My name is Ali North and I was born and bred here in Northern Ireland.
I started suffering from anorexia nervosa in my early teens, following a culmination of life-changing events.
I battled for approximately 30 years during which time I received various forms of medical and psychiatric treatment - as an in-patient in medical and psychiatric wards and as an out-patient.
It was in my early twenties during one of my many hospital stays, in the deepest depths of despair and potentially facing death, that I swore to myself I would write a book on what living with an eating disorder, namely anorexia, is like. And I did...My book AN & i was published last month and is dedicated to all those who have suffered from and/or lost their lives to anorexia.
AN & i is in two parts: Part I tells my true story, that of a young girl from a troubled background in Northern Ireland who develops anorexia nervosa to cope with life.
The book follows me through a number of life challenges and tragic events, showing how my relationship with my eating disorder becomes my closest friend yet worst enemy.
The story brings us right up to present day as I am now a 40-something adult, ready to meet this dreadful illness head on and share my painful battle in the hope that my honesty can help others and raise awareness of living with an eating disorder.
In Part II AN & i looks at eating disorders in more detail; the mental health crisis in the UK and Northern Ireland; and I suggest help available for those in need.
Fighting anorexia is a life of unbearable self-inflicted mental and physical torture. It never stops. You are never let off the hook.
Everything you do, every word, every thought is dictated by your eating disorder. You are constantly being punished.
While I battled all those years against this eating disorder I never let it stop me trying to continue a ‘normal’ life. I excelled at school, I was educated to university level and I then married and had a family.
However, none of this was straightforward as my illness was always there.
Even what should be the most wonderful life experiences are always tinged with poignancy with anorexia continuing to make you pay the price for trying and wanting to be happy!
Mental health situation
The alarming number of stories in the news about sufferers of eating disorders highlights that this deadly disease can affect all corners of the globe and from all walks of life. It can hit old and young, black or white, celebrities and Joe Public alike.
Hopefully the increased media and disclosure of personal experiences such as mine can serve to highlight the desperate need for increased awareness, support and funding for mental health including eating disorders throughout the UK and particularly Northern Ireland.
In June 2017 there was good news for the people here. According to media reports, as part of a financial deal following an agreement between Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative government, there will be an extra £50 million towards mental health provision. Very welcome news! Let’s hope we can now get a dedicated eating disorder unit.
My advice to anyone out there in a similar situation or who knows someone who is showing symptoms of an eating disorder is this: get professional help as soon as the first signs appear.
This is a potentially deadly disease. Contact your doctor and/or one of the many specialised eating disorder organisations out there, such as fightED or Beat.
In Northern Ireland fightED (fighting Eating Disorders) is a charity which has been set up by two families, both of which had a daughter who suffered seriously from an eating disorder.
Due to the lack of adequate services or facilities in Northern Ireland, they had to fight to have their daughters treated by specialist units in London, where they eventually made a full recovery.
Their personal experiences inspired them to set up the charity in order to support, educate and empower other families affected by eating disorders. They offer support and practical tips for sufferers and their families.
As part of their support services they offer New Maudsley Model workshops, designed to help carers cope with the trauma a family experiences when an eating disorder affects a loved one. You can contact fightED on www.fighted.org.
Beat is the UK’s eating disorder charity. Beat’s vision is an end to the pain and suffering of eating disorders. They provide information and support through helplines which people can call, text or email.
Beat’s work is invaluable for the many sufferers who they have helped since they began in 1989. You can contact them on www.b-eat.co.uk.
And this is Eating Disorder Awareness Week running until March 4, 2018. This year Beat are focusing on the time between the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder emerging, and people finding help, which is, on average, three years. It is widely accepted that the sooner someone finds treatment for their eating disorder the more likely they are to make a full recovery, so this week Beat are posing the question ‘Why Wait?’ across social media.
As I say, AN & i is about raising awareness about mental health and trying to offer help an support to those who are vulnerable. If AN & i helps one person it will all have been worthwhile.
Eating disorders affect around 20,000 people in Northern Ireland, yet for many it is still an illness covered in shame. Thank you for reading this article!
*AN & i is published by Pegasus and is stocked by Waterstones, in store and online, priced £7.99.
It is also available on Amazon, and the Pegasus website.
Ali will feature on a BBC Radio Ulster broadcast called Picture Perfect Life, on mental health and the impact of social media, which is due to be broadcast on Sunday, March 18 at 12.30pm.