Ian Sockett, one of the UK’s estimated 10, 000 ‘manorexia’ suffers, has struggled with anorexia for more than 20 years. At the peak of his anorexia, he weighed just 5 stone at a height of 5ft 7in. He was in the deadly grip of what’s commonly known as a ‘woman’s disease’.
Before Ian’s anorexia, his future looked bright. He was a competitive, strong-minded and determined character. He was an A-grade student with a passion for running. He was in the top classes for everything and considered himself to be a good teenage athlete.
It was this passion for running, coupled with the death of his nan Doris, that sparked a devastating change in Ian’s life.
At just 15, not long after his nan died, Ian began depriving himself of food. He couldn’t understand how life for everyone else was just carrying on as normal. He was completely devastated by her death.
‘I thought why isn’t anyone else affected by this?’ he said. ‘It almost felt like a guilt just for being alive. My rationalisation was that if I was suffering or hurting then I could almost justify still being alive. I couldn’t go on being happy or jolly when someone had died. So I think that’s probably what started my anorexia.’
In the early days people didn’t really notice Ian’s weight loss because he was quite athletic anyway. His strong-minded and determined nature meant he was able to continuously cut down on the amount he ate. These characteristics became the driving force behind a disease that spanned more than two decades.
‘Most people would give in and eat something when they’re feeling hungry, but if I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t going to then nothing was gonna stop me. That’s the type of character I am. I would still continue with my running and I’d be pushing myself harder and further. It wasn’t because I wanted to loose weight and I think that’s a key message. It wasn’t because I thought it was good to be thin or even glamorous to be thin or anything like that. It was about persecuting myself. So there was none of this looking in the mirror and seeing a fat person looking back. There were no illusions in my eyes. I hated the way I looked, completely did.’
As Ian’s weight continued to plummet and his parents began to get more and more concerned. They managed to talk him into going to see a GP, who then referred him to a psychologist.
‘In the 80′s men didn’t get eating disorders. I don’t think they’d even really considered the possibility. I was sent to see a psychiatrist of some sort. I remember one of the questions he asked me was had there been any sexual abuse in my family. That just blew me apart and devastated me because I had two friends in the world by then and they were my mum and dad. They’d stood by me like a rock. So to have anyone suggest that was devastating to me. So that ensured that I didn’t seek any help for a long, long time. Clearly the GP didn’t mean to have that affect on me. I think it was just a lack of knowledge and awareness of what he was doing or saying. ‘
Ian’s case isn’t a one off. Many GPs still struggle to recognise anorexia in men and quite often blame the weight loss on stress or depression.
According to Sam Thomas, the founder of Men Get Eating Disorders Too, ‘GPs need to be more aware of the fact that men are suffering from eating disorders. Doctors are missing all the signs in men simply because they don’t consider anorexia or bulimia.’
If Ian’s GP had recognised his symptoms, his fight with anorexia might not have gone on as long as it did. And after his encounter with the psychiatrist, Ian avoided any further form of medical help. Years went by and his health continued to deteriorate as he continued to get thinner and thinner. Anorexia had taken over his life. Despite endless bids from his family for him to get help, Ian couldn’t see a way out.
‘Every now and then we’d have a bit of a family row or mum would break down in tears, that type of thing. I’d say I’d change and I’d do this and I’d do that. I didn’t want to be like I was. I didn’t enjoy it. I hated it. But the critical thing was if I could have gone to bed one day anorexic and woken up the next day a normal weight I’d have done it. But it’s the journey from one to the other that seems so long and so impossible. Trying to sustain that journey is almost incomprehendable. It’s a whole life change. It’s not just doing something over night.’
In December 2007, Ian’s anorexia took a turn for the worst. He’d been battling a chest infection and serious cold for months and all the antibiotics he’d been given weren’t making him better. In the end, Ian was admitted to hospital with a collapsed lung and severe ammonia.
The day after Ian was admitted to hospital, Norovirus struck. As a precautionary measure, he was put in complete isolation to protect him from catching the virus.
‘I think for the first time in my life I was pretty much scared. I was hooked up for a blood transfusion. I was on my own in this room. No one could visit because the hospital was closed to visitors. I was scared that I wasn’t going to come out. It was obviously quite serious and thank god my attitude was that I’m gonna get out of this hell-hole and I’m gonna do something about it.’
And that’s where Ian’s strong-mindedness and determination kicked in again. In the same way these characteristics had worked against him in the past, now that he wanted to get better they were the driving force to recovery.
Ian was determined to get out of hospital. It wasn’t easy. It was a long journey in terms of physical strength and overcoming his subconscious thoughts to not eat. Gradually day-by-day he’d try eating a little more than the day before. After a few months he was eating a lot more and was gaining weight. He was on track to being healthy once again.
Once he was out of hospital, he decided he wanted to fulfil his childhood dream of running. He also wanted to give something back to his parents and make them proud of him.
‘I’d always wanted to run a marathon when I was at school. I was determined that I was going to run one. I said I was going to do it for Macmillan cancer support. The reason for that is because I feel people who have cancer don’t have a choice. I was in control of my own destination in some respects and although anyone who gets an eating disorder doesn’t want to catch it, it’s only them that can change it. And I feel someone who’s got terminal cancer can’t do anything about it. They are stuck.’
‘I felt a huge empathy with Macmillan because they don’t just support the person who’s ill, they support the family around them. I think with eating disorders that’s something that people need to learn about because I still don’t think there’s very good family support. I’ve helped a few people out locally and it seems that no one has ever talked to the parents or the sister or the brother to try and explain to them what’s going through the sufferer’s mind. In my case, my mum and dad would just be left crying and devastated because they didn’t know why I was acting like I was.’
In 2009, Ian finally fulfilled his dream by completing his first marathon in Paris. He then followed this up by completing the London marathon in 2010 and 2011. In 2012 he carried the Olympic torch to mark his contribution to the community for talking openly about his anorexia.
‘I felt like the luckiest person in the world for suddenly having my life back. My parents were amazing. So many parents these days would just kick their kid up the arse and say f*** off, but having my parents stand by me and refuse to give up was a massive incentive. I’m a very emotional, passionate, wear my heart on my sleeve type of person. And I think that passion drove me on a lot of the time.’
‘All I’m trying to do now, if I can get the media attention, is just speak out, raise awareness and talk about eating disorders because when it happened to me I think there was so much hidden in shame. Parents were often blamed and literally shrouded in shame. It’s an awful thing to have to face. It’ll be great for my parents to be able to hold their heads up high rather than look down at their feet because people were staring at them.’
‘By me talking out about my anorexia and trying to break some of the taboos maybe it wont be quite as hard for someone who is suffering to come forward and admit something has gone wrong and that they need some support.’
Although male anorexia is more talked about, we still need to raise awareness. There is still a stigma around eating disorders, and we all need to change that. They are not something that only teenage girls get. Anyone can develop an eating disorder. By increasing awareness, we can break the taboo of men getting eating disorders and hopefully help many sufferers who suffer in silence.
If you’re suffering from an eating disorder and need help please visit www.b-eat.co.uk. If you are over 18 you can call their helpline on 0845 634 1414.
The Helpline is open Monday to Friday 10.30am to 8.30pm and Saturdays 1.00pm – 4.30pm or you can email [email protected]
B-eat also have a youth helpline which you can call on 0845 634 7650. They offer a call back service so if you want to save the cost of the call please just ask. The ‘Youthline’ is open Monday to Friday evenings from 4.30pm to 8.30pm and Saturdays 1.00pm – 4.30pm.