real life

In the depths of my struggles with anorexia, a few words from my mum helped pull me out.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, confidential support is available via the The Butterfly Foundation. Call 1800 ED HOPE to speak to a trained counsellor.

For years now, I’ve watched even the strongest people around me crumble and break down over my illness. My mind has been chaos, my body has been a mess and my life has been in grave danger. But even still, I wasn’t ready to change.

I’ve had six hospital admissions since my diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. Every single one of them was voluntary (though in some respects, there were a few occurrences where I wasn’t really given an option). I’ve never been fed through a tube or had to have serious medical intervention, but if I had refused to be admitted I would’ve come close.

It’s quite a common conundrum, though; choosing to go into hospital to ‘get well’ and wanting ‘recovery’ so bad, yet knowing how to play the system to your greatest advantage and still having a drive to lose weight or an inexplicable fear of putting it on when you come out. It is just such a battle with your mind and body that you can’t explain to anybody who has never experienced it.

In September of 2017, after I was discharged from my most recent hospital admission I went on a date with a boy. Someone from my past with whom I’d previously shared a little bit of romantic history but never anything serious. So I wasn’t taking it seriously this time.

However, as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I grew to liking him quite a lot (which was an utterly confusing emotion for me – how was there even room in my brain for somebody else?). As much as I hoped the feeling was reciprocated (not the confusion, the liking me back part) and even though I think I knew deep down that he was actually quite fond of me (go figure), I was petrified it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I thought that he was still just having fun, so I was still fucking around with food all day and engaging in restrictive behaviours. I guess in a sense, I was also scared that if I did make significant weight gain, he would no longer find me attractive.

My first turning point.

I had a holiday coming up with my family over the New Year break. For most people, holidays are something to look forward to. Relaxation, food, wine, swimming and a break from reality for a while. For someone with a highly restrictive eating disorder, they are anxiety provoking and are approached with apprehension. I really wanted to enjoy myself, but I knew I would be watched like a hawk. There was no escaping this one.

I followed my revised meal plan and also consumed alcohol on top of it (not every day, but most days), and to my surprise NOTHING HAPPENED. My weight did not balloon, in fact, it didn’t even make a dent. On the plane on the way home though, my mum asked me if I enjoyed myself, to which I replied that I had. She then said something which might not sound so profound to a healthy person, but really hit the nail on the head for me.

“I’m glad you had a good time, but I hope you don’t look back one day and think about what you missed out on; that ice-cream I saw you eyeing off at the parlour every-time we walked past, walks on the beach because you can’t move around too much, or all those fruit juices you said you were going to try.”

I wanted to cry. She was right, I had missed out, yet again.

My second turning point.

A few weeks later, I went to the tennis with said ‘fellow in my life,’ this shocked me at first because he got the tickets from work and chose to take me instead of one of his brothers or his mates (maybe this is more than what I expected). Anyway, we got drunk and it was really fun.

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I had also become quite comfortable eating in front of him. Not a great deal of food, but still; this was quite a big deal to me, too. So later that night over dinner (yes, there was food thrown in with the prosecco), he told me that he was in love with me.

What the actual fuck?

Who could be in love with someone who is so consumed by thoughts of food, and weight and portions and measures, and lies and deceives, and doesn’t eat (very much) in front of you, and somebody who was clearly so unwell and had minimal to offer, except maybe a good time in the bedroom and some company over a drink?

That same night I realised that I actually loved him, too. I loved him all this time, and more than my Eating Disorder. I decided it was time to change. I either chose my Anorexia, or I chose my life. Both literally and figuratively.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not recovering for him, I’m doing it for me. He is just my strongest motivator. But everything feels different this time. I’ve tried recovery at home before, but only because I’ve simply wanted to stay out of hospital – no other reason beyond that. This time, I’m doing this for me because I have to. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Life doesn’t work that way. You have to give a little to take a little, and if that means putting on weight and being healthy, then I’m willing to try it, to throw out the rules and gain back a little bit of control so I can live. I want to travel, find a career, move out of home, have babies, establish healthy relationships and be spontaneously social again.

Things have changed dramatically for me in the last couple of months. Although I still have ‘rules’ around food, I try to break them – every day, at least once when and if I can.

I eat out spontaneously, I indulge frequently and even though most days I still feel more comfortable following a meal plan, I feel as if it is more of a safety net and I am a lot more intuitive.

I’ve found things I enjoy.

I’ve learnt that somethings in life are optional. Eating is not one of them, no matter how much this wretched disorder will try to convince you (or me) otherwise.

I’ve also learnt that although there are benefits to it and it can be so enjoyable – food is just food. It is all energy and it is all helpful. It’s nice to be able to enjoy it, but it’s OK if sometimes, you simply just eat because you know you have to.

I know how far away I am, and I know the intrusive thoughts won’t go away anytime soon. But now I feel some freedom. Some days, after I’ve eaten something a little ‘challenging’, I wait for the guilt. Lately, it’s yet to turn up.

It’s nice that there is, finally, a little bit of room amongst the chaos of my mind for other things.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, confidential support is available via the The Butterfly Foundation. Call 1800 ED HOPE to speak to a trained counsellor.

For immediate crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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