Bedridden in hospital on the brink of death, and being fed replacement supplement drinks through a tube, Sophia is only 19 years old.
No longer able to stomach real food, this teenager from London is suffering with anorexia nervosa, an illness that kills more adolescents than any other psychiatric illness due to organ failure and suicide.
Sophia’s journey began three years ago, originally setting out to become “fit and healthy”.
“At first I was overweight and just wanted to get fit and healthy, so started going to the gym and changing my diet,” Sophia said.
“But due to chronic stress and life events, it led to me becoming depressed which is when my bulimia started, which then led to me being diagnosed with anorexia.”
A “healthy balanced diet” soon unraveled into a diet of strictly drinking tea and eating cucumbers.
Unaware of needing help, it was Sophia’s sister who found out about her bulimia and reported it to her parents.
“I never realised I needed help,” she said. “ I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.
“It was my family who insisted I got help.”
Currently an inpatient in hospital, Sophia has been in and out of hospital for the past two to three years.
“Currently I am an inpatient in a hospital in Glasgow away from all my friends and family.
“I have lost all my social life and lost interest in all activities I used to partake in.”
For the interim, as they work through therapy sessions, and a re-feeding diet plan, Sophia is fed supplements through a tube to avoid further vomiting.
“After vomiting so much I collapsed,” she said. “My body needs extra nutrients and they don’t want to run the risk of me vomiting anymore.”
Sophia has been admitted to hospital on several occasions after collapsing from low blood sugars, and having a critically low BMI, which has brought her “close to death”.
“I collapsed and if it wasn’t in a hospital, I would have died,” she said.
“They keep me on bed rest as I’m unable to walk and look after myself and have to have a nurse with me 24/7.”
Her precarious closeness with her own mortality has impacted those close to her.
“My family really struggle with it as I’m close to death.
“It’s put a lot of stress and pain on my family and friends and they find it hard to see me and be with me.”
Although Sophia is currently at her worst ever condition, she still sees herself as overweight and doesn’t know whether she can ever see herself being comfortable with her weight.
Despite this, Sophia wishes that people knew anorexia is “not just about being skinny”.
“It’s much more complex than that.
“It’s a mental health condition and most people think we just want to be skinny but that’s not the case.
“Like for me, it’s about punishing myself for things that have happened in life and not feeling worthy of being alive and living.
“Depression plays a huge part. Not wanting to live.”
It’s a commonly held myth that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice; instead they are developed from a complex interaction of genetic and personality vulnerabilities interacting with social and environmental triggers.
The recovery process for anorexia and bulimia sufferers, wrought with ups and downs, has no time frame, as it is dependent on the individual patient.
Of those who survive, 50% recover, 30% improve, and 20% remain chronically ill (1); the average time it takes a patient to fully recover is seven years (2)
In the UK, the average age for female inpatients was 15, and for males, a mere 13. Startling, children under the age of 5 had also been admitted (3).
In Australia, it is estimated there is over 900,000 people currently living with an eating disorder (4), with approximately 25% of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa suffers being male (5).
Sophia’s advice for others battling with anorexia is “to seek help sooner rather than later because the later it gets the stronger the anorexia gets, which means it’s a lot harder to treat and the illness gets stronger.”
If you’re in Australia, and have concerns, you can phone the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673 or chat online at www.butteflyfoundation.com.au
If you’re in the UK, you can phone the Anorexia & Bulimia Care hotline on 03000 11 12 13.
(1) Steinhausen, H.C. (2002). “The Outcome of Anorexia Nervosa in the 20th Century.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 1284-1293
(2) The Butterfly Foundation (2016). “Insights in Recovery: A consumer-informed guide for health practitioners working with people with eating disorders.” (https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/about-us/information-and-resources/insights-in-recovery/).
(3) Health and Social Care Information Centre (hscic.gov.uk/article/3880/Eating-disorders-Hospital-admissions-up-by-8-per-cent-in-a-year)
(4) The Butterfly Foundation (2012). “Paying the Price: The Economic and Social Impacts of Eating Disorders in Australia.” (https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/assets/Uploads/Butterfly-report-Paying-the-Price-Executive-Summary.pdf).
(5) The Buttefly Foundation (n.d.). “Myths about Eating Disorders”. (https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/understand-eating-disorders/eating-disorder-myths/).