June Alexander was 11 when she developed anorexia nervosa. Her fight with the crippling condition lasted decades. Now a grandmother, she tells her story here in two moving letters to her ‘best medicine’, granddaughter Olivia Rose.
December 27, 2009
Dear Olivia Rose,
At four days old you are a sweet wee babe wrapped snug in a rug and bunny suit. By the time you are old enough to read this letter, I picture you as a happy, bubbly little girl hopping from one foot to the other without a care in the world.
Olivia Rose, I will be forever telling you that you are very special and very loved. This is not because you are my first grand daughter, or because you were born on your great-grandmother Anne’s birthday, but because you are you.
I cuddled and kissed you when you were a few hours’ old. You were sound asleep and yet already radiated serenity and self-assurance. Somehow you indicated you are aware of your role in life, and that as you grow up you will quietly and confidently go about fulfilling it. I am sure I felt this as I held you, Olivia Rose. I didn’t only wish it. My heart was filled with gladness.
When I was a little girl, I felt confused and unsure of myself. I enjoyed going to school, and did my best to get top marks but felt upset and cross with myself when I made a mistake. Then, at age 11, an event occurred which made me feel very anxious. I felt alone and scared, Olivia Rose, and an illness called anorexia nervosa developed in my brain. Basically, I felt afraid to eat. My mum and dad did not know what to do because back then, there was no family-based treatment like there is today.
Untreated, my anorexia set in and took over my thoughts. When I was a teenager, it evolved into bulimia, which meant I sometimes ate a lot and other times ate nothing. I felt very mixed up. I worried about little things and often felt sad.
All up, I took 45 years to get on top of this sneaky bunch of thoughts that were not really me, playing havoc in my brain. I’m sure you agree this is a very long time to be bossed around but the important thing is that now I am free, Olivia Rose.
With much help from doctors and loving support from your Grandpa George, your mum Amanda and uncles Shane, Rohan and Ben, I have picked up the threads of my childhood, and am having great fun catching up on living my life. You will see!
I have been free for four years now and keep healthy by taking care of my feelings as they arise – reaching out for help if I need to - and eating regular and balanced meals.
I feel like a bird soaring and swooping with glee in the clear sunny sky - such is my joy on escaping the darkness that was my illness.
When I started my recovery journey, I had to work out what thoughts belonged to me, and what thoughts belonged to my illness. I had to be brave enough to trust the thoughts that belonged to me and push the other thoughts away. I liken this process to that of a small bird with weak wings, flying for the first time. I dropped to the ground more than a few times but amazingly, my thoughts got stronger as I persevered and gradually learnt to trust myself and others. Now that my wings and sense of self are strong I am devoted to giving hope to others. I am flying around the world with this message.
Watch the MMTV video below on anorexia. Post continues after video.