A work in progress: my story of eating disorders, neurodiversity and queerness
After 11 years of fighting, I am finally at a point in my life where I can say I am proud of how far I’ve come and how many times I survived.
Content warning: This blog mentions eating disorders, suicidal ideation and domestic violence. For support with eating disorders call 1800 ED HOPE. For support with domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT, and for support in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
My name is Zoe Sheehan, I’m 27 years old, living in Sydney working as a Lead Product Designer as well as running my own small digital agency. I live and breathe art, design and entrepreneurship -but what I do for a living isn’t what really fuels my fire. What really fuels my fire is bringing awareness to what I’m about to share.
What outsiders saw as a quirky, thriving and driven person that “had it all going for them” was actually someone who was fighting an ongoing battle with multiple mental illnesses & disorders behind closed doors.
When I was 15 years old I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. The development of this mental illness certainly didn’t happen overnight, it developed slowly after being introduced to diet culture and the gym whilst having a “bodybuilder” boyfriend that pushed me to look a certain way, in which, was simply not genetically possible.
The mental illness slowly took over my whole mind and once it was there, it completely took over me and my life. It got quite severe to the point I had no choice but to recover, as my illness had become life-threatening. Everyone around me such as healthcare professionals only cared about what the scales read in order to sign me off from recovery.
They believed that reaching an adequate BMI was the key to getting rid of the mental illness, however, this method couldn’t have been more wrong! It actually made me spiral out of control tenfold. I ended up developing Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa during this recovery process.
Although I appeared healthier from a physical standpoint, I fell into a deep depression and honestly, at the worst stages of my Bulimia, did not want to be here anymore. I’d physically harm myself and wrote many suicide letters as I truly felt that was the only way I could regain peace.
The way my mother responded to the thought of me going anywhere, was more painful than any of my suffering, so she truly kept me here. For years and years, I just felt completely out of control as my whole mind was consumed by these eating disorders- There was not 1 second of any day I didn’t think about how I looked and appeared to others. I isolated myself from everyone, and completely lost the bubbly outgoing girl I was – I saw nothing but a monster every time I looked in the mirror.
This took 11 years for me to get out of and is an ongoing battle learning to love myself. Being open, vulnerable and authentic to my struggles was the key to gaining control back over these mental illnesses.
If you really think about it, it makes perfect sense – eating disorders thrive in secrecy, denial and isolation so when you bite back (pun intended) with openness and accountability, you destroy them.
The power of creating a safe space and a community is indescribable – If I’d known the amount of support and understanding I’d get from others back then, I would not have lived with these skeletons in the closet for so many years.
The biggest blessing from speaking my truth has been giving others the green light to speak theirs and helping them navigate through their inner demons.
The reality is that I will always live with the demons and suffer from Body Dysmorphia, but the difference now is that I won’t let them define me, they’re just a part of me and I am grateful for my experiences as now I can help others.
Alongside my eating disorder experience, during my adolescence I realised I was gay, and dated a girl in secret for 2 years as I was too ashamed to come out of the closet! I found myself in a couple of emotionally and physically abusive relationships which absolutely did not help with my “self-love journey” but also escaped those with many life lessons!
I have also been recently diagnosed with ADHD, which has brought me a lot of clarity and closure, so I am now medicated for that.
My life mission
So since fighting all these battles and surviving, I have found my life mission. I started posting LGBT and relationship advice on Tiktok, alongside openly talking about my experiences with eating disorders, self-love journey, domestic violence and my ADHD journey. I’ve been inundated with messages of appreciation, and it has honestly filled my heart and soul.
I then decided to put my life experiences and creativity together to create my own little lovechild – I wrote and illustrated a book!
This book,Neuro The Cookie, personifies a cookie and tells a story about neurodiversity, mental illnesses, eating disorders and LGBTQIA+ communities. It shines a positive light on all of these things that “make up our ingredients” and reinforces that every cookie is unique in its own way!
It’s educational, easy to read, colourful and most importantly focuses on diversity and inclusion. This book means the world to me as the message it conveys of being authentic and building a safe space and community is really what shifted my perspective. I’ve also been giving out rainbow fortune cookies I’ve made out of clay to the community with inspirational LGBT quotes in them.
I was also very proud to present my book at Parliament House recently, at the “Pride at Parliament” event in collaboration with Wear It Purple.
I am a work in progress now and always will be! I will always be learning new things about myself, evolving and growing.
Written by Zoe Sheehan. To purchase or learn more about ‘Neuro The Cookie’, head to Zoe’s website.
If you’re struggling with a disordered eating, an eating disorder or body image concern, reach out to Butterfly’s National Helpline counsellors 7 days a week, 8am-midnight by calling 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), chat online or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or 000 in an emergency.
To find qualified eating disorder professionals and practitioners, search Butterfly’s Referral Database.