Taking back my life from anorexia nervosa

West Cork-based Roseanne O'Driscoll battled with an eating disorder from a very young age. Now aged 30, she tells CHRIS DUNNE how she stood up to the disease, anorexia nervosa and put her life back on track
Taking back my life from anorexia nervosa
Roseanne O'Driscoll who suffered from the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa

IT wasn’t when she was buying clothes for herself in Penneys for 13-year-olds when she was 23, or wearing tops for seven to eight-year-olds, that Roseanne O’Driscoll realised her eating disorder had devoured most of her youth.

“If I wore extra small, and it was loose, that was even better,” says Roseanne.

It wasn’t even when her beautiful long hair lost its lustre and gloss, or when she shivered with the chilling cold as her teeth and bones chattered, that the penny dropped.

It was when her boyfriend playfully stole a precious portion of pineapple from her plate.

“I remember that I had very carefully weighed out the portion of pineapple that I was allowing myself,” says Roseanne, 30, from Ballydehob, who is now living in Clonakilty after working in Cork for 11 years.

Roseanne, who is a qualified life-coach and a qualified chef, recalls the day when she decided to try and break free of the grip of anorexia nervosa.

“My partner took a piece of the fruit off my plate and I went frantic, because I didn’t know how much the segment of pineapple weighed,” says Roseanne.

“I gave out to him and he was so sad afterwards and broken-hearted.”

Why was he broken-hearted?

“He knew that I would have less food now than even the little I had weighed out to eat,” says Roseanne.

“I remember I was so angry, I went hell for leather, exercising on the cross-trainer, in our apartment, burning up hundreds of calories. What was I going to tell him I ate when he asked me later?”

Roseanne came to realise that she was living her own version of hell, having fainting fits and dizzy spells due to lack of food. She was in the throes of a disease that leaves its victims physically and emotionally drained.

“Something just clicked that day,” says Roseanne. “What was I doing? It was really sad. A turning point came. I would have to change.”

Roseanne’s relationship with food was always all, or barely nothing.

“I started putting on weight before puberty, when I was around eight years old,” recalls Roseanne, who, now is an attractive, assured young lady.

“I was eating too much junk, crisps and chocolate. Looking back now, I know it was comfort food. I was very shy and I watched a lot of TV and I ate a lot of junk food,” says Roseanne, who has an older brother, Daniel.

“The kids at school began to point out that I was bigger than some of them. I was bigger then than I am now.”

Comments below the belt encouraged Roseanne to take action that would have dangerous repercussions well into her adolescence and beyond.

“In 5th and 6th class, I began dieting. I was often by myself after school,” says Roseanne.

“I turned away from food. In 6th class, I remember focusing on different diets. I paid attention at Home Economics class and I was interested in information about nutrition.”

When she felt that she had no control, Roseanne took control over her own body, beginning a gruelling journey that seemed never-ending.

“My parents separated and then they divorced when I was 12,” says Roseanne.

She was often left to her own devices.

“If I said I had eaten, they’d say OK,” she recalls. “No-one checked. I didn’t have any hobbies and I spent hours alone in my bedroom.”

Roseanne checked her weight meticulously. She measured her life in scoops and ounces and coffee spoons. The weighing scales was her master.

“The number on the scales was never small enough,” says Roseanne.

She became a slave to making the number less and less, hour by hour, day by day. It was a mission that consumed the young girl.

“I weighed 6 stone 11lbs when I was in my early 20s,” says Roseanne.

Was she happy at such a low, unhealthy weight?

“I was both happy and sad,” she says. “I avoided looking in the mirror. I am five feet 11 inches. If I ever reached 7 stone, I couldn’t cope.”

Her body didn’t like the numbers it was forced to retain and reduce. It reacted to the persecution it was under.

“I could feel my body shutting down,” says Roseanne. “I slept for 14 hours at a time. When I was in the bath, my bones hurt. I felt I was dying.

“Often, the water felt too warm on my thin flesh and I would crawl out of the bath and try and open the door to get air. I was getting dizzy spells and I fainted a few times.”

What was she living on?

“I’d have a scoop of porridge with water and half a banana,” says Roseanne.

“That was for breakfast and for lunch. Later, I’d have the same and a serving of pineapple or apple. I was living on 300 calories a day.”

Her natural beauty faded away and her gaunt body faded away.

“My skin was grey,” says Roseanne. “I used fake tan to cover my grey complexion. My hairline receded.”

Did her parents notice her dwindling to nothing?

“Whenever I met my parents and worked in Cork city, I’d always wear an over-sized sweat-shirt to conceal my frame. I covered it up. No one knew.”

It was a lonely station that she found herself in.

“I never went out,” says Roseanne. “Going out usually involved eating or drinking, and that meant more calories. If I had to go to a restaurant, I spent all day calculating and estimating in my mind how many calories was in each dish. I did a lot of research.”

It must have been exhausting living with the distorted inner voice of self-criticism spurring her on to self-destruction?

“It never let up,” says Roseanne. “I always felt massive. Like I was the biggest person in the world.”

She became one of the bravest people in the world when she took action to stand up to the bully that had invaded her life.

“I took the first step to speak to someone and I got counselling,” says Roseanne.

“And I went to the counselling sessions regularly without fail. When I decided not to rely solely on my counsellor, I tried getting better on my own. Before, when I was ill, I had no logical mind.

“You are super-emotional when you have an eating disorder. The disease changes the chemistry of the brain. Now, I was able to talk to myself.”

And she saw sense.

“I deleted Snapchat and Instagram. When I reached for my phone, I thought twice,” says Roseanne.

“Of course people leading their lives on social media use all the best pics. It’s not real life.”

But she is only human.

“I still compare myself and get obsessed and follow other people,” she says. “But you become more logical as you recover.”

She made strides to get back to herself.

“A lot of my muscle was wasted,” says Roseanne. “So I’m working on building some muscle. I know I’m not fat anymore. I’m skinny fat!”

Getting back to living a healthy, full life took her time and effort.

“I was five years in recovery,” says Roseanne. “I yo-yoed a bit during that time. I learned a lot about nutrition and exercise when I trained as a personal trainer. I think it is great to find a hobby that you are passionate about. I hope to explore my creative side more.”

And she has a little help from her friend.

“John Lawrence, my boyfriend, is super-creative,” says Roseanne. “He is into music and music videos, he is really talented.”

He’s a good cook too. Roseanne smiles.

“We are vegan, which is a lifestyle choice we made for ethical reasons. We love chickpea burgers for dinner or a tasty black-bean burrito. A bit of dark chocolate is good afterwards!”

Roseanne has regained her appetite for life.

“I’m catching up. I got the wake-up call,” says Roseanne.

“I could have died by the age of 21. John has shown me not to waste time anymore.

“Now I want to live life for both of us.”

If you need support see:www.bodywhys.ie. Freephone:1890 200 444

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