This post contains themes that some might find triggering. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, seek help from your GP or contact Beyond Blue.
It’s been nearly 20 years since I was delivered an ultimatum that would change the course of my life. Face near certain death. Or eat.
Unbelievably, my 16-year-old self found this to be a preposterous and difficult choice. I couldn’t fathom the thought of consuming food. But I had too much to live for. I was skin and bone. But I felt morbidly obese. I looked in the mirror and saw bulges that weren’t there. I felt the fat on my stomach, thighs, and legs. And I was confused and frustrated that others couldn’t see it too.
Watch: Singer, Kasey Chambers tells us exactly what it was like having a high-functioning eating disorder. Post continues after video…
I poured through my “Thinspiration” scrapbook. My treasured little pink diary, lovingly and carefully crafted with pictures of underweight models, and reasons to push through the hunger pains. And I pondered. To eat, or to die.
I chose to eat that day. 60 grams of whole grain cereal, with half a cup of skim milk. It was a start. The first definitive step in my road to recovery. It took time … a lot of time … and a heck of lot of support from family and friends. But more than anything else, it took money.
I spent a month in a $900 per day clinic on Sydney’s north shore. Fortunately, my family had the means and resources to help me get better. But many others don’t.
The reality is, our public system is failing eating disorder patients. If I had been born into a lower income household, there’s no way my parents could have afforded the psychiatrists and nutritionists needed to facilitate my recovery. I would likely have been wait listed for a bed in a public hospital. And if I was fortunate enough to get one, I would have been treated for my physical ailments and discharged within a week.
Last week the Health Minister Greg Hunt asked the Medicare review committee to look at the opportunities for further assistance to patients.
“We have to do more for mental health, but specifically for anorexia, which has been such a tragic condition and so it has been, to a degree, overlooked and it’s time to put the spotlight firmly on eating disorders,” he told the ABC.
This is long overdue.
Until we recognise and address the devastating effects of disordered eating, women will continue to suffer in silence and shame. Young girls will fall through the cracks. Many more will die.
Eating disorders must be placed at the forefront of all mental health and suicide prevention services. And holistic care to treat the physical and mental illnesses should be made available and accessible to all Australians. Anorexia Nervosa is the ultimate leveller. It doesn't discriminate. So why should we?
As for me, almost two decades on I (mostly) have it altogether. Ironically I work in the public eye, in a position that continually exposes me to criticism and judgement based on my appearance. I have three beautiful children and a wonderful husband. I run marathons for charity. I am a healthy 60 kilograms, and wear my mummy tummy and stretch marks as a badge of honour. All of which make for an Instagram-perfect life.
Listen: Mamamia Out Loud discuss: what if "body positivity" doesn't work for you? Post continues...
But I still have my demons.
You see, anorexia isn't about weight. It's about control. The cycle of starvation and deprivation gives me comfort. Even now, my stress manifests in eating. My body size still fluctuates depending on my mental state. I have a number of obsessive rituals when it comes to the foods I eat and how I consume them.
I push myself to run further, harder and faster. And I take criticism badly. I re-read negative tweets for days, and innocuous comments about my weight can send me into a mental free-fall. However, I have the tools and support networks in place to help keep me on track.
One day I hope to be brave enough to put my name to this piece. But not now. There's still so much judgement. And I have too much at stake. A job, where I am rated on my image more than my ability. A husband, who will never know the depths of his wife's vulnerability. And three little kids, who believe their mummy is perfect just the way she is.