When Megan Devaney began her diet she secretly enjoyed watching the weight fall off her body. Only 13, the Castlebar native says most of her friends wouldn't have understood her desire to skip meals.
She lied to her teachers about eating lunch and convinced her mother she had tummy aches. She lied to doctors who tested her for diabetes and coeliac disease. For the first time she felt in control of her body.
“I knew I was underweight and could hear the doctors but my brain wouldn’t let me believe it,” says the now 18-year-old psychology student. “Even when I was underweight, I thought I was bigger than I was.”
“Anorexia is not about looking good, it’s not about being thin and beautiful and perfect. It’s a serious illness that sufferers themselves can’t even explain.
“Lying in bed with pain at 3am because your ribs are sticking into the mattress is not pretty. Spending money to go to the cinema whilst spending the entire movie thinking about the apple you ate that morning is not fun.”
Megan was diagnosed with anorexia and hospitalised when she was 14-years-old. She spent four days in hospital before being referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for weekly counselling. Her mother took time off work to look after Megan and monitor her eating patterns.
“Having my mom prepare my breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks as per my meal plan was terrifying. Every day was the same, sitting down for my routine meals with my heart pounding so much I swore it would stop, crying after eating ‘unsafe’ foods because I felt like a failure, sitting curled up beside the fire with a thousand layers to keep my bare bones warm.”
However, deep down Megan knew she needed to eat. “I knew if I didn’t I could die so I told myself I needed to do this to be happy.”
She spent one month at home before returning to school where she focused on her studies as a means of distraction.
“When other girls my age started going to discos and house parties, I stayed in my own little bubble at home. They would wear skirts and shorts and I felt I was too big. [Later on] when I was too thin the clothes didn’t fit me properly. I got really anxious when I went out and wasn’t able to talk to people.”
The Shona Project
It took Megan three years to work up the courage to begin going out and spending time with friends. She stopped attending the counselling sessions last summer when she turned 18. She has completed the first year of her degree in psychology and sociology at the University of Limerick and hopes to eventually work in mental health to help others with eating disorders. She is also a youth ambassador for The Shona Project (an online forum for teenage girls) where she blogs about her slow recovery from her eating disorder.
However, Megan admits that she still struggles to eat normally and is considering returning to counselling. “In the past month or two I’ve realised I still need support. The thoughts do come back and they’re hard to deal with. My weight fluctuates a lot, it’s constantly up and down.”
She tries to avoid fitness and diet fads on Instagram, saying they only re-awaken the loathing she once felt when looking in the mirror.
Young people should focus on living life and fight back against the feelings of self-hatred which plague the minds of teenage girls and boys worldwide, says Megan. “There’s so much to life, you don’t want to go down that path. Just know that you’re not alone and there are so many opportunities out there.”