If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, support is available via the Butterfly Foundation. Visit the website or call 1800 33 4673 to speak to a trained counsellor.
As I write this, my 39-year-old sister lies in an Intensive Care Unit. She is being tube-fed, in order to keep her alive. She has been told that if she doesn’t stick to this new plan, then a doctor will eventually tell her three children that their mother is dead.
She is the face of anorexia that most of the world doesn’t see.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it all started. As a sufferer of depression and anxiety since her early teens, she has always had her fair share of struggle. Yet she managed to keep it at bay, and over the years she has built a life that ticks all the boxes: successful career, intelligent, lovely husband, three divine children, and a family that love her. What we have all learned is that none of this is enough to block the force of mental illness.
Looking back, there were signs that all was not right. She was exercising every day. She couldn’t miss a workout, or a run. She was often seen in the pouring rain pounding the pavement, compelled by a force we knew was slowly taking over yet we were powerless to stop. She was eating less, but it took a while to notice because part of anorexia is the secretive, self-destructive behaviours around food. She seemed to be increasingly struggling with her depression.
Looking at photos around that time, I can now see that she looks thinner than usual. When you are in the moment, the pieces don’t always slot together the way they do with the benefit of time, hindsight and reflection.
Then one day, around four years ago, I received a call from my mother to say that she couldn’t get my sister up from the floor; it was as though something had just snapped and she couldn’t keep going. This was the start of her first hospital admission and the beginning of a journey that we never anticipated.
We’ve watched her rage, pull out tubes, lie about food and verbally abuse the people she loves. It is not her; it is what she has been reduced to by an illness that has ravaged her body and all but destroyed the parts of the brain that allow for rational thinking.
Every part of her is starving.
Olympian Jana Pittman shares what it was like living with an eating disorder at the height of her career…
Though anorexia typically begins in adolescence, the most seriously ill are often aged between 20 – 45. Yet still, somehow, there doesn’t seem to be much out there to support women who are living with this insidious illness.
In the last four years we have met some lovely medical and mental health professionals. My gripe is not with them, but with a system that is inherently flawed; a system that no longer offers my sister or our family any real sense of hope. She has been in private facilities, scheduled in public psychiatric units so bleak there are no words I can ever use to capture them. She has seen psychologists and psychiatrists and was even rejected by an eating disorder specialist because she was considered too much of a risk.