This story was written by our good friend Bek. For more stories like this, check out our new eBook You Are Not Alone: Real Stories That Challenge The Silence, Shame and Stigma of Eating Disorders.
In 2010, when I was 17 years old, I fell soundly asleep in my doctor’s waiting room. Questions were asked as to why I was so exhausted, and I was popped onto the scales in her office. That’s when it all came out. I had been exercising an enormous amount each day and had lost an incredible amount of weight in a very short time. It was that day that I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.
I have a history of experiencing childhood sexual abuse, and whilst this isn’t the sole cause of my eating disorder, I believe it has contributed enormously to my profound and intense dislike of being and existing within my body. I also was a gymnast, and grew up with a father who was an aerobics instructor – these were factors that led to my obsession with my weight and shape, but again, they are not the sole cause of my eating disorder. I told neither my friends nor family about the anorexia or the exercise, but they knew something was wrong – it’s hard to hide things when you become so unwell. I often missed days of school just so I could spend time at the gym. It’s a wonder I made it through my HSC.
After six months, all the exercise and food restriction caught up to me and I started binging and purging. I started regaining the weight I lost and immediately tried to counteract that with the amount of exercise I was doing. That, in turn, of course only made the binging worse. I stayed stuck in this horrible, awful cycle for another six months before making the decision to move out of home, out of the unhelpful environment I was living in, and away from the gym. I moved in with my church minister and his wife and started receiving outpatient treatment from a dietitian and a psychologist with the Eating Disorders Service in Shoalhaven.
Slowly, but surely, and with the support of my team and my church friends, I was able to start eating regularly – and eating normal sized meals and snacks – and regain the remaining weight I had lost. I started blogging about eating disorders and reaching out to others who were also in recovery, and offering insight into the nature of eating disorders. This hard work took me right up until 2012.
In 2012, things were looking up. I moved into my own place and started to become independent. I started studying for the first time since leaving school in 2010 – an Advanced Diploma of Theology in Sydney. I maintained my weight; a healthy weight. I cooked for myself. I started breaking eating disordered rules and habits and behaviours. I started eating “feared foods”. I was not over-exercising. I continued blogging about eating disorders to educate people on the destructive nature of them. I socialised with friends and family and I started to create my own identity – one that was separate from the eating disorder.
Things weren’t perfect nor were they always easy, and I frequently had meltdowns, but I was well on the way to recovering from my eating disorder, and was feeling proud of myself for being able to be trusted to take control of my meal plan and be independent. I never thought I would relapse. I often preached on my blog that it was a normal and expected part of recovery; that slips happen and that these are often inevitable, but for some reason, I was the exception to the rule. And so it happened. Just shy of being one year eating disordered-behaviour free, I ran into someone who I had quite a traumatic history with and I relapsed… pretty much immediately.
The scary part was I didn’t even initially realise this was the case. I started walking for hours a day and pulled my food intake right back, lost far too much weight in a matter of four weeks and then realised things were bad – really, really bad – and perhaps worse than they had ever been. I stopped studying. I stopped spending time with friends because exercise and sticking to my rigid daily routine became my only priorities. No matter if I was unwell, or the weather was awful – I exercised. I once came back at 7am from a long walk in the rain and wind with a body temperature of 33 degrees Celsius.
My body should not have survived all that I’ve forced it to endure. I ate the same foods every day for six months and continued losing weight before my GP made the decision that I needed a hospital admission. That happened for the first time in July 2013. I was scared to go in, but I was also scared for my life. I had thought on numerous occasions that I was going to die, that my eating disorder was going to kill me, and I am damn lucky and grateful that it didn’t. I falsely believed that hospital would solve all my problems; that I would restore my weight and be exactly who I was before I relapsed.
This obviously wasn’t the case, and over the last few years I’ve swung between restoring my weight, losing weight and going in and out of hospital. I’ve now had eight admissions, with the first seven being at the same hospital in Ashfield in Sydney, each admission ranging from between 3 – 9½ weeks long. I’ve spent 2 Christmases in hospital, Easter, my 21st birthday, missed a mission trip to Cambodia with my church, amongst other things. My eating disorder has taken a hell of a lot from me in these last two years, including close friendships I had acquired years ago in high school, experiences, work, study, other relationships, time… It’s taken the better part of these last two years.
My last admission was at a different hospital in Wentworthville, Sydney. It was a lot different to my previous experiences with hospital. I had to take a lot more accountability for my meals and snacks. I was able to choose what I ate right from the get go, and was expected to serve my own meals (of course, relying upon the support of the experienced nurses). At first this was overwhelming, but it tapped into that old part of me that used to be independent and take responsibility for herself and her own meal plan, and something clicked in my head that hasn’t happened in two years.
I discharged from hospital after three weeks which is earlier than my team wanted, but I believed I was in the right headspace to be leaving and felt determined to stick to my meal plan and follow my exercise guidelines, despite the distress I knew that would come with it and the continued weight restoration (which is an essential part of recovery from an eating disorder).
I’ve been home a grand total of 5 days now*, and I’ve followed my exercise guidelines and meal plan 100%. I don’t know how I’m doing it, and I feel awful every time I follow through with doing what I know I should, but I’m also starting to be able to take pride in my recovery. It’s almost like restricting and overexercising aren’t options for me anymore, and so I’m trying to find new ones. Recovery isn’t comfortable, but if it feels wrong to the eating disorder, then I’m doing the right thing. I need to keep reminding myself of that. So no, I’m not yet better.
But I’m managing things, and I’m tolerating it for the time being. I hold high hopes that one day I’ll feel okay, and then I’ll feel better and perhaps even feel good – that recovery will be worthwhile and I’ll be able to look back and be proud of the progress I’ve made. For now, I’m hanging in there and doing the best I can each and every day and I think that’s all that can be expected of me, or anyone who is going through recovery.
*Rebekah first shared this story in July 2015.
Want to read more stories like Rebekah’s?
We are very excited to announce the first ever mindfoodly eBook, You Are Not Alone: Real Stories that Challenge the Silence, Shame and Stigma of Eating Disorders, is available to download now.
You Are Not Alone features real stories from a brave bunch of women, as well as practical tips and support from health professionals, including a psychologist and dietitian who specialise in eating disorders.
Every story in this book is unique, but they’re connected by a common thread: the desire to live a life free of eating disorders, and to show all of you out there that you have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide and you are definitely not alone.