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I’m going to see if karate can help fix an eating disorder

The day I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, I went to a karate lesson. Now, I’ve made a plan to reach black belt in karate, and, whilst I’m at it, I’m going to beat anorexia, writes Sam Collins.

Sam Collins

On Wednesday of this week, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

I’d finally given myself a kick to visit the GP, when my weight continued to dip towards the danger zone, and I was seemingly powerless to stop it. The consultation ended with a prescription for Fluoxetine (an anti-depressant commonly used in people with eating disorders), and a referral to therapy.

I’ve taken up the referral, been in contact with the therapists, and should be getting my first appointment soon. I haven’t picked up my prescription and, rightly or wrongly, with a breastfeeding baby, I have no intention to.

Straight after my visit to the GP, I went off to pick up my son from playgroup. My friends were there, all with the knowledge of where I’d been, but no-one (including me) really knew what to say. I mean, what do you say to someone who is, in effect, starving themselves? What do you say to your good friend, when they refuse point-blank to eat what their body needs to stay healthy? I’ve no idea. There’s nothing anyone can really say.

After playgroup had finished, I went home. And I cried. A lot.

My son had fallen asleep in the car, so I laid him on the sofa and let him sleep.

Then I sobbed my heart out. I cried all over the baby, who just sat there eating my hair. I cried all over my sofa cushions. I even cried all over the dog, who had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on. I just cried, and I let the blackness swallow me up.

If you’ve never had an eating disorder, or been a self-harmer of any kind, the idea of someone being anorexic is alien. The most common question is “why don’t you just eat?”. And, you know what? It’s a valid question. Why don’t I just eat? Why do I push myself to breaking point, when I could just have that last slice of pizza or a piece of chocolate cake?

Because I can’t. Genuinely, I can’t do it. As much as my body is screaming for me to reach out and put some kind of extra substance in my mouth, anorexia says that I can’t. This illness, condition, whatever you want to call it, is the most debilitating, evil little thing I’ve ever had the displeasure of going through.  Genuinely, I cannot explain how unbelievably painful this is.

I am so hungry I don’t even have the words to describe it. I’m so hungry that I burst into tears on holiday. I so desperately wanted to eat a piece of fudge, a donut, another piece of pizza. Things I’d previously enjoyed hurt me more than I can say. I miss being able to have two sugars in my coffee. I miss hot chocolate with squirty cream. I miss the sensation of feeling full, without having to feel guilty or nauseous at the same time. I miss who I used to be. And I’m so cold, God I’m cold.

And the absolute worst part of the whole thing is knowing what it’s doing to the people who love me. My husband is beside himself, even though he won’t pressure me to do anything.

My friends are scared. Even the most sturdy of them are looking at me, wondering at what point it’s going to stop. All they want is for me to eat a piece of cheesecake or the toast crust like the Sam that they used to know. I can see the fear in their faces.

And I’m scared. I’m so so scared. Because this isn’t me who is doing this, it’s not. It’s something else. I can see how thin I am. I can see the weight dropping off me and I’m powerless to stop it.

I have five kids, five. One of whom is only a baby. And all I can think is: Is this really how it ends? Is this how my life gets snuffed out? In a sea of hunger, guilt and self-loathing?

No. No, it’s not.

Because, a few years ago, when one of my daughters was afraid that I was going to die, I promised that I’d live to 112, and that is precisely what I intend to do.

Or, if I’m destined to die early, let it be like Steve Irwin, with a stingray barb through the heart, not as a decrepit skeleton in a hospital bed.

I won’t do it. So I’m going to have to fight this thing.

It’s going to be hard, my God it will be hard, and it will likely get worse before it gets better, but I’m not about to give up and die.

That same day that I got my diagnosis, I was meant to go for a karate lesson. The kids really wanted me to go. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was terrified as it was, and I was really paranoid about how I was going to look in leggings and a t-shirt.  I thought people would stare. I couldn’t do it.

Except that I did. I forced myself out of the house, drove all the way there and walked in. At one point I very nearly ran back out, but I made it on to the mats. And I did the full hour, anorexic or not. I’ve never been good at sit-ups or press-ups, and I’m even worse at the moment with my twiggy arms and pathetic muscles, but I had a go. I learnt the first eight moves of Tokyo.

And it was at that point, when my skinny little arm did a punch next to the much larger wrist of my instructor, that I realised something. I need to fix this.

It turns out that martial arts are an approved therapy for anorexia, and other trauma-related conditions. They build self-awareness, confidence and enhance motor control.

So, now I have a plan. The syllabus says that an adult should take 2-3 years to reach black belt. So that’s what I’m going to do. And, whilst I’m at it, I’m going to beat anorexia. The black belt exam alone is 3 hours long, so there’s no way I can do it looking and feeling like I do now.

So I’m going to be the Guinea pig. I’m going to see if karate can help fix an eating disorder.

And, if it does, I’m going to use it to help other people in my situation. If I manage to sort myself out, if I can do this, I want to help other women find the confidence to fix themselves too. I know this is a big endeavour, and I have no idea what my karate school will think of this plan, but I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to see if, in two years’ time, I can go from an anorexic novice, to a healthy-weighing 1st Dan with the ability to round kick someone on the side of the head. And I’m going to document every step. Every high, every low. Until either I beat it, or it beats me. I want to help people in the same situation as me to get out. I want to help reduce the mortality rate; starting with myself, and then with others. No one else needs to die from traumas that weren’t their fault.

In the meantime, to my loved ones in particular, bear with me. Carry on being the safe spaces in a sea of traumas. Let me feel safe to eat, or not eat, and know I’ll not be judged. Carry on being the absolute wonders that you have been. Without you, I’d have been dead already.

And, to all the other people suffering with Anorexia, or whatever your demons are, you are not alone. We’re here, all 1.25+ million of us. We know the hurt you are going through and we know how hard it is to get out. But, please, keep fighting. Let the circle of abuse, of pain, of self-loathing, let it stop with you. Be the one who breaks the cycle.

You can follow Sam’s journey at https://www.facebook.com/The-Pierced-Protagonist-597328374036254/.

Posted on: 11th March 2020