Researchers are hoping to find out more about the link between eating disorder and genetics.
My parents heard the ‘bang’ when I fainted due to lack of nourishment and fell in the bathroom of their home. It was the morning of my wedding day. When I walked down the aisle, at age 20, to marry George, my childhood sweetheart, anorexia went too.
By appearance you would not know that my body was under-nourished. I looked of normal weight, the illness having transitioned into bulimia, accompanied by anxiety and depression. By mid-twenties, I continued to look ‘normal’ but my mind resembled a prison camp dominated by a binge/starve cycle riddled with self-punishing and self-harming demands. The eating disorder thrived on secrets and isolation.
Eventually it destroyed my marriage and almost me.
The anorexia, which had developed at age 11 as a friend to cope with a very stressful time, had extended its hold through adolescence and into young adulthood. Its 24/7 bossy demands became relentless, increasingly impossible to meet. Every day was ruled by diet and exercise regimes created in an endeavor to ease fear, anxiety and feelings of guilt. The bar was forever raised. Nothing was ever enough.
Outwardly I presented as a wife, mother, journalist, sister and daughter but my diary revealed a different story: with daily lists and pledges reflecting a desperate bid to escape the constant torment in my mind.
The few times I had tried to discuss how I felt with my mother, she had indicated I thought about myself too much, and that I should put the needs of others before those of my self. Therefore I thought I was weak, that I should be able to cope. The illness encourages this thinking, also, for it wants you all to itself. Isolate and conquer is its underlying mantra.
Getting through the day required:
- weighing this number of kgs
- running this number of kms
- eating no more than this number of calories
- … and doing this, this and this.
Then came an awakening moment.
At age 26, I was suicidal. I could see no way out. My husband felt helpless and distraught. It was after one night when our children had scrambled under their beds in fear that my love for them managed to override the magnetic hold of the eating disorder and, fearing a diagnosis of madness, of being labelled an unfit mother, allowed me to disclose my secret inner struggle to a doctor for the first time.
Six years of misdiagnosis passed before a health professional, a psychiatrist, saw me beyond the entrenched layers of illness and offered something more than a quick fix of pills: he listened and encouraged written communication.
Shortly after, at age 36, in a critical moment, deep within a dark well of despair and disembodiment, I discovered and clung to a tiny thread of true self. This was the turning point. Slowly, a U-turn was achieved. A desire to recover took hold. Working with a supportive treatment team, threads of true thoughts and feelings were reconstructed and regained, a shattered identity reformed.