real life

'I knew I was really sick. But all doctors did was fat shame me.'

At 22 years old, I was in the throes of severe post-traumatic stress. 

Memories so clear and crisp invaded my senses incessantly, being awake was often worse than being asleep. Asleep my night terrors caused my entire body to lock up and freeze. 

I would be paralysed for hours on end and amongst the chaos of a mental health crisis, something else took place: a steadily progressing weight gain.

Over years the weight gain increased, and my body went from a size 16 to a 22-24. Along with that weight gain came a plethora of other strange sensations that became my new normal: I ate, but craved high salt and sweetened foods. 

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My energy levels dived so drastically that even moving about the house to do basic things for myself was taxing.

Sometimes, I felt my body screaming out for something, but I didn’t know what - my best guess was dehydration so I drank electrolytes but it didn’t help. 

I noticed that when my partner caught a cold and it passed to me, I’d gotten sicker, for longer, and as time passed these symptoms became worse. I asked for help, begged my doctors to test me for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. One GP looked me straight in the eye and said I should simply refrain from using store-bought salad dressings, and use lemon juice with salt, pepper, and olive oil instead - it would help me lose weight and then all my complaints would… vanish? 

It wasn’t unusual for doctors to tell me everything was weight related, and if I simply dropped a few kilos, all those pesky symptoms would go away. It's a sentiment experienced by every plus size woman I’ve ever met - that our health concerns are never taken seriously because of our fatness. 

Things kicked up a notch when I suddenly began feeling like I was dying.

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There’s no other way to describe it, except my skin lost its colour. Moving, even to the bathroom, was almost too much to do. My limbs strained and hurt to move, I couldn’t get myself off the couch anymore, one leg was swelling, and I craved water - so much that I was easily downing over four litres a day. 

In this state, I went to my local Emergency Department and on a triage blood glucose test, my blood sugar was spiking at 19.9 - almost three times what a healthy blood sugar level should be sitting at. 

I was told I wouldn’t be going home that night and that I had Type 2 Diabetes. I was terrified - didn’t diabetes only happen in your old age? I’d just turned 30! How could I possibly be a diabetic? I asked them, over and over, to repeat to me how they knew I was diabetic, 

“Nobody that has a blood sugar level that high without eating anything for hours, isn’t diabetic love.” one of the nurses kept reminding me. I called my partner, in tears and scared - a flood of words tumbled out of me: how could this have happened to me? Were they sure? They wanted to inject my tummy with insulin - under normal circumstances I was needle phobic and rarely consented to blood tests - and now they wanted to stab my belly with some horrific needle?

Listen to The Quicky's episode on Type 2 Diabetes. Post continues after audio.


I was so panicked I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, or organise my thoughts. The doctor on shift told me he was surprised I hadn’t collapsed with sugar levels this high, untreated for who knew how long. I responded with “well, adrenalin is a wonderful thing.” and then it hit me: I was in fact, very, very sick. 

I spent most of two full days in hospital while the medical team worked to introduce me to diabetic care. I was so overcome and in shock that I would yo-yo from being completely numb to crying uncontrollably in my short stay bed, feeling utterly ashamed of myself. 

I felt every fat joke ever made at my expense, every snide comment, every misconception about diabetes roil up from within me and pour out in my tears. 

It took time to learn how to swallow the enormous Metformin pills without gagging. It also took an enormous feat of courage on my part to learn how to inject my insulin - and even longer for the side effects of three new drugs in my body to subside enough to let me think clearly, sleep, eat, and not almost poop myself every day (nobody ever prepares you for the changes to your gut when you're diagnosed and medicated for Diabetes). It took months for me to psychologically digest, process and understand Diabetes - and to figure out how it came to life in me. 

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It wasn’t easy, unravelling everything I’d ever been told about my body by doctors and experts. Every comment made by GPs and dieticians, however well meaning, had to be examined and unstuck from my psyche - from “just eat more fish and nuts” to “Well, we’ll just sign you up for gastric band surgery if you can’t lose it on your own” - words from people in positions of authority and influence that had ripped at the little sense of personal power and agency I had over my own body. 

It took time to rebuild trust in myself because I had known, for a good long time, that I was very sick with something. Slowly, I pieced together my story of how it happened - and then I began to notice something wonderful: I wanted to go for a walk, and I had ample energy for it! I wanted to move my body around, and the energy seemed almost limitless - I could walk to the store without needing to stop and rest several times. I could do things at home. I was feeling life return to my body as it began to respond to the medication, and heal. My body did begin the change - colour began seeping back into my skin, my hair stopped falling out in clumps, and I dropped several kilos of fluid. 

After a few months on medication, something of a small miracle occurred: my period, which has always been either so intensely painful and bloody I’d pass out or non-existent, returned - gently. Not a single cramp, nor a twinge of a back ache. The flow was light, and easily managed. No flooding, no shivers and shakes, no relentless pain - and a month later, the same happened again. 

My body, sick for so long, was, no, is healing!

It opened my eyes to a new appreciation of what my body can endure, and what it's capable of given the right tools to do the job with - that life was never meant to be so difficult for so long - and it helped me have the courage to embrace my body, be thankful for its grit and softness. 

Am I still fat? Yes. 

Will I ever lose the kilos society is demanding of me? Probably not. 

But I’m the healthiest I’ve been in a decade, and the vibrance and feeling of being healthy on the inside gave me a little bit more courage to sink into the comfort of being in my own skin, happily. 

Ashleigh Rae is a coffee loving Melbournian, TikToker and Community Facilitator. She writes, speaks and advocates on Disability Rights and Survivorship of sexual violence.

Find her on socials:

TikTok: @feministradical.

Instagram: @thefeministradical.

Feature Image: Supplied.