Every experience of an eating disorder is unique.
Sharing stories from personal experience allows for reflection, understanding and connection.
The personal stories below have been shared by those touched by an eating disorder, whether that be the person themselves, their family or friends. These stories give insight into the challenges and triumphs faced when managing and recovering from an eating disorder.
I sit here staring at the cursor blinking away, wondering how things ever got to the point where I would be lead down the road of an eating disorder. As I think more and more about it, I wonder why I am so surprised - in hindsight, it now seems that it was inevitable.
To those that knew me growing up, I was a very active, funny, obsessive, little smart-ass that always like to get in my two cents worth. I was desperately shy around new people - in most situations I struggled to speak up and be heard.
What belied this active, cheeky exterior, was a serious lack of self-confidence and self-worth. This continued on throughout my adolescence - maintaining, but seemingly not getting any worse. Then one day, I made a decision that millions of people make every every week - I decided to go on a diet and lose some weight.
What would ensue would be a long battle with an eating disorder over many years. This fight would become a 12 round heavyweight battle - fought with the toughest opponent I had never seen - in what could only have been described as a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckled stoush, fought with my hands tied behind my back - this was never going to be a fair fight.
What made this fight so difficult, is that for a long time, I didn’t even know the opponent I was really fighting. For so long I had believed I was fighting the lack of will power and desire required to be ‘perfect’. It wasn’t until I saw a story on T.V that I realised this wasn't a battle with myself - this was a fight with ‘E.D’.
Realising what I was truly fighting was the first win I had had throughout this dour struggle. But while the real opponent had finally been unmasked, this was only the beginning. There would be fewer ups than downs over the coming years as I fought the belief that I wasn’t worth fighting for.
The breakthrough came when I took the giant leap of faith to ask for help. This had occurred once before some years earlier with almost disastrous consequences. This time however would be different. A little bit of luck in the form of being introduced to the right doctor, had unknowingly turned this unfair fight my way.
It was now two against one - and the numbers were in my favour for the first time. It took time to believe that recovery was even remotely possible. As the stranglehold of ‘E.D’ slowly began to weaken, there were flashes of what the future might hold.
Bam. Pow. Crash - we had entered the 12th round and I had come out swinging. Bloodied and bruised, this new found vision of a ‘normal’ life had me fighting the eating disorder and not myself.
Fast forward a few years on without any disordered eating in sight, and an epiphany had occurred - unlike a similar situation which had taken place years earlier, where suddenly one day I had realised that I could no longer recall the last time I had had an episode, this epiphany was even more significant - as it had come through what would be for anyone, one of the toughest times a person can face.
Just days after the end of a long-term relationship with my ex-partner, I realised that this situation in years gone by, would have been a guaranteed trigger for ‘E.D’ to exploit. On this occasion however, ‘E.D’ was nowhere to be seen. There was just a quiet inner peace that left me knowing all would be OK, and life would go on.
Almost nine years on and the only thoughts that fill my head, are all the places I can’t wait to visit, and all the things that I hope to achieve. I don't expect life will always be smooth sailing - but the self-belief that I can conquer any opponent that foolishly decides to take me on, leaves me safe in the knowledge, that the light will never become dark again.
A message to struggling fellow warriors.
Yesterday, I wore my Butterfly Foundation necklace proudly above my regalia as I walked up on stage to receive my arts degree.
For so long, I thought this wouldn't happen. For years, I'd see the graduation photos of my friends on Facebook and be overcome by a sinking feeling and self hatred, feeling the old, familiar hopelessness and certainty that this would never happen for me.
I'd even stumble on inspirational messages of overcoming adversity and feel even worse. I thought there would never be a hope that I would be THAT person, now writing these words.
I'm here to tell you that you CAN be that person. I know of the devil that says you’re an exception to the rule. You are not.
Dreams, hopes and ambitions are there, even if you don't see them or feel them, even if you need help to unearth them.
Believe for a moment they are there. Believe that it is possible.
Those little sparks of hope, of future, even if they are clouded by disbelief, sadness or hopelessness- these are the little sparks to cling to.
Chasing those little sparks with pugnacious persistence, choosing to fight and pick myself up over and over and over again led to this photo being taken. Me, my Harry Potter cape, hope and gratitude.
But it didn't start with this.
It started with deciding that I wanted to live, which I consider one of my bravest accomplishments of all.
It started with fighting for that life in the smallest of ways and that continues to this day.
I chose to get out of bed, to shower, to eat. On a good day, I managed to do all three. I chose to reach out for support. To go to uni for a tute or a lecture.
Not to think of the rest of my degree or life, but this week, this day, this lesson, this hour, this moment.
These are the tiny acts of courage in giving myself permission to realize the truth that I am more and worth more.
This is not a story of "one of those people" who somehow "make it".
I continue to fight every day.
Recovery is not all sunshine, rainbows and magical fluffy unicorns (although it has been reported they appear at random intervals).
I still have very difficult moments and I have them often. But that is okay.
I am human and doing the best I can, accepting the moment and choosing to move forward, loving myself regardless.
That is the act of recovery for me.
You are not an exception to the possibility, challenge and even joy of this journey.
The decision to begin, however small, starts with you. Every small triumph is a triumph not to be sneezed at but deeply commended. And you are never alone.
I call on the part of you untouched by this disease. I call on the graceful fighter. I call on you to nurture the light within, to listen to the little voice willing to try for the first or zillionth time. I call on you to join me in this journey of discovering, nurturing and growing the self, no matter how certain you feel this isn't possible.
It is still a decision I make every single day and will be making for the rest of my life.
But I wouldn't have it any other way.
My mum thought that because I wasn't into makeup and fashion that I couldn't have an eating disorder. Mum couldn't understand that I was doing it because I felt so bad about myself. I believed that I was disgusting and people were repulsed by me. No one could see that my illness was in my mind. Not my parents, my doctors or even my friends. The voices in my head convinced me that certain foods were out to poison me and that no one would love me if I didn't follow a strict way of life. For me it was all about being able to say that I did have control over things and person power.
I was exercising obsessively that my heart rate dropped to drastically, which is really unhealthy. When I went to the cardiologist she looked at me and said I seemed like a fit, healthy young girl. No one ever asked me how I felt or why I was feeling this way. It wasn't until my health deteriorated so badly that I was hospitalised. I was then faced with the reality of my illness.
Upon reflection, if there was anything that could have helped me, it would have been people recognising early that I was quite unwell. Education would have been so helpful for me and my family. I didn't know what depression and anxiety or an eating disorder was before I had this myself. I had to ask my doctor to explain to my parents what an eating disorder was.
But I am so grateful that I was then given that information and amazingly was put in contact with some eating disorder specialists in Perth that were able to help me through my journey to recovery. I lived in Canberra where there were absolutely no options for me and my family. My parents identified that I needed urgent help, so they took me all the way to the other side of the country to get me the help I needed. I will be forever grateful for that.
A carer’s story of hope and possibility.
Could an experience of having an eating disorder become a breakthrough to something else? This is a story of hope and possibility. My intention is to share with you what got me through the painful experience as a carer when my daughter Olivia was admitted into hospital dangerously unwell with anorexia nervosa in March 2015.
Anorexia nervosa didn’t happen all of a sudden. It snuck in slowly under the guise of ‘healthy exercise’ and ‘healthy food’, which became obsessive and eventually dangerous. This was a shock. The butterfly foundation was very helpful with giving us advice to get informed about the eating disorder and seeking the right multi disciplinary team specific for Olivia’s needs.
There were days that the intensity of this journey was too much and I was depleted. If I couldn’t find a way of helping Olivia with her extreme emotions between therapist appointments it was a relief to know that I could ask her to call the Butterfly foundation help line for urgent support. This was such a gift in moments of crisis.
Making sure that I did not isolate and stayed connected with my friends and family was important. Also asking for help to share some of the care and to explain to Olivia that it was necessary for me to take some time out to build energy reserves. This was also good modelling, ensuring that I got sleep, ate nourishing food and took supplements to support my nervous system along with walking in nature whenever possible.
As a vital part of self-care it was very supportive to have my own therapist. Conversations with friends and family released some of the pressure however dealing with my deeper personal feelings of fear, self-judgement, grief, exhaustion and any confusion was best handled with my therapist. This experience became a catalyst to an even deeper journey of self-understanding that was personally healing and life changing. My therapist also supported me to keep my own life moving forward, modelling a healthy life and to complete my further studies in counselling.
Overall, what helped me most was the perspective that I was gently holding with both hands, the belief that this was a journey of growth, that the difficulties would pass, that recovery is possible and that every day was one day closer. I would remind myself to never lose hope and to stay connected with my daughter’s true essence inside of her and communicate with this part of her from my heart through my eyes especially when I couldn’t find the words.
Deeply I believed that this was Olivia’s ‘Heroines’s Journey’ (Joseph Campbell, Hero’s journey) and that from this ordeal she would emerge with her unique gift for the world and a sense of life purpose, which she had struggled to find before.
This has been a transformational journey for both of us. Two years down the track Olivia is fully recovered and studying in New York to become an Eating disorder recovery coach and I am counselling in private practice. This experience has made us stronger, wiser and clearer. We are both living life fully and on purpose and most of all have developed more capacity for appreciation and joy. This is our story of hope and possibility.
I remember the day I chose life, which in my eyes is one of my biggest accomplishments. Being trapped in a world of constant obsession I had forgotten what it was to truly live, to truly love. I had this desire to find happiness but was so caught up in this whirlwind of hate and anger. Being the little girl who was always quiet around new faces and making it her goal to please other people and fit in was the only thing I knew.
It started during the transition from primary school to high school, being labelled as the “biggest” of my group in primary school didn’t exactly help and I remember wanting to change that. It innocently started with a diet and then spiraled into a full blown obsession that circled my mind constantly.
At home I was being told I was looking thinner and needed to start eating more but then when I went out to parties and saw friends at school, people started complementing me on how good I looked and I had friends tell me at parties that I had such a good body. Never being told anything positive about my appearance when I was younger, I felt immediately overwhelmed that people where complementing me. Having these two conflicting comments come in, I started getting more and more confused. There were my parents telling me that I needed to gain more weight and there were my friends telling me how great I looked.
It got to the point where I started taking it too far and just blocked everyone I cared about out of my life. I was so fixated on my external appearance that I didn’t recognise all the internal attributes I had to offer the world. It wasn’t until lying in a hospital bed realising how far I had taken it that I wondered how I let it get this far. I would always tell myself I would start eating again but it get getting harder and harder each day. It’s like an addiction, once you’re accustomed to it it’s so hard to get out of. It was that last day in hospital that I looked in the mirror and I clearly remember telling myself that I was going to make the most of my life because I had already lost a chunk of my life to this illness and no longer wanted to be controlled by it. Recovery wasn’t an easy journey but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Once I stopped caring about what other people would think of me and started focusing on myself and what I needed in order to be healthy and content with myself was the day that I started living life to its fullest.
My message to anyone out there struggling is: Yes there will be days where you feel like giving up but it’s in those times that you need to find the strength to fight because you are so worthy of love and attention and happiness. You may not believe so at this moment but I promise you that once you take that first step to seeking help whole heartedly for yourself and not to please your parents and loved ones but just for yourself. That will be the day that you will feel free from this illness that has taken you away from all the missed opportunities that you deserved. I want you to know that recovery isn’t going to be easy but you can do it because you have been through so much already. You can do anything, and this step is one that you won’t regret.
My beautiful sister Jessica had an eating disorder for 16 years. She suddenly suffered a cardiac arrest in July 2016 and lost her life. My parents fought endlessly for those 16 years for her, they never gave up.
It started at the age of 16 in Year 12 - with the pressure of exams, then uni and then work. Treatment was always in and out of hospitals just feeding them to a healthy weight then kicking them out for the next person. This disorder is a mental illness and we need to focus on treating people mentally first, then the eating will come.
It was a roller coaster ride that never stopped. She loved her family and it really was all she had left. Friends didn't understand and she pushed them away.
I would do anything to have her back, and my heart goes out to anyone going through this awful time.
For too long now, my whole world has been monopolised by my eating disorder. Only this year, have I regained the ability to hold a conversation with another person for more than 20 minutes. Most of the time, I am able to walk into a supermarket without being overwhelmed with anxiety, my mind racing with a thousand thoughts a second about which food I’m ‘allowed’ to buy and what I should avoid. I am still yet to return to work, as I find it too difficult to cognitively function as a maths teacher, whilst simultaneously follow my meal plans and be a respectful and appropriate role model for my students.
After losing so many friendships to this illness I now work on rebuilding those that are left behind. I find that it was the support of my close friends, family and partner that truly saved my life from the depths of this disease. In the times where i could see no benefits in the path of recovery, I chose to eat that sandwich, to have that second weet-bix, to not exercise, just to ease the pain of those who loved me.
Throughout this ordeal I found great help in my treatment team. My clinical team, along with my superhero co-stars, battled our demons. We confronted the rules our disorders had laid out; exercise and eat ‘healthy’. We tore apart the intentions of businesses such as weight loss programs and gyms, of which I now view to be manipulative and somewhat irresponsible.
My aim now is to really experience life, as the healthy person I deserve to be. I share my story so as to change the stigma surrounding mental illness and eating disorders. In no way was this my decision, I did not choose to lose those years of my life, I did not choose to look that way, I do not choose to feel this way. My hope is that I can learn from my experiences and impart insight and knowledge onto today's society. No-one should have to suffer through this illness, but there is help out there. Clinics, hospitals and organisations who listened to me when I felt no-one else could.
I’ve lost too much time to ED.
My Dear Little Bubba,
A few more weeks...
As much as I would love to meet you, I also just want to keep you in there, nice and safe. Because once you make your debut into the world, I know that there are things I cannot protect you from. The world isn't always the beautiful place it should be. There will be days when you'll come across things that need understanding and patience. In saying that, I want to tell you now that just like I found a safe place in your grandma and grandpa, your father and I will do everything we can to make sure you know you are loved.
I pray that you will one day grow up to be a woman who is secure in her identity and doesn't buy into society's definition of beauty. Now that I've spent a few years in this world, I have learnt and am slowly learning to believe that my own beauty does not rely on the pressures of fitting into this world but the intentions of my heart. I pray that as I learn to believe this, I am equipping myself of knowing how to share it all with you.
I pray that when you are young, you won't have to encounter things like I did. My hope is that you become a healthy child, maybe a little bit chubby because that would be absolutely cute! But as a chubby kid I got called fat a few times and unfortunately, I remember who they were and I have been forever scarred. I would love to think that when you come to an age of awareness, I have prepared you enough to be able to correctly filter any harmful words mentioned to you. Words that could potentially stay with you forever. I would love to think that I can prepare you enough, so that you never have to put yourself or your body through anything just to fit in.
I have done things, child, that weren't the slightest bit worth it. I had to see people, I had to get well and I hope that is never something you have to go through. The pain and the heartbreak, I only wish I could shelter you from all of them.
I pray that by the time you grow up, the world will come to a better understanding of the power of words.That society will come to its senses about what beauty really means. See, grandma and grandpa always stood up for me and reassured me that I was okay. And that even though people called me fat, it's what is deep inside that truly matters. But I was a kid, and what did I know? I was very impressionable, I got easily confused.
I hope there will never come a time that you will doubt your father and I when we tell you how beautiful you are. And I pray that one day when you meet a man who will love you forever, you will understand and know when he says you are the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Nothing has ever broken my heart more than looking your father in the eye when he told me I am beautiful, knowing how sincere he is but not believing any of it. I hope you never have to question anyone who sees your true beauty, just because society defines it in a completely skewed way.
I hope you'll carry yourself everyday with confidence, make up or no makeup, in gowns made by Auntie Pia or in trackies, high heels or thongs, school uniform or (hopefully) jiu jitsu gi. Because your external appearance shouldn't make a difference on how you feel from the inside, you little beautiful soul.
If anything that has happened to me ever happens to you, know that I am here and I will fight for you just like grandma did for me.
I love you kid. More than you know. And we haven't even met!
(Cant believe I'm saying this..) Mum
For almost 12 years now, I have observed my sister's terrifying battle with Anorexia Nervosa. After experiencing severe trauma in her early teenage years, coupled with a family history of mental illness, my sister shrunk to a shell of her former self. I have seen firsthand how this illness isolates and intimidates it's victims. How it sucks the life, joy and happiness out of every aspect of a victims life until they are unable to recollect a life prior to ANA. Anorexia is not just part of a sufferer's life, it IS their life and the life of their families. I would like to send a message to all people who may be suffering from an ED or those supporting a loved one with an ED, to say that you are never, ever alone.
Reach out to someone....anyone! Make that call, have that conversation! Don't give up hope or stop looking for an answer. There are so many others out there just like you, wishing that they had a health and social network that supported them. Please raise your voice! The more sufferers and families who raise their voices about this incredibly debilitating illness and the lack of real support it receives, the more likely it is that we will be listened to.
I think I have recovered from my ED but I believe it will always be part of me to some extent. It is a bit like a shadow that follows me around, but now I can control it.
Recovering from anorexia with frequent purging was about finding out who I am and what I stand for. It was figuring out why I hated myself so much and why I took that hate out on my physical form.
Recovery was having the realisation that you cannot control everything in sight and nor should you want to. Life is unpredictable, messy and impermanent. Things change and change inspires adaptation and growth, which is a good thing. You certainly can't control other people, including what they think of you or how they treat you. The knowledge that I am the only person I can control was monumental to my recovery.
Not being afraid to try things and fail enabled me to achieve my goals and feel good about myself. I have learned to appreciate and respect myself as a worthwhile person with strengths and weaknesses rather than a number on the scales or a size of jeans.
I was recently told by a complete stranger that I have a 'really nice energy about me'. At first I thought it was a strange thing to say, but when I reflected on it for the rest of that day I realised this energy comes from being free. Freedom for me is living flexibly like a tree blowing in the wind. It is not getting your feelings hurt or worrying about things. It is saying no and making new friends who you genuinely like. It is learning every day and relishing opportunities. It is enjoying life because life is there to be lived and I am not wasting another second of it.
I had a very happy childhood, with an amazing immediate and extended family. I was a fun, happy go lucky, smart kid. I danced with different dance companies from the age of 2 and loved performing. I was good at sport, music, and had a lot of friends. My life changed in year 7 when I was 12. My final year of primary school where I was not only a student, but Head Girl, as voted in by my peers. What was supposed to be a great year turned out to be the most traumatic time of my young life and the beginning of mental illness taking me over.
During that final year of primary school, which should have been a happy and exciting time, my life flipped a switch overnight. I was bullied so severely by my peers and their parents (yes, parents), to such a traumatic degree that my brain has blocked out certain events that happened, probably for my own good. It didn’t end after the school year finished, it continued into high school when I wasn’t even at the same one that my ex classmates had gone to.
My adolescence was marred by the onset of an eating disorder, which I was unable to control and was still suffering from at age 30. Anorexia and bulimia wasn’t something I asked for. But I realised at 13 that while I couldn’t control bullies or other people, I could control my weight, which in turn made me feel in control of my life which was beginning to unravel. The harsh words spoken to me by bullies became my own inner dialogue. It still is to this day. That inner dialogue fed the anorexia and bulimia, reinforcing the fact that I was worthless.
Mental health was never discussed when I was growing up. I didn’t know that the negative voices in my head telling me that I was worthless, fat, stupid and ugly were not the norm. I didn’t know certain periods of time in my life that I spent in complete darkness and utter despair were signs of depression. I didn’t know that the fact I couldn’t go to the shops or socialise without feeling physically sick and constantly thinking everyone was judging me badly was a sign of social anxiety.
It took a cataclysmic event when I was 30 years old to finally seek proper treatment for my mental health. I went through two psychiatrists who didn’t listen, prescribed medication and sent me on my way. They made me lose faith in speaking out and telling the truth about my demons. Then I found an incredible psych, who I instantly connected with, and my life began to turn around. Not only did he listen, he diagnosed me correctly (major depression, generalised and social anxiety), and put me on the right medication. It took about a year to find the right balance and it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. He saved my life and helped me turn it around. I still see him today, six years later.
Having a mental illness isn’t something I am ashamed of. My past is my story and while it was traumatic at times, it has made me the person I am today. I wouldn’t change it because it allows me to have insight and life experiences that I can now share with others in the hope that I might inspire one person who is struggling to reach out for help.
I am able to control my mental illness by medication, which I am not ashamed to say that I take. While I still have some dark days, I am able to bring myself out of them. To anyone else struggling – reach out and tell someone. You don’t have to do this alone, no matter how isolating it can be. Opening up to a friend, teacher, family member or support group online and being honest about what’s happening is the first step you need to take so you too can free yourself from inner demons and start to beat them in this fight.
I tell my story as a Mum, and the struggle to get our daughter help. Our daughter was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at 15 ... And 5 years later, the journey has taken our daughter, my son, my husband and I on a terrifying journey that only others that have been through it would truly understand.
My wish is that everyone could understand how serious and debilitating this illness is. Everyone needs to understand that it is not an illness of choice, not a diet just gone too far and not just the sufferers choosing to be difficult. Anorexia Nervosa is a serious and deadly brain based illness.
My wish is also that we have all medical staff, from GP's to ER staff, to Ambulance drivers and Police - all have training in understanding and responding to this illness - with the compassion and understanding it needs.
We slipped through the cracks way too many times, and were let down by too many "professionals". Many times, it seemed that the only people keeping our daughter alive was our little family.
I also wish people would understand that the families and loved ones MUST be included in the treatment plan ... they know the sufferer the best, they MUST be listened to. Someone who is not thinking cognitively correctly due to their disease, shouldn't be making medical decisions on their own.
I wish too, for people to understand the immense burden this illness places on families, with many parents having to stop work to care for their loved one. I wish more friends would rally around to support families and I wish more friends of the sufferers would not give up on their sick friend. I wish they would treat sufferers as they would anyone suffering from other serious illnesses, such as cancer.
No family should be turned away from the ER with a suicidal daughter, with no where to turn.
No mum or Dad should have to hear their daughter say, "Mum, please just let me die"
No brother should have to beg his sister to eat.
And to other mums ... Trust your instincts, you know your child best! Act early, do not wait - if you give Anorexia an inch, it takes a mile! Keep pushing for the right care for your loved one and do not give up!
My hope is that through sharing our stories and through raising awareness and understanding things will change in this country. My hope is that every family needing assistance will receive it. My hope is that everyone has a chance to fully recover from this illness.
I recently read an article on yet another celebrity being praised for overcoming mental illness. I recognise that celebrities are people just as susceptible to mental illness as you or I, but unlike the wider population, they are equipped with help that others often do not have access to. My issue is the media too frequently neglects to state this advantage and furthermore, rarely brings to light the details of the journey from “ill” to “recovered.” The lack of attention given to these factors creates a very unrealistic and simplified version of what to expect from the recovery process.
As someone who has had mental illness for most of my adult life, I am no stranger to this topic and know firsthand how unnerving the prospect of recovery can be. Agreeing to take these steps towards a new future means not only delving into an unknown space, but also admitting when I am not OK, which is all too often associated with weakness.
When I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, I had no idea what it all meant. So as anyone in this era would do, I turned to Google to enlighten me on what to expect during recovery and beyond it. The pages of articles that depicted stories of beautiful people who had “overcome” mental illness were falsely comforting. Despite being in a state of denial, I reluctantly worked on convincing myself if I followed my doctor’s orders, I too, could learn to eat while remaining extremely thin. What these articles failed to mention is the biological reaction my body would have to food, the alternative psychological issues that would surface and, more to the point, that celebrities in recovery often have a whole team of professionals on demand to ensure their recovery preserves their public image.
In the space of a short few months, my clothing no longer fit. The little self-esteem I had, diminished. Activities like running and yoga became so much harder as my body hadn’t adjusted to carrying the extra weight. It wasn’t just the physical that broke me though. As a perfectionist, I couldn’t understand why my recovery didn’t reflect the women I had read about. This sense of failure tormented me and often caused me to act in irrational and out-of-character ways. I had an agonising desire to be back to my former self. It was during this time that I wished I was dead.
With a lot of hard work and the right support, I am learning how to manage my mental health, but I am not, by any means, “cured.” For me, recovery still feels like all my agency has been taken away, and I find my biggest impediment is that I still cling tightly to my mental illness. This is not because I don’t want to be healthy, but because it is so embedded in my personality that I don’t know how to identify without it.
My point is, when you have a mental illness, you can have periods, sometimes years, when you can’t function like the “average” person. When celebrities have a mental health related “breakdown,” but are praised by the media for being back in the public eye only a few months later, it sets an unrealistic standard for how quickly people should recover and what recovery should look like. For some, being “cured” won’t be the absence of their mental illness, but rather learning to manage it and appreciate the progress they make.
As Clare Stephens so rightly stated in an article that appeared on Mamamia, “When we only have privileged, thin, successful and highly functional people sharing their struggles, we end up with a very skewed idea of what mental illness looks like.” While celebrities have done wonders in changing the stigma surrounding all types of mental illness, the media needs to show the whole truth of their recovery process, not just the final product — and furthermore, show the diversity of recovery.
Thinking back on my life, it is so refreshing to remember the days when I was utterly carefree and had fun, because these were the days that consumed little of my life. Having only a few good friends, not participating in many sports, and being a little too independent for my age was always my thing, maybe because I was an only child and loved my own company or maybe because even as a child I did not feel confident within myself. As far back as I can remember I was happy though, I didn’t care I didn’t have the best of everything because what I did have was a mother who loved me to bits and that was all that mattered to me.
That all changed when I was 9. Mum and dad got divorced and our family was forced to start over with nothing. Due to this I became a very timid and anxious child. This is where I feel the body dysmorphia started to rear its ugly head. I say this because I can remember clearly when I was about 10 looking in the mirror and thinking how FAT I looked in my swimsuit, yet this was a distorted vision as I was always a slim child.
My Anorexia Nervosa began in the most harmless of ways. I felt a little uncomfortable with my body during my pre-teen years, so I decided to take the steps to become more “healthy and fit.” This consisted of going for walks with my dog and eating “right” by becoming vegetarian. Yet it was a lifestyle that would quickly and forcefully snowball into a pure nothingness of Anorexia and the person it made me, or the person it took away from me. I know it was my extremely unfortunate biology and genetic makeup that ultimately sent me into the oblivion of Anorexia, but it was also the bullies and unfortunate early life experiences that made me this way.
I was admitted to my first hospital admission in October 2011 and tube fed for six weeks. I was sent home with no resources, mum having no idea how to manage me at home and was expected just to get better without any psychological help. It was two years until I actually received any psychological help for my illness, two years of mum and I fighting over food, two years living in an alternate reality, where food controlled my life because to me it was the only control I had in any aspect of my life. Yet I managed to stay stable at home for those two years, because of my Mum who never stopped fighting for me despite the system letting me fall through the cracks.
In June 2013 I relapsed, was admitted to hospital and mum was told if she had of brought me even a week later I may have died. I still couldn't see how sick I was until I see pictures of me from that time. After 6 weeks inpatient at two separate hospitals I was discharged under the care of the adolescent team, and a private psychologist. I started Maudsley with my psychologist and mum, and continued treatment for 7 months when I was classified in recovery.
From September 2014 until January 2016 I spent the majority of my time in hospital whether it be public wards, public outpatient programs or private inpatient programs. The longest period I was home for during this time was 16 days the shortest was 3 hours. I was in a constant cycle of restricting & self harming at home, to being force fed in hospital and this happened over and over again until January 2016 when I first attempted to take my own life.
Fast forward a year later, and I have finished year 12, I got into University. Despite all this I am still struggling. Anorexia made me scared and frightened and I lashed out at everyone who tried to help. I screamed when food was put near me, I had panic attacks about the wrong brand of ham being brought, I memorised calories and threw food across rooms. I was tube fed and put in and out of hospital because I couldn't eat or drink at home, I believed I would put on weight by smelling food.
Every meal is still a struggle, but every meal had brings me one step closer to recovery and every meal skipped takes me one step closer to the grips of Anorexia. It is a constant battle.
My journey began in 2003. After years of being bullied, my self esteem had hit an all time low. Losing weight was not solely about being skinny. It was partly striving for perfection and partly a way to make myself suffer (i.e. I felt like I deserved it).
My recovery was long, hard and challenging. By 2006, I'd had three hospital admissions (9 months in total), many medical appointments, psychological treatment and daily struggles to survive this ongoing battle. I was told I was one of the worst cases they (professionals) had seen...even they didn't know where to start with my recovery! I was told that if I was admitted a day later in 2003, I wouldn't have made it to the next day......
My purpose for sharing my story is - there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm proof! I fought the torturous battle, day in, day out. I finished my schooling at home and attended University before landing my dream job!
My message is - my gosh the road to recovery is hard! It's by no means easy....BUT IT'S WORTH IT! You deserve to be happy and deserve to live a free and fulfilling life without daily torture from the tormenting voice inside your head. YOU ARE WORTH IT, YOU DESERVE TO BE HAPPY!
I know a range of people will read this; survivors, soon to be survivors and loved ones watching their loved ones through this extremely challenging journey. Without my loved ones this journey would have been much more difficult. They were there every step of the way. My advice...just be there, listen and provide support without forcing someone to eat. It's not about eating, it's about feeling so unworthy that you don't deserve to eat. Make your loved one realise they are worthy and they are loved and appreciated. Help them build their self esteem and help them reach their dreams.
I would like you all to consider.....how you'd feel if a voice in your head was constantly taunting you, putting you down, second guessing everything you did or ate....every second of the day....even in your sleep! What would make you want to fight and beat this voice? Your loved ones, career aspirations, family, or children. There is a reason to live!
For me in the beginning I held on for my family. Eventually, I fought to achieve my career goals and succeed. I'm completely recovered and I'm inspired to help others. If I can do it, YOU CAN DO IT TOO!
I believe in you!
Being underwater was used as a metaphor for living with an eating disorder; swimming to the surface and breaking through, a metaphor for recovery.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia back in late 2013, just a few short months after having graduated Year 12.
In the beginning my intentions were purely to follow a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious meals and exercising daily. Not only did I believe I was being healthy, my family & friends did too. As the months went by my perfectionism kicked in and I saw myself doing more & more exercise rigidly and I didn't know when to stop. My thoughts were consumed by what I was going to eat next or had eaten already. I began to isolate myself away from friends and social activities because it would worry me so much to simply go to the movies. I wanted to enjoy the little things in life but my mind wouldn't let me. I started to feel ashamed of my body which had never been the case before.
I feel the way the media (Instagram, etc) portrays the idea of a "perfect" or ideal body shape is extremely destructive on self-esteem. Everyday I am fighting to put Anorexia to rest and live my life as freely as possible! No rules or restrictions and doing what feels right for my body in the moment. Really listening to what it needs. I still struggle from time to time but I will never allow myself to go back to that dark place of feeling emptiness and guilt.
I am learning each and everyday to accept myself for who I am - flaws and all! My body can do so many incredible things and should be treated with care. I met 5 girls working towards a life free of Anorexia while I was in hospital and they are my strength everyday. I believe in myself in the hope they can one day believe in themselves. Despite the circumstances I am so grateful to have met such incredible people when I was at such a low in my life.
Know you are never alone and there are people who understand. Keep fighting; you are beautiful & you are a warrior! ❤️
On my 18th birthday (28th June) I went and did something for myself.
Not many people will know or maybe you do know, but that doesn't matter, the past three years of my life have been some of the most horrific years of my life.
I was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with two eating disorders, my parents separated, I lost friends, I was extremely suicidal, my body has been destroyed, scarred and beaten, I destroyed my thyroid gland & metabolism, I lost weight, I gained weight. To say I've been through a lot is an understatement.
So on my birthday I went and got my first tattoo. Not many people will know what the symbol means, it represents the national eating disorder association. The heart demonstrates loving concern for those suffering from eating disorders and the female body represents diversity and acceptance of all body shapes and sizes. The fluid lines of the logo also symbolise curves and motion; both are symbols of a healthy body image. I got the word beautiful printed along side the symbol because I AM BEAUTIFUL. I don't always believe that I am beautiful but I need to remember, just like everyone else, that I am worthy of life & happiness! No one can tell someone else that they aren't beautiful, everyone is beautiful and unique in their own way.
I chose this tattoo because it reminds me everyday that I am worthy of happiness & life.
Everyone deserves to enjoy food, living and everyone deserves to be happy!
Don't ever be ashamed of your story.
Anorexia Nervosa is not a made up illness, it's real and it can happen without even knowing it is.
I always thought I was in control of my eating, then realised it had control over me. It had taken over my life.
Take the time to heal. Use your support networks. Although some days it all seems too hard, keep fighting, there is light and with each day and the right help you will start enjoying and living life like you once did.
I often had thoughts that it was easier to stay sick than to recover. The conflicting thoughts of 'yes I want this' and 'no I don't' haunt the mind, but once you gain trust in those who are helping you it does get easier and you truly do want to fight this.
I'd be lying if I said I was 100% recovered, because I don't think you can go through something like this and get over it, but I do know that the tough days are very few and I do believe Anorexia changed me as a person.
I appreciate life, the people around me and feel I understand people and the problems they face whether it's Anorexia or mental illness.
Life is worth living and the battle is worth the fight.
I wake each day to fight the battle, the battle that is recovery from a eating disorder.
The same routine, after 8 years you assume it would become easier, more manageable but the reality is that it doesn't.
I wake each day knowing I have to confront my fears by following my meal plan and eating 6 meals. I wake knowing I have to spend money on doctors, dieticians, psychologists, counsellors and other appointments. I have many things I would rather spend my money on, but that is the harsh reality of having a eating disorder.
I have been suffering with Anorexia now for 8 years. Over this time I have had my ups and downs, but unfortunately I am yet to be recovered. My motivation has changed a lot over time. I wont go into details but basically I have had my fair share of hospital admissions, naso-gastric tubes, tears, arguments and hours spent pushing my fork around my plate wishing the food would disappear. Sometimes I have confidence I can recover and feel fuelled with inspiration while other days I struggle to get out of bed knowing the toucher which confronts me.
It hurts that I have not recovered, I hate what I put my family through. I am so lucky they continue to stand by and support me, however the eating disorder has definitely compromised my relationships. I have few friends left and don't have the confidence to go out in order to make new friends.
I wish that I could tell you that I have recovered, that all this fighting had been worth something, but the reality is that I still fight, every day.
I know recovery is possible. I know full recovery is possible and I believe that it is attainable for all of us who fight for it. If you still battle each day, like me, please be assured you are not alone and you are not a failure. Please remind yourself everyone's journey is different and don't invalidate yours because if you put your hand on your chest you will feel your heart beat which means you are alive, you still have hope and you still have purpose. You have survived 100% of your worst days and if that doesn't give you confidence to keep fighting, I don't know what will.
Its not easy but it has to be worth it.
Keep reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel because one day things will get better.
Sending everyone strength. Suffers please keep fighting and carers please keep caring.
DON'T GIVE UP!!!
Poetry is my biggest outlet, I can speak freely and have found sharing them bring people hope and sense of belonging.
I wrote this at the begging of the year, and why I wrote it is after the poem.
“I am lucky now
To be able to say my eating disorder is at its "boring phase"
That my life is no longer meal plans, hospital admissions, day programs, dietician appointments, being supervised though meal times.
I can now look at food and no longer see exercise broken down into how many reps would burn off the calories I ate, picturing the food turning into fat on my depleted body, being scared that the one glass of water would increase my size.
Now I see food as nourishment for my body and mind, a basic human right that I deserve.
My story isn't as dangerous as it was.
I am not a walking calculator; there is nothing for me to count anymore, let alone notice those numbers on the back of packages.
I now count moments of joy, laughter and smiles.
I am not a shell of a person; no longer cold, empty and lifeless. I have light in my eyes, dreams to chase, warmth in my heart.
Developing an eating disorder, unhealthy weight loss and engaging in behaviours is not a success story.
Recovery is the true success.
Life is the success story.”
I consider myself lucky when I look back over the past 9 years of my life, the various mental illness diagnosis’, the months spent in hospital, the eating disorder that took more than weight.
My struggle with anorexia developed as a coping mechanism, initially thinking changing up my diet and exercise would help my depression. It didn’t. It drove me further down the eating disorder road. Anorexia became a way to numb my mind, yet it did more damage. I admitted to having a problem, so the focus was on eating and gaining weight, but my depression was ignored. I may have left hospital with a different body, yet I had the same mindset.
Years into this, road blocks, twists, turns, wrong exits, I have now learnt that using my eating disorder to cope with my mood and numb mental pain only redirects the treatment and the main issue to treat in the front of the minds of my treatment team, family and friends. It was there but gave me nothing in return. Now I am able to stop, reflect and think before I act.
If you take anything away from this:
1- Eating disorders are not always a single diagnosis, those who struggle often have other mental illness’ that aren't always acknowledged during treatment.
2- Recovery is giving yourself a second chance. You deserve the sense of freedom I have now. It didn't happen overnight, but the time spent gaining it is worth it.
3- Be honest with yourself and others, you can do this.
In the midst of it all it’s absolutely horrible. There’s no toilet, no shower, many blood sucking leeches and poisonous snakes and no way out except by walking for miles and miles and days and days. By the end of each day your feet are bleeding from blisters, your legs are bleeding from leeches and you can’t move from the pain. While sleeping outside with no mattress or pillow you scream, “why am I doing this? I want it to stop!”
Just to get up the next day and do it all over again, with a 20kg pack on your back.
I’m no stranger to hiking. At the age of 4 my parents made me climb a 544-mitre high mountain. At the age of 8 I hiked 20km a day for three days in a row. At the age of 16 I hiked 25km a day for five days in a row.
I absolutely hated hiking!
At the end of a hike though, I was so glad that I’d done it. The pain and suffering somehow seemed worth it because I had learnt so much and achieved great things.
Just like a bushwalk, recovering from my eating disorder was overwhelmingly difficult. But now that it’s over I’m so glad I did it. The pain and suffering was so worth it in the end.
On my recovery bushwalk I used to imagine what life without an eating disorder would be like. I imagined a wonderful sense of freedom and possibility.
Now that I am recovered I have realised that life without an eating disorder is even more amazing than I had hoped it would be.
The freedom of being recovered is indescribably incredible.
Recovery is possible, and so worth it!
One of the hardest yet most helpful things for me during my recovery was accepting anorexia as a serious disease. I was so hard on myself, and I felt that I simply had to ‘get a hold of myself.’
The reality is that this illness is heavier and more complex than most people imagine- anyone who has suffered or been close to someone who has knows this.
Anorexia nervosa has this amazing way of warping reality. While I was unwell, things were very skewed for me. Things that were typically ‘good’ became ‘bad’ and vice versa. Feeling vibrant and energetic was bad to me, because it meant I was eating ‘too much’, while feeling weak and faint felt right.
The voice is a powerful and persistent force, which sat in my minds eye constantly. It’s an aggressive tone, which only calms down if you obey it. It’s as if the weaker you become physically, the stronger and more powerful that voice gets. I have always felt like the voice fed off my physical form to grow. During recovery you will find that with more physical strength you gain, and the less you listen to your voice, the weaker it becomes.
As soon as I walked through the doors of the treatment facility, I knew I wasn't going to waste any more of my youth like this. I recovered with plenty of struggles, but overriding those were hope and optimism.
I view anorexia as a disease that will always lie dormant in me; it has taken years to shake certain behaviours and thought patterns. Every so often I find myself being triggered and practising harmful behaviours again. I recognise this as the disease trying to come alive again. I choose to view these behaviours as self harm, and dissect where that urge is coming from.
So, ‘recovery’ is really an ongoing maintenance. I think it’s about remaining aware, and not being ashamed to reach out- even if you look fine.
The gloss wears off
I was a happy but anxious child. I hid my anxiety and was always trying to please those around me. I was a competitive swimmer from the age of 8 and quit swimming to focus on senior high school, which combined with puberty, caused some weight gain and I was not impressed. I changed high schools three times to get into a better school close to home and used to get frustrated with myself for not achieving at the very top of my grade.
Perfectionism took hold and when a smaller friend started expressing concerns that she felt 'fat'. I took a long hard look at myself and thought, if she is fat what must I be?! So the spiral of restricting and binging began. While this disordered eating, dieting and over exercising went on for the entirety of my time at uni, it didn't develop into a full blown eating disorder until after uni when I broke up with my first boyfriend.
The guilt and shame I felt after this not so constructive relationship was insurmountable. I justified my disordered eating behaviours by rationalising the hurt I felt and falling into a destructive action. I thought that if someone I loved could hurt me then what was there to live for? So began the intention of toning up. I promised myself that if I had nothing else, I would have thinness, it would be my "thing" that no one could take away. I promised myself that I could stop at anytime.
After restricting led to binging, I thought purging was really the only thing I could do. I mastered this destructive art and got completely carried away in a whirlwind of violent obsession. All I thought about was weight, food, exercise. The numbers dictated everything. There were moments of euphoria, amongst constant self loathing, guilt and shame. The longer it went the less able I was to see my destructive capabilities.
Eventually, the gloss of bulimia wore off, together with the enamel of my teeth, together with my self worth. I was stripped bare of nutrients, finances, health and happiness all at once. It took me years to control and stop the cycle. I was high functioning, so luckily kept my job and managed two other relationships in that time. My relationship with the eating disorder, with bathroom cubicles and gyms impinged on the relationships I so desperately wanted to forge with others.
When recovery started I was voiceless, I couldn't speak of what I was doing, I didn't dare betray the disorder. It took one psychologist and a lot of art therapy to help me realise just how far along the disordered path I had taken myself. It took another psychologist, dietitian, dentist and GP to help me start to put myself together again. While I thought the pain was over once I started seeing someone for help, I never fathomed just how painful recovery would be. The eating disorder had such a grasp on me that it wasn't just a simple matter of shaking it off, it had infiltrated nearly every aspect of my life.
I still go to therapy because I would consider myself sub-clinical now. Having recovered my body more or less, I am still working on my thinking. I can never diet again. I missed a lot of opportunities because of this disorder.
Recovery is not so glossy and rosy either, but the battle is worth it. It took years of no change, but I just kept going to therapy. I finally don't have the obsessive thoughts of food, weight and hatred constantly plaguing me. I don't care anymore what society says about the ideal. I no longer self harm and I am working on eliminating self sabotage. So much sadness had to come out before I could gleam wellness. But during the depths of my eating disorder, when the gloss well and truly wore off, I never imaged that I would come out the other side. But having finally clawed my way out and started to reconstruct a personal semblance of reality, I am so grateful I made it and that I am here to tell the story.
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