Florence’s eating disorder started out slow, just limiting her food intake a little here and there. But as soon as she started controlling her eating, it became a slippery slope quickly developing into a serious eating disorder. As part of #IAMWHOLE, Florence shares her experience to raise awareness of mental health stigma, in her own words.
“At the age of 14 my dancing got a bit more serious and I thought there’s something I wasn’t happy about and I didn’t realise what it was. I tried to lose a little bit of weight and I started cutting down and limiting what I was eating.
“I did lose quite a bit of weight and in a way I stopped realising that I was losing weight. I just wanted to find a different way of losing weight and I started making myself sick.
“I developed bulimia and my weight dropped quite significantly, but I still didn’t feel like I was losing weight.
“Then I started starving myself and then I developed anorexia. So I developed two eating disorders, which was a really difficult time.
“I think I didn’t actually understand it myself which was a very difficult thing. It wasn’t until other people were noticing ‘oh, you’ve lost a lot of weight’ then realising it wasn’t actually healthy, that there was something deeper.
“Every morning I’d get up two hours before I had to and I’d do secret exercising in my bedroom. Then throughout the day I’d try and eat as little as possible and then I’d do the same before I went to bed. So I only got about five hours sleep, which I know is quite bad. It was a cycle of structured living I guess.
“It was one of my really close friends who spoke to me about it and I sort of opened up for the first time to her.
“Also it was my parents that were increasingly worried but they didn’t actually know how to talk to me about it. My mum actually found text messages between me and my friend on my phone and that’s when she was extremely worried and spoke to my school GP. That got me a referral for CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services].
“I think at first it was very difficult and I didn’t actually realise I had a problem. Because it was just like a thing that happened every day. I sort of got used to it and thought that’s how everyone else was. I didn’t really understand that it was something quite significantly bad for my health as well.
“So it was quite difficult knowing that people knew about it because it was something that, at the time, I was really quite ashamed of, even though I thought it was normal at the same time.
“I think in particular my close family found it really difficult and really upsetting to watch it and not to be able to control what was going on. I think they also found it quite frustrating.
“The one thing I really noticed was the isolation. I really isolated myself from my family, my friends and I didn’t actually realise it until recovery that actually I was sort of by myself 24/7. I was sort of blocking everyone else out.
“I think what people also found very difficult is when it became very, very obvious I had an eating disorder, people would find it really difficult to eat in front of me and to talk about food and things. I could see that they all felt really uncomfortable sometimes in my company as a result of it.
“I think it made it worse actually, because when I was in recovery I was sort of just re-familiarising myself with food and drink. So when people were feeling uncomfortable about it, it sort of made it worse because all I wanted really was a bit of normality and to get away from everything I was going through and everything that was going on in my head.
“I feel like I did have a lot of support, I think the bad thing is actually I really think that GPs don’t know about mental health as well as they should do. I think they know more about the physical side. Often you have to go to your GP to get a diagnosis and referrals to things. You don’t have to but normally it’s the way.
“People associate that if you have an eating disorder you have to be really thin and a lot of people don’t actually know about other eating disorders, about you know binge eating disorders and bulimia. It’s all about anorexia. If other people understood it more they wouldn’t be as judgemental.
“As soon as you experience it, don’t feel like you’re by yourself, don’t feel like you’re alone, don’t feel like you can’t talk to anyone. The sooner you talk to someone, the sooner you can receive treatment and help and then the sooner you recover and the more likely it will end as soon as possible. Battling mental health by yourself is a big and scary thing, no one should have to do it by themselves.”
Florence is now using her experience to help other young people as part of the Right Here Project with YMCA Downslink Group, where she raises awareness and educates people about mental health difficulties.