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I can pinpoint when it all started. I was about 24 years old and Anxiety had taken over my life in a massive way. I had reached a point where I was afraid to leave the house, I was exhausted as panic attacks were occuring daily and for no apparant reason. I couldn’t go to the grocery store for fear of having a panic attack and publicly humiliating myself, or go in a lift or over a bridge in my car as I had an irrational fear of being trapped. I had anxiety about getting anxiety – a very common occurence for people with anxiety or panic disorders. To avoid feeling panic I stopped attending most social functions, visiting busy shopping centres or driving different routes to those I was familiar with. I don’t know exactly when my anxiety started – I have many reasons for why it began. Some very horrible things have happened to me from a very young age, that I’m not comfortable just brushing over here – so will omit it.; These things led me to view things differently to most little kids and my perception of myself, love and my value as a girl was warped. This led me to make some poor choices which eventuated in more abusive situations and basically a total loss of my sense of self, self esteem any self love and the ability to make good choices, by the time I was 15 years old. So many times in my life my control had been taken from me and so many times I had been hurt by those who were suposed to protect me – so i was a generally anxious person from child hood.
I guess the day I was born was the beginning of a continuing battle with anxiety, disordered eating and a journey to self love.
Despite meeting an amazing man – UH-MAY_ZING – having two beautiful children and a loving family my anxiety was worsening and – it left me feeling out of control of my life, my body, my brain, my emotions…. my sanity. It made me feel physicall ill most of the time with upset tummys, constant nausea , heartburn, dry mouth, headaches and exhaustion. The physical side effects of my anxiety was actually making it worse! I started fearing feeling or being sick whilst out, fear of vomiting in front of someone, fear of feeling really ill and not being home where I felt “safe”. My solution was to stop eating – if I didn’t eat there would be nothing inside my stomach to upset it and I thought I was removing an aspect of my anxiety. I Thought I was pretty clever little problem solver I did! But some days I would eat and if I unexpectantly had to go out I would panic about the fact I had food in my stomach. This is when I started to purge my food. The first time I did it, it was literally to remove the food from my body so I wouldn’t feel sick – I wasn’t expecting the total feeling of relief I felt once I had thrown up, nor the release in my muscles and the feeling like I had control. And so began the disordered eating spiral – I wouldn’t eat all day long if we had somewhere to be and once we got home I would be STARVING and binge on everything I could get my hands on. I would be so full I would be in pain and then the guilt and shame was unbearable so I would be sick just to get rid of the pain and to chase that awesome rush and feeling of release and relief. Its quite ironic that I felt I was in “control” by doing this – as I had completely lost control, not regained it at all. I had handed my power over to , what I refer to as, the Demon in my mind. The Demon was, is, the voice inside my head that tells me I need to do this in order to control my anxiety. It got louder and louder each day and my restriction, bingeing and purging increased to the point that anything and everything I ate or drank was being rid from my body. I didn’t relate my ED (eating disorder) with my anxiety, until much later, so I went to my GP to seek help for my panic attacks , anxiety disorder and , what I now know was, agoraphobia. With the help of some professionals, regular visits with my GP and a treatment plan in place, my anxiety moved into the background enough that I could function at a somewhat “normal” level again. I even discussed my stomach issues with my doctor who arranged some tests and my diet was changed to all gluten free and it helped ALOT. I was able to leave the house, I was able to see my friends and I felt hope at last.
I thought my ED would go when my anxiety did, when my stomach wasnt as tempermental – but I was so wrong. When I purged I felt free, released from the hurt and the pain of my past and again, I felt in control. Once that feeling passed though, I hated myself, my internal dialogue was extrmely self depreciating and I couldn’t believe this is who I was and what I was doing! My weight started to drop dramatically and I discovered a new thrill, a new obsession – the scales. The measurements. The numbers.
Every morning I woke up, rolled onto my back and checked to make sure that my hip and rib bones were protruding, that I could fit my fingers around my thighs and that the fingers on one hand could fit around my upper arm. Then I would pinch any other areas and lunge my way to the bathroom to weigh myself. Weight loss meant the day began with a smile and some egg whites, weight gain completely ruined the day and I would punish myself with cardio and zero food.
One night , My husband and I had put the two kids to bed and were having a few beers and wines and I got the confidence, that only a couple of wines can give, to blurt out to Dwayne – “I think I have a problem”. He’s a wonderful supportive man so he simply asked what he could do to help me and I just requested his support. I’d like to say it all ended there and I stopped, but that would be a lie. I tried…..the time I waited before purging would be a little longer, as I did my best to keep the food I’d eaten in my body and, in addition to this – someone now knew I was unwell. Dwayne was watching my every move, he would look at me funny during a binge and say “ness, what are you doing??” – so I just became better at hiding it. I ate in secret and purged in secret, I lied about what I’d eaten when no one was home. “Oh I had a massive lunch I’m so full” . I was bingeing in the car on the way from work and hiding the rubbish in a neighbours bin, I was purging in public bathrooms – I was disgusted at myself. At my lowest point I weighed 46 kilos and was killing myself to get to 45. I told myself that if I just got to 45 I would be “happy” and would stop.
When we were moving from Melbourne to the Gold Coast, I found a diary I had kept during this time. It was a very simple journal – calories in versus calories out plus calories burned for the day – the aim? To be in the minus come the end of the day. A cup of tea, apple, some nuts and one egg white is all I would eat some days with a 2km run on the treadmill, bike ride, lunges, sit-ups, walk and more random exercises. I couldn’t remember being like that, I cried when I read it as it read like someone with an eating disorder and that wasn’t me! Right?
My ED Demon would whisper in my ear that there was nothing wrong with me – my rational brain looked at my two DAUGHTERS two beautiful, young, developing, influential, curious , ever seeing daughters and I had to kick this for them! So I went to see someone and was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia nervosa, which really threw me. After some evaluation she decided to admit me to an eating disorder out patient clinic. I wouldn’t have to stay overnight but I would have to go every day, and I would also meet with a dietician. The time came and I didn’t go. I didn’t go because my ED demon told me that I wasn’t skinny enough to get help and when I got down to 45 kilos I would go….maybe.
I now know that an eating disorder is characterised by abnormal or disturbed eating habits – It is a serious mental illness not a lifestyle choice (nedc.com.au) – so telling someone to just stop what they’re doing is about as helpful as telling a woman to stop having her baby when it’s crowning! It ain’t gonna happen!
As the years went on I improved a little, threw away the scales and started training myself to view food as fuel for my body. I wasn’t better, but I was better than I had been.
In 2012, a week before my baby shower and at 31 weeks pregnant my mother committed suicide. Dwayne worried I would relapse in a big way but the reality was that something actually shifted in me a little. I realised how grateful I was to be alive, to be here for my children, for our bub in my belly. We needed a fresh start – everything horrible that had ever happened to me had happened in Melbourne and that, coupled with my love of the beach and warm weather, led us to the Gold Coast.
In 2013 we moved to Palm Beach, with the help of Foxtel lifestyle show – ‘Location, Location, Location Australia” and I used this opportunity for a fresh start and put my family on an all organic diet (much to my husbands disgust!) I bought a juicer, found some organic shops, became vegetarian and focused on fueling mine, and my children’s bodies with the best nutrition. I think this really helped me- I became obsessed with this instead of the scales and was setting a good example for my Little’s. I picked up my exercise again and was really enjoying what it was doing for how my body FELT! I had a little set back when I decided to train for a fitness model comp- the constant measurements, weighing, food control and pressure to look a certain way by a certain date was the complete OPPOSITE of what I, personally, should have been doing. For me , this kind of training and preparation was extremely triggering and the ED Demon was coming back. So after 12 weeks, I decided I was not going to put myself in that situation and stopped training. I was still only eating a small amount of calories and had no strength or muscle and hated the way it made me feel. I wanted to feel HEALTHY, I wanted to feel STRONG, I wanted to see what my body could DO.
It was literally like a switch flipped and I just wanted to be healthy and live a long, happy life with my children and grandchildren. I decided to start training with no end goal in sight – except to get stronger, fitter and healthier. There would be no calorie counting, no weigh ins just good food and lots of goal setting involving fitness and strength.
That was 2 years on and I am now 10kgs heavier, actually the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life (non pregnant!) and the fittest I’ve been since I was a kid, getting stronger every month and FEELING so good, so positive and so appreciative of my dear old body for putting up with the shit I put it through and sticking around.
My new obsession, my new sense of control comes from training. I feel I can release all the pain and grief from my past, shut the ED Demon up and feel the rush of endorphins that I got from my ED – by challenging my body physically.
I have a long way to go – I wasted a lot of muscle when I abused my body the way I did – well the way my disorder did – it is an illness I had zero control over, despite thinking I was 100% in control.
I still struggle with the things I have experienced and have days when I get angry and think that if Mum and Dad were still alive everything would be okay, or if I just hadn’t experienced the things I had as a little girl that my development may have been different and thus no mental illness would ever have come into the equation. But you know what? I am who I am DESPITE it all , despite my mental illness….. despite my eating disorder. I am who I am because of it all and I LOVE who I am now – I want to help others, I try to be kind always, I try to look after myself mentally and physically as well as looking after those around me. I make myself a priority and that’s okay. In fact its essential to my well being.
Am I recovered – hell no – I will, for the rest of my life ensure I have help nearby in case I need assistance. By telling my story I hope I can help someone else have an “aha” moment or help someone realise that they’re not alone in this horrible illness.
I’m here to tell you – get help, reach out – it’s okay. It will be okay. You will be okay.
I got you.
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness or disordered eating please seek help!
https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/ -support for eating disorders and body image issues
https://www.nedc.com.au/ – eating disorder resources and information
https://www.lifeline.org.au/ – crisis support