A CORK woman who has suffered with bulimia and anorexia for over a decade fears she will die if she does not get in-patient treatment for her condition.
The woman, who does not want to be named, has spoken out about how her condition affects her in the hope that someone can help her secure a space to treat her.
The 30-year-old does not have health insurance and cannot afford private treatment, as costs are close to €60,000.
She says she is on a waiting list since last November for out-patient counselling but she says: “An hour or two a week is not enough for me, I need in-patient care.”
She says: “The most accurate way to describe the compulsion to binge eat is that it is as strong as the need to breathe. You have to breathe or you’ll die. In my case, it feels like I will die if I can’t get my hands on more food, I will die if I can’t vomit everything up, I will die if I gain weight. And, I know I will die if I keep doing what I’m doing.”
Revealing her daily struggle, she says: “When I’m with people, I just want them to go away so I can get back to my bedroom to eat and vomit. It is all I think about. It is relentless. Even when I really want to be around people, I feel like I’m being pulled away by forces I can’t control. Sometimes when I’m upstairs alone in my room eating, vomiting or self-harming (which I do sometimes when I am very overwhelmed), I can hear my housemates downstairs laughing and joking, and I feel so alone, crying into a bag of vomit.”
She continues: “When I look back on pictures, all I remember is the chaos, the pain, and the crying, but it’s all hidden behind the smile. When you treat yourself life a dog, you start to feel like a dog, and then eventually like less than one.”
And she says: “I wouldn’t ever consider calling another human being the names I call myself, but I feel like I deserve to be called horrible things and treated badly. I rotate between bulimia and anorexia, each lasting a few months. I have no money, no savings. Bulimia is very expensive. I often have to borrow money from friends and family and have stolen food more times than I can count. When I lived abroad, I once convinced my housemate that someone was breaking into our apartment at night and stealing all our food. When doctors tell me that I will die if I continue like this, my only thought is ‘hopefully soon’.”
Working from home during the pandemic, she describes how she has managed to keep going despite the chaos in her personal life.
“Sometimes I feel my thighs getting bigger as I sit there in my chair talking with my colleagues, and I just want to cut them off (my thighs from my body and my colleagues from the call). It’s like I’m living a double life; the people I talk to almost every day have no idea how I spend my time between calls and emails, and I pretend like I’m a totally normal person with a normal life.
"That feeling is excruciating, it’s like no one knows who I am, I’m just a face on the screen or on the street, everyone is just trying to get by and manage their own stuff, especially during lockdown.”
She continues: “The shower is always hard. I usually look straight up at the ceiling or close my eyes as I shower because I just can’t stand the sight of myself. My skin is crawling. It feels like my body is getting bigger. I try to pretend like none of it is happening.”
In mid-March, she tried to take her own life, the latest of a number of suicide attempts.
She continues: “Lockdown just broke me altogether – the third one. I stopped going out, except for to get food and to over-exercise. I stopped talking to everyone. I was in my room up to 21 or 22 hours a day. It came to a head three or four weeks ago when I attempted suicide. I was taken to hospital for a few days but discharged again.”
She added: “This is a horrible way of living.”
And she says: “Every part of my body hurts. I’ve lost two teeth already and recently another one broke in half, so now I can’t chew on one side of my mouth because of the pain. I spend all my money on food, so I haven’t been to a dentist since I got my last tooth pulled, I can’t buy new glasses that I really need, I can’t buy myself nice things.”
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond is critical of a lack of progress on the National Eating Disorder Plan, which includes the provision of 16 hubs across the country. Three of the hubs are up and running, including one for children and young adults for Cork and Kerry, but are not yet fully resourced.
Minister Mary Butler announced last month that €3.94m will be used this year to fund those three hubs. But Deputy Richmond said progress on the overall plan, unveiled in 2018, is frustrating, particularly given that there was no funding allocated to the area last year, despite a 66% increase in hospital admissions last year for eating disorders.
“This is a huge issue," he said. "It is harrowing for people going through it and for their families watching their loved ones waste away physically and mentally before their eyes.
“It is really good that this woman has detailed her story and she is not alone.”
He said the government needs to ensure progress is made on the implementation of the National Eating Disorder Plan, adding that it should not be affected by the pandemic.
“I will be raising it again in the Dáil," he said. "This is a good plan but it is just gathering dust.”
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns described the woman’s case as “outrageous”, given that €1.6 million in funding which was allocated to the area of eating disorders in 2019 was not used.
In a statement the HSE said it could not comment on individual cases.
It said however: “Adults presenting with an eating disorder can also be treated in an acute hospital if their physical health needs require this. There are also 3 dedicated beds in St Vincent’s hospital ring-fenced for adults with eating disorders in Community Healthcare East (CHO6).”
It said funding has been made available in 2021 to progress the recruitment of three additional Eating Disorder teams across the country, including one for adults in the Cork and Kerry region.
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