed once back in late 2018, but since then I have not touched my Anorexia with a shitty stick.
That said, I will whole-heartedly admit to the fact that it has left its mark on me. Something that I believe, and have honestly accepted, will stay with me permanently.
I still get anxious about eating out.
I still have MASSIVE issues with body image.
I still have residual thoughts about certain foods.
But the point is, I have learnt to DEAL with the remnants accordingly. I keep my eyes on the prize, I set myself goals, and so that when these kind of thoughts do enter my head, I accept them for what they are and put them to bed in favour of the goal I am currently working towards.
But I DON’T ignore them. Otherwise that gives them a platform to grow and linger in your subconcious.
It’s all about recognising when they come about, processing them accordingly, and putting them in their rightful place: the psychological rubbish tip.
The Final Word
Having had a pretty colourful past with regards to mental health (which I am sure you will find out about in the following posts in this series), I can honestly say that suffering with Anorexia was one of the worst periods of my life in every way.
It not only had severe physical implications, to the point of hospitalisation; but, more signficantly, it consumed my every thought for nearly 2 years. To be frank it is also absolutley f**king exhausting…!
But, as with any tough period, I have accepted it as part of my story. You learn a hell of a lot about yourself in those dark moments, and you develop a huge sense of resilience when turning onto the road to recovery.
And ultimately, it was a period that has helped to shape the person I am today.
I am happy to say that I have been free of Anorexia for nearly 3 years; but I know a lot of Men out their will currently be feeling lost, alone and isolated while going through any kind of eating disorder.
It’s not abnormal, fellas; you are most definitely not on your own. Take it from me….
Big love, peeps.
PS If you would like to DONATE TO MY MOVEMBER PAGE, click here ; any donation no matter how great or small will be very muchly appreciated ❤
HAVE YOU BEEN AFFECTED BY ANY OF THE ISSUES ABOVE?
Contact one of the following:
- BEAT – Eating Disorders Charity | https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
- SAMARITANS HELPLINE | Call 116 123
- MEN WALKTALK | https://menwalktalk.co.uk/
Or feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org