It was Friday afternoon I ended up in emergency. Taken straight from Triage through to be treated I finally admitted that perhaps, perhaps I was back in the throes of a relapse. You don’t look sick enough to have an eating disorder. Nothing wrong. My head was screaming. I was asked how I was feeling; my instantaneous answer, dictated by my eating disorder brain was “fine” before I backtracked to explain how I was really feeling.
Sick. Dizzy. Weak. Tired. Fat. Pathetic – especially for ending up back here again. Stupid. Heart palpitations. Anxious. Scared.
I have EDNOS – a not otherwise specified eating disorder. I don’t look anorexic, but I behave like I have anorexia nervosa much of the time. I’m not bulimic enough to have full blown bulimia nervosa. Having gone up & down the spectrum of eating disorders thoroughly over the last few years, it is EDNOS that has come closest to killing me several times over. The most common cause of death from an eating disorder is cardiac issues; often striking quickly & unexpectedly. Indeed a great proportion of those I know who have died from eating disorders have died either from suicide or have simply gone to sleep & not woken up. These people are not stupid. Indeed those I know who have suffered the most are the ones who are the most brilliant, the most intelligent, the top of their grade, perfectionists, hard working & have been swallowed whole by this demon of perfectionism & darkness.
There is nothing glamorous about having an eating disorder. There is nothing nice or pretty about falling apart both physically & mentally. There’s nothing glamorous about failing uni because going to class clashed with your completely deranged sleeping patterns & you were too overwhelmed by people eating; muesli bar wrappers crunching at a million decibels, people taking rapid bites between classes during conversations, people throwing down a full-strength sugared drink without thinking about it. Or not being able to work. Or sleep. Or eat like “anyone else”.
An eating disorder is a mental illness. A high media awareness, particularly of high-profile cases has done eating disorders both favours & a huge disservice. Anorexia is more aesthetically shocking than any other eating disorder, but isn’t the most common eating disorder. It’s estimated that ¼ of the population will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Following on from that; those with anorexia nervosa are 32 times more likely to suicide than their healthy peers. Eating disorders have a 20% mortality rate. 1 in 5. That is astronomical. Think about it; you, your best friend, your mother, your brother & another close friend. If you all had an eating disorder, one of you wouldn’t make a 10 year follow up because of the eating disorder.
Nationwide treatment for eating disorders is appalling. Services are limited at best & life threatening at worst. At 19 I had to move from Canberra to Sydney to access treatment because the level of care simply wasn’t available to me. When I moved here 3 years ago, I was privileged to access one of the then-existing four public state-wide beds. I was in hospital for four consecutive months after an agonizing 3 week wait where my life was literally hanging in the balance. Since 2009, although a national task force on eating disorders has been created, the state-wide beds have dropped to two.
Two beds. Only for the most acutely ill in the state. There is a state-wide public outpatients program also. Which is open for one half a day per week. There’s a day patient program, running four days per week – but it has an extensive waiting list attached to it. To even be assessed at the outpatients program, there is a wait of several months.
Simply, this is not good enough.Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness – a double whammy of both death by one’s own hand & the many complex physical complications.
We need to raise the profile of the sad state of affairs for eating disorder treatment in NSW.
Please put your name on the petition & help us let the NSW Government that eating disorders are serious illnesses and need to be treated as seriously.
Currently there is a petition which you can sign here.
The media has done a wonderful job of raising the profile of eating disorders. Now it’s time for those of us with the condition to be able to access care, without having to fight both the system & our illness.
Ella is a 20-something living in Sydney. Healthcare professional by day, student by night, she passionately advocates to raise the profile of eating disorders.