Age at interview: 25
Brief Outline: Craig was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 22 and has also suffered from depression and anxiety. Through practical help from a community psychiatric nurse, and his own proactive choices in life, he describes himself now as 'slightly recovered'.
Background: Craig is 25, currently unemployed and doing an Open University course in Psychology. He is single and lives on his own. White British.
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The roots of Craig’s eating disorder date back to teenage years. He was bullied in school over a long period of time; he was quiet and reserved and bullied for his appearance at a time when he was growing up and filling out. Craig was also going through difficult time at home with his parents’ divorce. Craig describes eating disorder as a coping mechanism to deal with it all, as losing weight made Craig feel “numb and desensitised”. First Craig started skipping school meals, saving his lunch money to buy a guitar but things escalated quickly, like “an avalanche”. At 19, Craig remembers going through all week without eating anything, and would only eat on Sundays.
Craig first saw a GP after a long term girlfriend confronted him about his behaviour. For Craig, protecting other people and their feelings was a big motivator for getting help. He says though that it took him four years to accept the help and support offered to him. Craig got a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa when he was 22 but over the years he has also experienced binging, as well as depression and anxiety. Craig sees a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) and has also been an outpatient at an eating disorders service where he saw a therapist and a dietician.
Craig made a very conscious and active decision to change his life and to move on. The most helpful things for Craig have been the practical help he’s got from the CPN and keeping himself busy through writing, playing music and working for an Open University course.
Craig says recovery is a long process and hard work and he describes himself now as “slightly recovered” as he still struggles with some everyday tasks. He feels frustrated about how the eating disorder has damaged work opportunities and relationships over the years. Craig wants to challenge common misconceptions about eating disorders and how they are not about just eating, or putting on weight, and definitely not about image, but about ways of thinking and seeing the world.
While Craig was underweight he felt no anger or sadness. Once he put on some weight he struggled...
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I think the more weight you put on the more emotion you gain back, which then bubbles over. ‘Cos I mean when you’ve been underweight for as long as I have there’s so much, so many issues that that all then bubbles back up which then makes it worse I guess, to a degree.
That’s really interesting that, what do you mean that the more weight you put on, the more issues come to the surface?
I think because when, when you’re underweight you’re kind of, you’re numb so any emotions that you could have, like if someone annoyed me I wouldn’t feel anger, I would just feel nothing. I wouldn’t be able to cry or anything like that. And as soon as you start putting back on weight you, you start to feel angry and you start to cry. And to a large degree I didn’t actually know how to deal with these emotions, so that kind of then, I don’t know, it makes things worse to a certain extent because you don’t know what’s going on, if you see what I mean.
Craig’s girlfriend helped him realise what an impact anorexia nervosa had on her and others...
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I was with a girl for a long time while I was going through it and I was at like my worst stage, and she basically turned around to me and just said, “Look I don’t wanna watch you kill yourself anymore.” And that was kind of when I was just like, “Well if I didn’t want to have a life, then I’m going to have to change something. Because otherwise I am literally gonna die.”
I think it was the first time someone had addressed it and, and kind of been completely emotional and upfront with me about it. Because before I think there’s the whole they would, like my parents would come to me and it would be quite detached, so they wouldn’t want to seem upset about it. Whereas she was just completely open with it and just pretty much broke down in front of me. And then that’s kind of when I saw how much it was upsetting people.
Craig said partners could easily turn into his Mum and start “pandering” to him. They could...
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I think, from experience I think the moment that you tell someone that that you have an eating disorder they suddenly turn into your Mum to a degree. So it’s quite difficult in that sense because then you have someone like pandering around you, and then that makes you think about it more. So in that sense it’s quite difficult to know when the right time is to actually tell someone, and, and on the other side of it, if you tell someone too early then that can kind of freak them out and then they can run off thinking that you’re a bit mental.
What do you mean that they turn into your Mum?
They start doing things like cooking me meals and saying, “Oh well you should, you should eat something.” And, “Oh well done for eating something.” And everything is focussed around eating, and then yeah you start getting really pandered to, and it kind of gets a bit weird. You end up not having like, you don’t have a partner, you kind of have a carer.
Craig' s eating disorder is “a taboo subject” at home because no one quite knows how to deal with...
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What about then later on, how are things with your family now?
It’s kind of ignored a little bit again. When, when I got a little bit better they kind of, they just made the point that I looked better. They just said, “Oh you look healthier,” and then it’s been ignored since then. So it’s still kind of very much a taboo subject. Nobody knows how to deal with it, so.
How would you want that to be, ideally, how would you want to deal with it? In a family or setting, or with close friends?
It’s a bit of a tough one actually. I don’t, I think if people make an issue out of it makes it worse, but at the same time if it’s ignored then you kind of feel like no-one cares so, it’s about making an issue of it but kind of being supportive with it, rather than being angry.