From me to you: please be brave
It has taken me six years to be able to talk confidently about my experience living with an eating disorder, six years of management and sorting through all sorts of conflicting emotions until I can logically share my thoughts with you in some sort of suitable word limit.
My eating disorder experience, like everyone else’s was unique to say the least. In short, eating disorders are just another form of self-harm, its’ putting your body through pain to try and match the emotional pain you are feeling. Like many others, my ED came with an array of other diagnosed illnesses such as anxiety and PTSD. You can put any amount of labels around an eating disorder but as a thirteen-year-old girl who couldn’t even walk up the stairs all I knew was that I was dying and that I was completely terrified. The weight loss was small at first but rapidly out of control by the time I was admitted to hospital and immediately put on a nasogastric tube and full bed rest. Living in a rural area there was limited support for people with an ED, let alone for children. I was placed in a pediatric unit that became my home for the better part of three months. Obviously my treatment and recovery was a success as I sit here six years on after finishing school and completing my first semester of university however, there were also many aspects of my recovery that was less than ideal.
I remember sitting in a room full of medical professionals crying, screaming and completely scared out of my wits while I sat helpless in a wheelchair connected to machines and unable to move anywhere. The most disturbing bit was and still is that everyone just sat there in silence, watching and taking notes, unsure what to do with me. I remember feeling like some wild animal in a cage being studied. That’s not a feeling I’d wish upon anyone let alone a terrified thirteen-year-old girl. Despite having lots of beautiful friends all the way through school I always sat a little more independently from everyone. There are positives and negatives to being young with a mental illness; while you have a different idea of what ‘a bad day’ may entail you also develop an incredible sense of compassion (and an incredibly sarcastic sense of humour in my case) at a young age because you know exactly what rock bottom feels like, and you understand what to do when you see people in a similar sort of pain. You tend to have more perspective on life and what’s important than many of your peers who seemingly live absorbed in their own day-to-day typical teen drama. Sometimes you can feel like your 50 when you are only 15 because you have no choice but to grow up early. If you have had an ED while at school you would be familiar with the immediate assumption of “she thinks she’s fat”, or “she’s just attention seeking”, or boys saying, “she’s too skinny it’s such a turn off”. The stigma around this disease is appalling despite it being a part of the curriculum students are taught. Attention seeking isn’t struggling to get up the school stairs each day, its not bradycardia that makes you feel like your chest is going to cave in, its not organ failure, its not hearing two sets of voices in your head, its not falling over the first time you try and walk after two months of bed-rest and its not being 13 and scared that there is a possibility that you won’t ever be able to have kids of your own.
Eating disorders aren’t black and white, I didn’t think I was fat, nor did I make myself sick or binge eat however I nearly lost my life to this disease. Eating disorder recovery is one of the toughest things you could ever do, especially as a child. In leaving hospital I walked away with more PTSD than with what I originally went in with. The sheer mental strength it takes to keep going on the days when all you want to do is to make it stop, that even as a thirteen year old girl, I made the decision that I wouldn’t allow my already devastated parents to live through the death of a child even when some days all I wanted to do was disappear because recovery was so hard. My treatment of all things is what has taken the most time for me to come to terms with let alone the time it has taken my family to heal. The absolute heartbreak families go through while supporting a child with an ED is indescribable. I watched my parents go through guilt, heartbreak and feel completely helpless as they literally watched their child disappear in front of their eyes whilst trying to fight a disease that was bigger than all of us. Eating Disorder’s make you feel like you are in control when really that couldn’t be further from the truth, you are actually so out of control that you can’t even see what the truth is at the time. This makes recovery hard and it makes putting your hand up and saying that you need help even harder despite being absolutely terrified about what is happening to you because you cling on to the idea that “I’m fine”, because as a perfectionist or ‘control freak’ (like I am), losing control is not an option you even consider. Six years later and its still something I have to work on daily and when something goes wrong it’s even harder to keep under control. Going through a breakup or a family death or any sort of emotional bump, your ED is the first thing knocking on the door as soon as you’re in a vulnerable state. No one should feel like they deserve to be hurt or punished by anyone let alone themselves and even six years on into recovery it’s something that I still have to work on and manage, and yes it is exhausting at times, but there are so many amazing things that come from it.
Speaking about my own experience is not a sob story or me feeling sorry for myself, it’s actually being completely grateful for still being alive today which I value more and more as I get older because I know how easily my story could be something different. I hope in sharing my experience young people don’t feel alone, as I often did during my recovery because you can be surrounded by all the love and care in the world and still not feel understood, but there are people out there who do, seek them out and talk to them, we are a supportive community and we want to help you.
Sharing this is standing up to a system that is completely inadequate and unsupportive against a mental health issue that affects roughly one million people in Australia alone. It is appalling that there are only 37 adult beds in hospitals to treat a mental illness with the highest rate of suicide. If you have had an eating disorder or are close to someone who has, I am so very sorry because its not a journey I’d wish on anyone however, in saying that, it does get better one day at a time and there are so many beautiful things on the other side for you to look forward to. You are not defined by your illness but it will make you an incredibly strong person, and that alone is something to be so proud of, because even your ED can’t take that away from you.
Keep your chin up and keep going one day at a time because even though it seems like you can’t do it I am evidence that you can and I am here to tell you that you can because if you have gotten this far, you can get a little further, you can be a little stronger and you can recover a little more. Time really is the biggest healer, just be brave and trust the process. I’m not one for cliché quotes but this is one that I love that more people need to see, it’s never failed me on a bad day…
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”