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"How the voice inside my head became an eating disorder."

 

A year ago, Liz succumbed to a disorder that almost robbed her of her family, happiness and sanity.

My friend *Liz was an easy going soul with the world at her feet. She lived a life to be envied, one filled with love, laughter and promise.

That was until about a year ago when she succumbed to an eating disorder that almost robbed her of her family, happiness and sanity. This is her story.

I remember the day so clearly. It was the first day of winter and thundering down with rain. I couldn’t have scripted a darker scenario if I tried and the timing seemed almost poetic in nature.

For months I had refused to listen, refused to hear anyone but the voices in my head. The people who loved me screamed, begged and pleaded for me to open my ears and listen to them instead of the devil sitting on my shoulder. But I wouldn’t, actually let’s rephrase that… I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t hear because the voice inside my head at the time had become my best friend, my ally, the one thing that made me smile and feel excitement each day and the only thing I needed.

Forget my husband, my family, my children. Nothing meant as much to me as my new best friend who at times I deplored and was repulsed by, and at times I couldn’t breathe without.  It has become a part of me, as much a part of me as the skin that covered my bones or the air that I breathed.

On that cold winter’s day as I shovelled another spoonful of ice cream into my mouth, I finally reached what you might call ‘breaking point’. The point where I could see no light at the end of the tunnel, not even a spark. For months I had been able to find a new way to do things, a new approach to work with, the motivation to just try again, but on this day it all came to a crushing end. And as I reached for the phone, my hands covered in ice cream and my face covered in tears, I made the call I had avoided making for months.

I begged and pleaded with the voice on the other end of the phone to ‘take me in’, ‘take me in now’ because I knew that if they didn’t, I would wake up tomorrow and the voice in my head would have inspired me to try a new technique, give it another go, be understanding and accommodate my best friend’s crazy antics for a bit longer.

Call it kismet or fate but at that moment the planets aligned and the voice on the other end of the phone told me that I was next on the list and that there would be a place available for me in the morning. Hearing that sent panic through my body, I knew I needed to go in to treatment but all of my fears were about to be brought to the forefront in one thunderous blow. Once I made the decision, I told my husband and then my family. I could almost hear them simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief as the one thing they all wished for was finally coming to fruition.

I was entering a clinic that might finally end the year of torture I had put them all through, and most importantly help me kill the monster inhabiting my head. When you make a decision like that it is terrifying, as you know the safe and secure world you created, despite it being a dark and horrible place, might just disappear. And that everything you had hidden from and developed the disorder to escape from would be brought to the surface in titanic proportions.

“What was I doing I asked myself, am I crazy, surely I can fix this myself. The voice in my head tried to break through.”

I read up on similar facilities and how they treated patients, and also about the meal plans, expectations and positive and negative outcomes of entering treatment. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, could prepare me for the world I was about to enter. As I kissed my partner goodbye I could barely see straight as my eyes were so swollen from crying and my throat so dry from fear. What was I doing I asked myself, am I crazy, surely I can fix this myself. The voice in my head tried to break through. But I knew that as much as I loved my best friend, it was time to say goodbye because if I didn’t, we would end up disappearing into the abyss together.

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So I continued on. Inside the halls were lined with what seemed at the time like hostile faces. Mostly young girls with the exception of a few. In my cold room, alone, I felt deserted by the world. My best friend would never have treated me like this or let me down. He had been there for me whenever I needed him over the past year and now, without him, I was alone. Unsafe. Unfamiliar. Unwell.

After a few days of being there, I started to hear others’ stories. Stories much worse than mine, as there always are. There were girls who had struggled with the disease for half their lives. Beautiful, smart girls with the world at their feet, and a demon in their heads. Some were so underweight when admitted that they were drip fed, others were there because every time a morsel of food entered their bodies, the disgust and fear made them rush to the toilet to purge and vomit it up. It took me a while to get my head around it, but as I watched and listened, I learned so much about this insidious disease and the state of play for women in this world.

It’s impossible to tell who has a problem as the girls were all shapes and sizes, some obviously anorexic, others not so obviously anorexic. I attended group sessions and listened to heartbreaking stories from girls who couldn’t bare to see their reflection in the mirror or let anyone see them out of the baggy clothes they used to disguise their apparent ‘deformed’ bodies. On hearing this, I realised that I had become one of those people. I started to get angry and my blood boiled as I reflected upon the world we live in and the power of our minds to make or break our futures. And at that moment I swore that I would never dislike myself in any way again. Why would I waste another minute thinking about or calculating the calories in everything I ate. What the hell for I cried? Easier said than done perhaps, but I know that determination and therapy can work wonders and at this point I am hopeful.

“It’s impossible to tell who has a problem as the girls were all shapes and sizes, some obviously anorexic, others not so obviously anorexic.”

Eating disorders develop for a number of reasons, with many experts believing there is a strong genetic component to the disease. I believe that a large part of the reason my problem developed was due to the fact that I had way too much time on my hands. And that six years after giving up full-time work to become a stay at home mum, my mind used the eating disorder to escape from the mundaneness of life at home with two small children.

Recovering from an eating disorder is a long road and although I am no longer an in-patient, I continue to work hard to moderate my lifestyle and obsessive tendencies.

My vocal friend has subsided, and although I still hear him whisper my name every now and then, I know that the strength of his calling is no match for the strength of my willpower and  the knowledge I have gained throughout this experience.

If I could pass on anything from my experience it would be the importance of teaching our children self worth and body love, in the hope that they may live a life free from the bondage and horror of eating disorders.

Ashling Deegan is a Sydney based freelance journalist and mother of two young children. She spends most of her time writing articles and indulging in her passion for writing children’s books.She also loves watching movies and going for long drives in the mountains.

If this post brings up any issues for you, please contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673).

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