In four years, I’ve come an extremely long way – both physically and mentally. But it hasn’t been easy.
Warning: This article deals with issues surrounding eating disorders and suicide and could be triggering from some readers.
On July 22, 2011, I arrived home from work to learn that my beautiful sister Alana had taken her life at the age of 23, after suffering from the effects of anorexia nervosa for almost a decade.
I remember in minute detail the painstaking ride to the police station that evening and laying flowers at the train station in the pelting rain. This was the end of Alana’s life, and life as I knew it. It was the beginning of my new life without Alana, which was, put simply – hell.
Since this tragedy, I have struggled immensely with the fact that I no longer have a future with Alana.
Unlike my friends, I no longer have the privilege of gallivanting around the world with my sister, watching her walk down the aisle, witnessing her journey through motherhood and selfishly knowing that she will be there for me when the going gets tough.
After Alana’s death, I felt empty inside. Absent was a sense of control of my life, which even now is often dictated by unpredictable and overbearing feelings of grief. Previously joyous occasions, for example, birthdays and Christmas, are now days of profound sadness. I no longer look forward to them, rather I dread and just hope to survive them.
Alana was receiving treatment at a specialist Eating Disorder Hospital on the day that she died. Given she was able to leave undetected twice that fateful day and her absence go unnoticed for hours, my family requested an inquest into her death.
The inquest lasted eight exhausting days and extended over six months. Listening to the evidence was like a slow torture but we were buoyed by the prospect of raising awareness of the serious shortcomings in resourcing and care for those with mental illnesses such as anorexia nervosa.
My parents and I wanted to ensure that Alana’s suicide and the outcome of the inquest became catalysts for change, so we went public with her story, in conjunction with The Butterfly Foundation, which works tirelessly to advocate for the plight of those with Eating Disorders.
In July 2014, four years after Alana’s passing, the findings were handed down. The Coroner described the matter as complex and harrowing, and I concur. (Editor’s note: The coroner said that more could have been done to check on the mental health of 23-year-old Alana Goldsmith on the day she died – but that the failures were not the ultimate cause of her death.)
The court process left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed but it did provide some answers. Contrary to common belief, the process did not bring “closure”. I view closure as an overly simplistic concept that only compounds feelings of angst for the bereaved.
Milestones like this do not close anything. In fact the end of the inquest sent me into a downward spiral, my wounds of hurt, grief and loss were open and raw.
Following the inquest, I was more confused than ever before about what lay ahead of me. All I knew was that I wanted to maximise my life and Alana’s as well. Seeking something new and transformative, I quit my comfortable, full-time job in media without any plans in the pipeline.