Jason Keiron Carter, 23, grew up in the small village of Carisbrooke, on the Isle of Wight. He lived with his parents and two older brothers.
When he came out at the age of 12 but knew from a young age he was different to the other children at school.
It was when he was around 13 that problems began and caught him off guard. He tells Attitude that one Christmas he watched something on TV that made him look at his body in a completely different way.
He started restricting his food intake and exercising more. When he was 14, Jason managed to gain some weight with the support of the dietician and CAMHS but it wasn't until he was 21 that he realised he had an eating disorder.
In an candid interview with Attitude, Jason opens up about struggling with an eating disorder and how he is now able to stay healthy and focused.
What was school like? Did you have a close network of friends?
School was OK. I generally had quite good friends and I knew I could talk to them about things. However, I was verbally bullied for being gay in years 9 to 11 because it was something I didn’t keep secret. I was proud to be open and honest, even if that meant it was tougher at school. My friends were always there for me though, so it made going to school each day more bearable.
What are your feelings about your early years when you look back?
I have quite happy memories of growing up. My family was close and we had a lot of family friends. We spent most of our summers on the beach, as being on the Isle of Wight my parents had always thought there’s no need to go abroad. So my childhood was very happy, until about the age of 13 when problems began and caught me off guard.
When did you first feel different, in terms of your sexuality?
I first felt different about my sexuality when I was nine years. I was pressured to have a girlfriend, as you do in year 5, and knew I really didn’t want that. I knew I was gay when I was 11 and came out to my friends when I was 12 -- my best friend at the time also came out so it made things easier. I had a crush on someone in school and that was the reason I told my friends.
Were you comfortable identifying as gay?
When I came out to my friends, I was comfortable at school identifying as gay. I was happy to be different and it felt as if some weight had been lifted. I felt more free and I could talk about my crush with my friends, which helped a lot. I kept it a secret from my parents for a few more years, which in hindsight did not help. I know that it has to be the right time, but I do wish I had told them sooner and the weight could have been lifted earlier. But you cannot change the past. You have to accept it and learn from it.
Did you come out to your parents? How did they react?
It was later in life when I decided to tell my parents. I was 17, and I remember it was summer. I had always been scared to tell them because I thought everything would change at home. I was worried about everyone’s reaction and what would happen afterwards. I finally told them because they noticed I was upset about a guy I was seeing, so I decided to tell them I was gay and about the guy. It was actually quite funny, (not to downgrade how big this is for some people, as coming out is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do), but my parents said: “Thank God, he’s finally come out!” So after all my anxiety they knew and were just waiting for me to be ready, and we all just got on with our lives. My dad has always been proud to say he has a gay son, I think he thinks it’s the thing but I know my parents love me and just want to see me happy.
Tell us about the early stages of your eating disorder. When do you feel it started?
My eating disorder started when I was 13. I remember seeing something on the TV after Christmas one year that made me look at my own body in a completely different way and I wanted to lose a few pounds. From that moment I started restricting and exercising a lot more. In the summer of the following year my weight had considerably dropped. My parents were worrying and had been trying to get me to eat. My school friends also noticed, but I told them I was fine. It reached the point where my mum forced me to the doctors, and I was told I needed to gain weight. I could see how upset my mum was, so I tried to gain weight. On the Isle of Wight there isn’t any support for someone with an eating disorder, so I saw the dietician at the hospital and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for a while.
How did your eating disorder manifest?
I would restrict my daily intake of food. I weighed myself then my breakfast in the morning, and I used to wake up early so my dad wouldn’t see me doing it. I gave most of my lunch to my friends at school so my parents would think I had eaten all of it. I would get home from school, weigh myself, and exercise until dinner time, which reduced my anxiety and kept my mind busy, not thinking about the food I would soon have to eat. My parents always made me sit at the table during dinner time and I remember all the arguments when I didn’t eat much and I left loads on my plate. My mum used to plead with me, and I felt guilty that I couldn’t do it. Each day would be the same and all I wanted to do was lose more weight.
Did you realise you had a problem at the time or was it a gradual issue that slowly became more serious?
At the time I didn’t realise I had a problem, not until I was 21. When I was 14, I had managed to gain some weight back with the support of the dietician and CAMHS, then I managed to maintain my weight. I still kept a lot of my old rituals, I just couldn’t break them. I would weigh myself, restrict, exercise and sometimes vomit after eating. I just accepted I had issues around food that wouldn’t go away but I still managed to keep my weight at the lower end of healthy.
Was there a defining moment when you realised you needed help?
Yes, I remember that moment as if it was yesterday. I had just finished my second year at university, and gone through two big, messy break ups. I was in a dark place. I had just moved back home for summer, and my parents had just got a puppy. My dad was trying to train him with eating his dinner, so he was getting everyone in the family to eat something with him watching you before giving him his food. He had given me a bowl of Rice Krispies. I told him I couldn’t eat even one of them because it was too close to our dinner time and I didn’t want the extra calories. He looked at me and said: “Jason, you need to get help with this or it is going to rule you for the rest of your life.” I knew I needed help, so I went to the doctor and he told me I needed to see the eating disorder service. I had to wait for three months until I could see someone, with there being no support on the Isle of Wight. I had to get the right help back at uni in Bournemouth. At the beginning of my final year I started going to weekly outpatient appointments with a therapist, and I have been in and out of treatment since.
Did you feel shame around it? Was it difficult to ask for help?
I felt immense shame. It was extremely difficult to ask for help. I felt guilty and that I wasn’t sick enough. I was underweight but it wasn’t like what I have seen in the media. I felt I was cheating someone out of an appointment. However, my therapist told me I had every right to be there and that I needed help. I still feel guilty now, I am still underweight and I am still an outpatient with the eating disorder service. But I don’t feel shame any more. I know it’s OK to have to ask for help, and that everyone has a mental health that sometimes isn’t 100 per cent. I guess I tell myself it’s OK not to be OK.
What was the biggest struggle in overcoming it?
I haven’t yet overcome my eating disorder. He is still there, walking by my side each and every day. I used to wish that I never went on that first diet, but I have been told by my therapist that wishing for things you can’t change doesn’t help and you have to accept them. I have stopped dwelling on this because I know it is impossible to change the past! I feel better than I was 18 months ago when I started outpatient treatment. However, I still know there’s a long way to go. I still weigh myself often, and I restrict my daily intake of food. Some days are better than others, and those are the ones I keep fighting on for. I fight for a healthier future!
What did you find most helpful?
The most helpful thing I do is talk. I first tell my fiancé how I am feeling, and he supports me and gives me the words I need to carry on with recovery. I am honest with my therapist, and I tell them what is really worrying me and how I actually feel. I know talking is key in recovery and keeping it all bottled up will not help. I did this when I was 13, and I am not doing it any more. My fiancé has been my rock and I can see he tries to help me the best way he can. He motivates me to get better and to not give up. I have always felt guilty that I put him through a lot but he continually tells me he loves me and will always be there for me. We’re getting married in 2022 and I have told myself I need to be healthy for our big day.
How do you stay focused and healthy now?
I stay focused by writing down all my feelings in the moment. If I am anxious, scared, worried or upset, I write it down. I find it helpful to see everything down on paper and I find it easier to move forwards and on with my day. It’s a massive challenge to do this and it takes practice, as I still struggle. But I also write down the good things in life and I read them over and over, just to remind myself why I am choosing recovery. I’ve also taken over our home by covering the mirrors and kitchen with positive quotes and motivational phrases. I feel guilty as my fiancé has to look at it all day, but he knows it helps me and has accepted me for who I am. I try to tell myself every day Food is love. Food is life. It’s my little mantra that I repeat in my head.
What is the best piece of advice you'd give somebody going through similar problems?
Not to keep it bottled up. Please don’t think you have to suffer in silence. Talking is the most important thing in recovering from any mental illness. People want to help you, even if it might be hard to get your feelings across, people will give you the time you need. It isn’t something you can sort out overnight, it will take time and you can’t rush yourself. Everyone is different. But try to do something to support yourself each day. It may look tough and unbearable but the more you do something you are uncomfortable with, the easier it will become over time -- like second nature. You are strong and you’ve got this. Everyone has the right to recover.
In our new issue, we look at the meaning behind tattoos, what it is like to be a trans man in a gym, living with cerebral palsy and Dr Ranj delves into the ways some of us regularly harm our bodies.