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John's Story - Part Two

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Names have been changed to honour anonymity

Restriction led to worse problems

Through my studies I had some awareness of how the body worked, so I strategised very well about how I could take away as much as I could from my body in terms of nourishment whilst still functioning.

I was dedicated and became very good at this routine. I don’t really remember any hiccups, apart from one spring day when I had gone to University, walked for miles and then when I got back to the train station felt so faint that I needed to sit down.

At the end of my restriction, I had lost a large amount of weight, although I don’t think I was happy with this. One of the things that didn’t change during my restriction was how I felt when I looked in the mirror – whatever I saw I still did not like it.

The reason for that point being the end of my restriction was the kindness and curiosity of a fellow student on my course. I had not seen him in a while and ran into him in the hall, where he asked in a concerned manner whether I was OK as I looked ill.

I had no clue what he was talking about but remember going to the public toilet to take a look in the mirror, which is when I realised how much I had changed. That day marked the end of my limitless restricting and I had stopped cutting, but the battle with self-harm (through self-injury and eating) was far from over.

Major life changes contributed to the struggle

I managed to keep my weight stable for a while as I was happy but then I was derailed by relationship difficulties and bereavement. My self-injury became fuelled by anger rather than depression and escalated which required hospital visits on two occasions.

I started eating more, I ate secretly again and I tried to deal with difficult emotions through food. I remember that the way I engaged with food to cope with emotions changed too. Similar to my self-injury, I at times ate when angry to punish myself, but also I would get really anxious when shopping. I remember that quite often I would be in a supermarket not knowing what to have to eat and the stress rising. In the end, I bought everything that I had considered.

There was a weak thought that I would not eat it all, but the reality was that I did. I calmed myself down by eating a large amount of food in one sitting at times. Despite this, the pattern had changed and I was not overeating or bingeing all the time and my weight rose again but not as much as it had in the past.

A man sitting with his head in his hands and looking unhappy
Compassionate people provided encouragement

In the end, over time and on my own, I was able to smooth the waves of my self-harming behaviours and find better coping strategies. When I say on my own, I feel that I must clarify that the kindness and care of my partner and other people, sometimes strangers, has enabled me to look after myself better.

Alongside my peer at university, I felt one nurse had a particularly powerful impact on my journey. I had been to hospital a few years before due to damage sustained from self-injury, lied about the cause of the injury and not caused any concern at A&E. This time was different.

I had injured myself in anger at home and although there was lots of blood as a result, I was reluctant to have it treated. My partner talked me into going to hospital and when I showed the nurse my wound she looked at me. She asked what happened and I was honest.

Her reply was wonderful, so simple yet so powerful. She simply asked filled with kindness: “Why would you do that?”. There was no judgment there, just pure wanting to understand what had driven me to injure myself so severely that stitches were needed.

The real turning point

This again was a turning point and I came out of that experience deciding that I did not want to self-injure anymore. So far, I have managed this aspect of self-care and I hope that it may last for a long time to come.

I was also able to give up my use of pornography around 10 years ago and in terms of my eating… well that’s a somewhat different story. There are still aspects of the emotional eater in me and depending on what is going on in my life, it is easier sometimes to have a healthy relationship with food than at others. Especially when there are significant and upsetting events in my life, I find it tempting to go back to food to soothe and cover up what I am feeling so I do not have to deal with it.

But I manage and I am happy with how I manage this. Mirrors still are not my friend and although I rarely like what I see, often I am OK with it or indifferent to it. Of course, on a bad day, I dislike what I see, but the intensity has worn off. It’s not perfect, but overall, it is pretty good and much better than what it used to be like some 20 years ago.

A nurse holding the hand of a patient and comforting them


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