Hungry for Freedom
It was 2008 when I entered into the revolving door that was anorexia nervosa. I was 15 years old. What started as a journey to take control of my health gradually took a rather dark turn. It was 2010. That summer my health took a rapid decline before I was due to return to high school to start my final year. I was held so tightly by the clutches of my eating disorder that my version of reality had completely shifted to a black, infinite hole of loneliness in which my eating disorder was my only comfort and company.
It became my best friend and also my worst nightmare. Dropping to a severely low body weight brought many other physical symptoms, such as: hair loss (and hair growth in some other areas), irregular periods (if it weren’t for the contraceptive pill it would have been non-existent), concentration difficulties, fatigue, dizziness, bruising to my knees from my sleeping position and a heart murmur to name a few. Malnourished, starving, unhealthy- you get the point. But hey, all of this could be easily fixed if I restored my weight, right? Hey, if that was the case then the prevalence of eating disorders would not be what they are right now (way too high!). Most of the battle is fighting the one thing that has brings so much comfort. Biting that hand that feeds you is a way you can look at it I suppose.
I was hospitalised for a month at the very start of my final year of high school and missed the entire first term. I resigned myself to the fact that catching up was almost impossible and I’d be graduating with the minimum requirement. As a perfectionist at the best of times this was extremely difficult to accept. Going through the process of re-feeding was a roller-coaster. When you’re that unwell you really underestimate how much damage malnutrition has done to your body. Until you give it what it needs and it miraculously starts to heal. The intense night sweats were so worth it! Sitting through two lengthy group therapies per day and six supervised meals, consuming more calories per day than I would in a month or more left me feeling drained before dinner time. This was a little more tolerable because my mother, the angel that she is, visited me literally every day and waited for me to finish dinner (this was when I was my most vulnerable and distressed and had the most time to spend with visitors during the week). In saying that, saying goodbye to her every night never got easier and I cried every single night. I made good progress during the admission and was discharged prematurely after the severe storm hit Perth in March 2010 and damaged the psychiatric ward with hail stones bigger than my fist.
Being under 18 years old, I could not self-discharge. Not that it was safe for me to go home prematurely anyway, but I felt like a prisoner with no free will which was very very hard to adapt to. It felt good to be home. Albeit weird and slow to adjust, I continued to do exactly what the hospital taught me. I went back to school, finished with three A grades and two B grades (ask me how, I could not tell you- it was a massive struggle).
Over the following few years I walked a thin tightrope, stumbling and re-balancing my way through relapse and recovery. My relapses got less severe and shorter in duration before I decided to kick my own arse again and fight for what I wanted – freedom. All of which I could not have done without relentless persistence and accepting each and every single day as what it was. Some way easier and some an uphill battle from the moment I had my first meal. I would best describe recovery as a maze. You feel like you are making good progress until you reach a dead end that you have seen before. Then you try again, and eventually make it out.
Recovery restored many things back to my life, such as: a social life, a healthy and balanced diet, a lifestyle that was not run by an obsessive compulsive routine, the ability to embrace change as something exciting and not panic provoking. I’ve transitioned from thinking happiness in my body was only reachable if I met the standards my eating disorder set for me (which was never actually going to happen), to happiness in my body meaning I could be healthy enough to be prepared for whatever life throws at me. I want to be a strong and healthy woman for my partner, my friends and family and eventually my future children with the love of my life.
For me now, happiness in my body is having that healthy mind and body relationship that means I treat it with respect and love by listening to it and having a better mindset of what it needs. It’s always a balancing act in life, but accepting that each day in my life brings different things and feeling confident in being able to deal with anything is truly amazing and empowering.
I lost a few friends along the way, for reasons mainly being isolated and people not knowing how to be around me. Accepting that life often brings us to situations where friendships do fade away, regardless of mental health issues or not was very hard. But life also takes you on different paths that lead you to other people. I’ve learned so much (and still learning), that we can only exercise control over things to a certain extent. The rest is just about seeing what happens. That would terrify me (sometimes it still does), but now it excites me.
I am 26 years old now. I have a Bachelor degree in nursing, a full time job and a relationship with food that was unrecognisable nearly 10 years ago. Almost 10 years ago, and I can still remember every little detail. Feel everything. I used to keep this part of my past tucked away and feel nothing but shame in fear that I would be seen as a woman with an illness that I was made to believe “never goes away”. To that I say no. I wholeheartedly believe you can break free, and you can live a life beyond an eating disorder. It was painful. It was really god damn hard. But I am thankful for it every day and very proud that I never gave up on my hunger for freedom.