Have You Tried Just Eating by Iona Murphy

I never felt like I was sick enough. Not when I passed out on a run. Not when I couldn’t feel any warmth on the hottest August day. Not when I looked in the mirror. Not when I stepped on the scales.

Mental illnesses are invisible, you can’t see what’s going on in someone else’s head. For some reason, society doesn’t apply that simple fact to anorexia. Straight away, you picture a skinny white girl, poor lost soul, bones bones bones. How did she get there? Was she anorexic when she starved herself at a healthy weight? Do you wake up one day after starving yourself for long enough and become a certified anorexic? Here’s your badge of honour. Anorexia is a mental illness that’s viewed as physical. It’s that perception which stops people seeking help. Stops people being taken seriously. Makes that crucial early intervention impossible.

When the first doctor told me I had an eating disorder I knew they were lying to me. I didn’t look sick. I was a healthy weight. The second doctor seemed to agree with me. I had almost started to believe I had a problem. Anxiety services wouldn’t take me because my case was too complex. “Start eating again and we can help.” Ground breaking. I’m cured. How did I not think of that? But in that white walled room, she weighed me, sent me for blood tests, destroyed me. “Of course you’re healthy. If you lose another half a stone then you’ll be of real concern.” Shattered. Of course I’m healthy. I forgot healthy meant skinny, no matter how you got there. Health guru, living off X calories a day. The epitome of health. “You look good.” Nothing to complain about then. My existence is miserable but at least I look good. I’m starving, cold, alone, struggling to come to terms with my own life, but I look great so that makes it all okay.

I went back five weeks later, she hadn’t bothered to chase me up. I smashed her target of half a stone, letting my body do the talking. Now she’s concerned. Now she cares. I get a “please look after yourself” and a plea to “just eat” but it falls on ears with fingers pressed firmly into them. I move away. I never see her again. I wonder if she thinks of me, because I’ll never forget the goal she set me and the spiral I fell into.

I was dangerously underweight when I cried to another doctor who didn’t seem to care very much, acting like my maintained weight from last time was fine, despite me admitting to tactics to make myself heavier. It seems illogical, but I craved a lower number and didn’t want them to stop me from getting there. That day I broke and confessed. He didn’t care. He brushed me aside, telling me “you’ll never have a healthy relationship to food, but you just need to eat for your physical health.” Cool, I’ll just eat then, thanks, not like that’s the entire problem. I won’t eat. I can’t eat. That’s why I need help. But I’ll never get any better in his eyes, so what’s the point in trying? What’s the point in seeking help?He won’t give the help I need unless I fix the problem myself. The anorexia paradox.

Would things have turned out differently if I didn’t have her voice running through my head, “lose half a stone more then you’ll be of real concern”? Would I continually set another half a stone weight loss goal? Would I feel better about recovery if I didn’t hear his voice,“you’ll never have a healthy relationship with food,” each time I push? Would I feel like relapse wasn’t inevitable? I’m not playing the blame game, just speculating. Could it have been different? In the grand scheme of things, how much did it hurt me? I’m learning to trust my gut and she tells me it hurt. She tells me that if it keeps me up at night crying over a year later, it hurt. I’m not the only one, just another brick in the wall of anorectic’s medical professionals failed. Failed to treat with empathy. Failed to send to the correct services. Failed to understand. Failed to see that this illness is about more than weight.


Iona Murphy is an Mst(res) student at The University of St Andrews, navigating her way through her early twenties in her own messy way. Currently, she is working on her first collection of poems Numbers, throwing down messy ideas for a novel, and of course trying to finish her degree! All whilst stumbling through anorexia recovery and other mental illnesses. She has poems published in Black Bough, with more publications coming soon. You can keep up with her on Twitter: @write_with_Iona and Instagram: @ionasmurfy.


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