Gemma Oaten on Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Well, It’s that time of year again. Where did the time go? I remember my Dad always saying “The older you get the quicker time flys Gem!” He’s so right. Makes me realise how long a journey it’s been. To get to this position I’m in now as Patron of SEED and I just wanted to touch base as it has been such an important week. Eating Disorders Awareness week. It’s been a hard and testing time of late as my Grandad suffered a massive stroke of which there is no return. Many a day I have spent holding his hand and sat by his bedside just thinking. Quietly sharing moments of such tenderness, and it was then I realised my biggest achievement as his Granddaughter…overcoming and recovering from my Eating Disorder. He saw me well, happy, content and living my dreams. I am so blessed for that.

This last week I have been doing numerous interviews with magazines, papers and online media sources to help raise awareness by sharing my own experience and highlighting the stigmas attached to eating disorders. By doing this I hope to raise more discussion, more understanding and more care for those suffering, and support for those caring for those with an ED. It’s not easy for me opening up so much and baring my heart, but again by doing so because  I want people to realise there is no shame in speaking out and asking for help. An ED is a very secretive, destructive and shameful illness…except it doesn’t have to be. There is NO SHAME speaking out and asking for help. Those suffering didn’t choose to have an ED…it chose them. They didn’t decide one day when they looked in a magazine and saw a slim figure that they wanted to match that…they looked in their own mirror and felt feelings of hate and disgust for THEMSELF. This here is my biggest gripe and what I want to highlight most. An Eating Disorder is not about vanity or attention. That is insulting and unfair to anyone affected by the nightmare of an ED. It is about self loathing, control and regret…it is a MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS. Food is not the cause, it is the symptom. EDs have the highest mortality rate than any other mental health illness. 20% of known sufferers will die as a result of their Eating Disorder. So why on earth are more people not talking about it?! Why is there not more input from the NHS? Well here I am. I’m shouting it from the roof tops as much as I can so you know you’re not alone. One thing that is key to a quicker and successful recovery process is early intervention. The sooner someone can get help the better, as with many mental health issues, granted, but I can’t express enough how vital this is. Please don’t think that if your illness has been going on for years and years that it is too late though. It’s never too late. Look at me. My battle went on for 12 long years, like a rollercoaster ride of enlightening highs when I felt I was ‘winning’ and deadly lows when my ED struck back and threw me out of the carriage.

Please if you feel yourself slipping into an Eating disorder or see someone displaying signs of such, SPEAK OUT, REACH OUT, HIT OUT! You can do it I promise. Look for signs of withdrawal in personality, of secretiveness, of major changes in a person’s social engaging, of sadness, of erratic mood swings, stress and anxiety and of not wanting to eat in front of others to name but a few warning signs. I also of course say look out for weight loss but this isn’t always the case. Anorexia isn’t the only ED out there. There is bulimia, anorexia binge eating type, binge eating, over exercisers, laxative abuse…no one persons ED is the same as the next. I always try and make this point clear. A person suffers from an eating disorder in very different ways to anyone else and they certainly don’t lose their identity to be just a number. This leads to every person being treated in a different way too, no one person has the same back story, the same mind. I don’t proclaim to be the big I am, but I did it. I recovered and that was after years of not having the right help, which is one of the reasons SEED was born. To nurture, to guide and to help recovery in the right way for each individual person. Now please bear in mind that my experience is from 20 years ago, at the age of 10 years old. Support and help lines and ED units are nowadays leaps and bounds beyond the help I had, they should be applauded and long may it continue. The more we talk, the more we are heard.

To maybe help someone understand the reasons behind an Eating Disorder I will share a few things I felt when I was going through mine and the hell it brought. I believed if there was less of me then there would be less of me to hate of myself and less of others to bully and attack. I also felt I couldn’t control what others did to me or said about me but I could control what was inside me. I was also a high achiever…this became too much and the pressure myself and others put on me became something I couldn’t handle or control. If I disappeared I wouldn’t have this. I remember being so happy as a child before puberty set in and I wanted to be that little girl again, by losing weight I lost my figure, I lost my womanhood, but womanhood petrified me later on in my illness due to some things happening to me of which I don’t wish to speak of, but it was a key irrational thought that I wanted to look like a child again. You see? None of these reasons are about wanting attention or being vain?! These reasons are lack of control, self loathing, shame and wanting to disappear! Writing this down in black and white turns my stomach and makes my heart break as I am so far from that person anymore, but I wanted to be brave and share so you can see, there is no shame or guilt. I am fully recovered now and have been for the last 8 years but I never stop growing and learning as a person. We all make mistakes and we all need to use the dirt and make flowers grow from it. Over this last year and especially last few months I have really grown in strength and felt a calmness and confidence in myself to trust my own decisions and trust my own self worth. I’m the happiest, content and most confident I have ever been in my life. I am who I am and I like who I am, I do my best by others and I am grateful. I’m nothing special, but I’m a fighter…and you are too. You’re also utterly fabulous and unique and don’t you forget it. You’re allowed to hurt, you’re allowed to cry and feel, it’s so important…but please be strong and ask for help. It’s the very first step to recovery and you are never ever alone. SEED have help lines, email buddies, self help groups, drop ins…the help goes on. Please, if even the tiniest part of what I have written hits home, get in touch. I for one would be so very proud of you.

Much love Gem x

For help and support with an Eating Disorder please contact:  SEED 

You are not alone!

0 replies on “Gemma Oaten on Eating Disorder Awareness Week”