21st June 2018 – Journal Entry
I have an eating disorder
A significant milestone in my life occurred the day that I admitted to myself that I was suffering an eating disorder (ED). I was unwell and needed help, desperately. Until this point I thought of my symptoms as a weakness, not an illness. I would soon learn from the many health professionals I would work with that what I had was actually a very dangerous disease.A disease that could take my life, a disease that deserved and needed treatment, just like anyone who had a serious physical ailment would expect to receive.
I will get straight to the point. Eating disorders are not just about food, in fact, the food is a much bigger symptom of something more sinister going on in a person’s mind. I developed my eating disorder in childhood, growing up in difficult circumstances, with a mother who was battling her own eating disorder and additional mental health issues, a schooling environment that I shudder to think could be happening now and a serious case of no self-concept or confidence.
21st June 2018 – Journal Entry
I need something more to shut this mean, persistent and draining voice that lives inside my head with the intention of doing everything it can to make me feel horrible about myself, my life, my world.These thoughts circulate around and around in my head, sometimes even coming through in my dreams, always with me from the moment I wake, to the moment I sleep.
Here are a few examples of eating disorder thoughts that dominated my mind. These examples are taken from an extensive list of self-criticism and belittlement:
- You’re inferior to everyone else around you
- You’re a failure
- You’re a terrible mother
- You’re fat, disgusting
- Eat as little as you can
- Eat as much as you can
- You’re a burden on everyone
- You’re not good enough
- You need to diet
- You should hide at home
- Everyone is judging you
- I hate me
- Don’t eat, don’t eat, don’t eat
- I’m trapped and exhausted
- No-one really cares
Difficult to read but sadly, all true. So how did a child grow to become an adult with such thoughts and feelings about herself? Firstly, a very ill and emotionally absent mother who unfortunately was battling her own internal demons. Her illness made her as unpredictable as a ticking time bomb. Her illness behaviours made clear that she didn’t want to be with us, she didn’t want to be on earth. I spent my time trying not to upset her, trying to be invisible and feeling responsible for her and my father’s happiness. With my nurturing needs going unmet, I began to use food for comfort and in time, became overweight.
Secondly, my school system failed me, dismally. One of my first experiences of secondary school was to be weighed, wearing only a short netball skirt in front of three Year Seven classes! No privacy, no discretion. I was terrified of those scales then and have been ever since. This weighing practice was carried out twice each year, every year! I feared it every time, every year. I remember the dread and the fear as if it were yesterday. I can still see my weight, sense the feelings towards my Physical Education teacher; I can hear the other students comparing what they weighed whilst I quietly tried to make myself invisible.
Most of all, I remember the shame I felt as a result of the number on those scales. Three decades on, this memory continues to haunt me. My life might have followed a much healthier path if the school system had employed a counsellor to support children like me who had a parent at home with a mental health challenge. A counsellor with knowledge of mental health issues could have provided information about the illness to take home and read.The school system educated me about eating disorders, but in the wrong way. I had everything I needed, a genetic disposition towards developing an ED and all the information I could possibly need to unknowingly develop an ED of my own.
Having learnt all the tricks and tools, life moved on, but now I became the ticking timebomb. When I restricted my food intake and became skinny, people thought I was looking after myself, that I was eating well and exercising. Compliments galore came my way, some people even said they wished they could be more like me! When I regained the weight, I became invisible again, confirming in my mind that unless I was a small size ‘x’, I was not worth talking to. People did not know that I was living a lie and was trapped in my own personal hell.
The Turning Point
I was in my early 40s when one day, with my mother present, the feeling of helplessness became unbearable. I fell to the floor in a flood of emotion, crying that I wanted to die, I couldn’t do life anymore. That was the day my mother learnt of my eating disorder. The next step in my journey, was to access help. Reluctant to go to hospitals, I found myself searching online for retreats that could treat eating disorders. I attended several different ones, and the experience was not good. One interstate retreat claimed to treat drug and alcohol addictions and EDs. The staff assured me that they could treat my illness. I felt hopeful, paid the money and said goodbye to my family for several weeks. I returned home feeling devastated. Turned out I had wasted a lot of money on a program that had no idea how to treat eating disorders. In fact, I returned home with my eating disorder raging, after doing three day-long juice cleanses and eating organic paleo style food the whole time I was supposedly in their care.
I ended up in a private mental health clinic in my hometown of Geelong. This was a challenging experience. I was 49 days away from my family, eating six meals a day and eating every last crumb and scrap on the plate. My ED rebelled, making sure every day I could see every bit of weight attaching itself to my body. However, I stuck with the treatment program, made some good friends, and, as I told my admitting doctor, “If I say I’m going to do something, I will!”, and I did, the whole 49 days. It was not easy, but I did it, for me.