This is raw. This is the truth. This is hard to share. This is my story. It’s ironic in some ways that part of our goals with this blog is to reduce stigma and increase mental health awareness, yet as I publish this post I am scared of what people might think. I have kept my identity hidden for personal reasons, although for some it is obvious who is writing this. I am worth more than my weight. I am happy. I am more than what people think of me from my exterior. When I was really sick and wishing my illness would help me fade away, I was not weak, but I was not strong either. When I started fighting what was trying to kill me, that is when I was and still continue to be strong. I would like to emphasise that eating disorders are not a choice; you cannot choose to have an eating disorder. However, you can choose to fight it. My story is different to how anyone else’s will be, but I hope it inspires you or you can take something from it.
What started off with a few ‘fat’ comments and setting incredibly high standards for myself when I was 14, quickly turned into becoming a shadow of who I once was. I literally woke up one morning and told myself I would not eat unless I had to, and so that is exactly what I did. When I think back, I never had a healthy relationship with food, and it was probably only a matter of time before my eating disorder surfaced. I lost weight very quickly; I also lied, I faked being sick to avoid school and food, I hid food, I threw a lot of food out, I made myself throw up every little thing I did eat, and I would not let myself sleep until I had done at least 500 sit-ups. I was tired, I felt alone, and my drive to lose more weight grew with every kg I lost; I was constantly thinking about what I had eaten, and how I would avoid food the next day. I was taken to a treatment centre, and was going as an outpatient 2-4 times a week for medical tests and appointments. I was not ready for treatment at first, and I did not want help because I thought I was fat and that everyone was lying to me. So I lost more weight. It is hard to explain, but it is literally like there is a voice in your head telling you that you don’t deserve food, no one is ever going to love you, and that you are fat and worthless. At one point I had a 40% chance of having a heart attack at any time, and even that did not scare me or make me realise how unwell I was. I grew to hate what anorexia and bulimia was doing to me and what it was doing to my family, but I could not imagine life without these disorders. People saw and labelled me as anorexic and/or bulimic, especially at school, so that is how I saw myself too.
I lost all freedom. I couldn’t eat at school without someone watching me, I had to have someone stand outside the bathroom to make sure I wasn’t making myself sick, and I couldn’t get my driver’s license. I had to stop netball and exercise and had to sit out in PE at school. It is isolating enough having a mental illness, but literally losing every freedom you once had because you could die made it harder just to want to live.
I got to a point where I had had enough; I wanted my freedom back. It was like a light in me was switched back on and I very slowly started to become stronger than my illness. I started eating again, I engaged in treatment, I appreciated the support, and I set goals. I knew if I kept going the way I was I would never live the life I always dreamed of and do the things I wanted to. It took years to recover; I recovered physically, but it took some extensive work after that to feel ok in myself, mentally and emotionally. I had slip backs and times where I couldn’t bare to look at my reflection, but I had to remind myself of my goals to health and happiness. I had amazing support, and eventually I got to a point in my life where I was myself again.
It has been years now and I have been recovered for five or so years. I am proud of that. I will never be who I was before I went through what I did, but I am stronger from my experiences. I want you to know that you can recover too; never give up. My whole mindset and life has changed. I have run a half marathon, I am healthy, I am social, I study hard, I exercise, I have more confidence than I thought would be possible, and I am happy. I can honestly say I am (mostly) comfortable in my skin; I struggle with my appearance at times, like most of us do. It took me a long time to let anyone see my body, but now I am proud of it. Stigma from my battles with mental illness still follow me around today. Those close to me are very cautious around what they say and still sometimes watch my eating habits and appearance, which can make me self-conscious. As frustrating as it can be, how lucky am I that I have recovered, and have people that care about me a lot? Having lived with mental illness should be seen as a strength, not a weakness.
If you are suffering from mental illness, I want you to know that it is possible to recover; it is possible to see the beauty in yourself and life again.