Cheryl's Story

Breaking free of a mental prison


“I wonder how many calories I burn by crying?” Twelve years ago, this was a normal thought to me. In my room, I have pages and pages of writing from 17-year-old me. Each entry was addressed to God. Each entry began with the number of kilos I was at, how I felt, what I’d been forced to eat (or avoided eating). My eating disorder was like a shadow over my head. It was a warden, holding my mind hostage and rattling the keys. It was the officious gym instructor in my ear, telling me to work harder, be better, and stop being so lazy. Many times, I begged God to make me thin. Half a kilo less on the scales would give me a buzz. Half a kilo more would make me plummet into darkness. I’ll always be grateful that I realised, one day, when I’d come home from the doctor being told that I had to put on weight, that I wasn’t getting anywhere. I didn’t love myself at my thinnest, just as I didn’t love myself at my biggest. There was no difference. In fact, it was worse. My moods were darker, my energy was lower, my body was being flogged into submission every day. I was exhausted.


After years of trying, I realised that some of my desired looks were physically impossible for me. My body curves in ways that don’t conform to the supermodel look. My hated “thick waist” is because – well, I have internal organs. Knowing that my body is what it is – well, it was strangely liberating. I knew suddenly that I wasn’t “failing”, or that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I just wasn’t going to look like a total stranger, because I’m not them. I was making myself miserable trying to be someone else, when I could just be me and stop isolating myself into misery.


Over time, I’ve tried to make friends with those extra few kilos. Those extra kilos were late-night desserts with friends, of having a glass of wine with dinner, and of letting myself rest and watch Netflix a couple nights a week. They were signs of a life lived happily. They didn’t belong to the gaunt and frantic 17-year-old me, but they did belong to the happier, healthy older me. I realised I was at my “heaviest”, but I was also at my happiest. I was no longer holding myself prisoner, and I realised that that was a price I was willing to pay.


Today, I can’t identify with that 17-year-old me that stares out at me from the pages of my writing. It’s unbelievable how much I’ve changed. I never thought I’d get to this stage where I’m not thinking obsessively about what I eat. I truly can say that I eat what I want now – a phrase that I couldn’t make sense of when I was in the midst of mental imprisonment. I nourish my body with good nutritious foods, and I have treats now and then, and I appreciate my body so much more – it is so much more amazing and resilient than I realised. Today, I am a successful 30-year-old with a job I love, and I am more comfortable in my own skin than I ever thought possible. Today, I wish I could tell 17-year-old me that she can change.


To those who are suffering, there is hope. Ask for help. If I can beat this, you can too.