When I was first approached to have needles stuck in my face in the name…
When I was young, I had this image of my life.
I made boundaries I never dreamed to cross, and when I did, I woke completely lost.
I felt like I knew nothing. I felt as if I was walking around in the dark. Everything confused me and I had no idea how to deal with the turbulence raging inside my chest. I had so many questions and no one had any answers.
I learnt to swallow my words before I spoke them. Then I learnt to swallow my thoughts before I heard them. I didn’t know how to express myself. I wanted to yell, cry, sob out the confusion and upset inside of me, but the right words were hard to find, and when I did stumble across something pertinent, I would say nothing; thinking it was too stupid to say out loud, too scared of saying the wrong thing.
Somewhere alongside learning to swallow my words, I forgot how to eat. I shrunk my voice, I shrunk my personality, I shrunk my thoughts, and then I began to shrink my body.
It was as if there were two sides in my head that were in a state of permanent warfare. One was saying I deserved to do all these fun life things that everyone else seemed to be doing; that I needed to eat and be well so I could get dumplings with friends and go on trips to the coast. The other was stuck on repeat: ‘Do Not Eat, Do Not Eat, Do Not Eat. You Do Not Deserve To Eat’. The argument felt like it would tear me in two. I wanted so badly to live life, but I was so scared that I would live life ‘wrong’.
On August 9 2013, I wrote in my diary, to an imagined audience:
“What is it to have a good body image? I am afraid I cannot tell you. I’ve never had it. For the last two years, I have struggled with anorexia nervosa. I starve myself because I hate myself, and when I do eat (which I have been doing solidly for six months now) I have sporadic fits of intense depression because I feel so guilty. But why am I telling you this? To depress you in turn? To get your pity? No, I am a fighter. I will get better, I don’t need your pity. I am telling you because I want to help you. I want to prevent you from ending up where I am. I want to prevent your daughters from ending up here. I want to help you, by telling you what I have learned.”
On March 27 2017, I wrote, in that same diary, to that same imaginary audience:
Roughly two years ago (March 2015) I was admitted to hospital for a psychiatric condition for the seventh time in five years. Looking back from where I am today, I am unsure if I can barely recognise the person I was then, or, if I remember her as vividly as if she was sitting right beside me. I often sit up late at night holding her very close, whispering softly to her how deep my love and understanding is, telling her how much I wish I could have been there for her, but that it’s all ok now, I am here…I am here.
Today, in 2018, I am writing to a real audience; to you, from a place of recovery.
While before, I swallowed my words and buried my thoughts, while before I looked in others for the words to heal myself, I now know that the words to heal me are within me. I have come a long way since I was first diagnosed with anorexia. I have learnt so much, I continue to grow every day, and while I am sure I still have plenty more to learn, while I am sure there are many more ups and downs to come, in the last two years I have flown higher than I ever thought possible.
Sometimes I catch myself during the day, perhaps while I’m cycling to university under a big blue beautiful sky, or performing one of the mundane tasks in life which are a privilege still new enough for me to appreciate, such as hanging out the washing, or doing the grocery shopping. Other times, I may catch myself while sitting with friends, boxing with them at the gym, or alone in my bedroom in my new share house. Often, it is when I am sitting around the dinner table with my three sisters, my mother and my step-dad. In these moments, a great pride swells up in my chest, as I look at the joy in which my new family revels and in which my mum, sister and I for so long were unable to feel. In these moments, my heart is bursting with love for these five people sitting around me, and a gratitude for actions and sacrifices of which I know not half and for which I will never begin to repay.
It is in these moments that I am incredibly humbled by, grateful for and proud of the people, who have shaped my life, who have contributed to my recovery. And yes, this includes myself, because like everyone else on this planet, I too deserve love.
Back in January, while reading What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton, I stumbled across a quote that went something like this: “Write what only you can write; and write what you have to write”. It dawned on me the other night, that this article might be where these two supposedly profound literary elements converge.
What I write, only I can write, because it is drawn from my intimate and subjective experience of anorexia. What I write in this article, I have to write because I have realised that my experience of the ACT Mental Health System is not unique.
Currently, there are hundreds of women and young girls in Canberra who are having to travel interstate, away from friends and family, to get life-saving treatment for eating disorders.
Approximately 15% of Australian women, and 9% of the total Australian population experience an eating disorder during their lifetime.
Only 20% of people with anorexia recover, 20% of sufferers die. This is the highest mortality rate of all mental illness – including depression. Not only that, eating disorders represent the third most common chronic illness, and the second leading cause of mental disorder disability, for young females. Even for those without eating disorders, studies have found varying but consistently high levels of body dissatisfaction in adolescence.
Yet, in Canberra, there is no specialised eating disorder inpatient treatment.
In 2014, when I was only 21 years old, I spent six months in a specialist treatment centre for eating disorders in Sydney, as there was no centre in Canberra which could give me the life-saving treatment that I was in desperate need of.
Having been unwell with anorexia for four years, I had been in and out of Calvary Hospital and Canberra’s out-patient program for eating disorders, and while I am incredibly thankful for the incredible support and expertise of the staff at these places, the facilities were inadequate for the intensive treatment that I needed to further my recovery. They were not specialised, and it continues to confuse me how physical health and mental health both have numerous potential for illness and disease, yet we have specialist wards for the former, but not the latter.
Throughout my mental health journey, I have met a lot of other young women who have had similar experiences; people who have travelled to Melbourne, Sydney or even Perth to get treatment.
If you apply the nation-wide statistics to Canberra, it can be estimated that, at any given time, 36,819 people in Canberra are suffering from an eating disorder. 23,564 of these people are female. 7364 people are likely to die.
Given these stats, I am genuinely astounded by the fact the Canberra does not have a specialist in-patient treatment centre for eating disorders, and I feel strongly that the ACT government is failing its young girls, women and their families by not providing Canberran’s with such a facility.
The ACT Government expressed a commitment to promoting the recovery of people with a mental disorder or mental illness, in the Mental Health Care Act 2015 (ACT). If they are truly committed to this, it must include ALL people with a mental illness, including the young women of Canberra.
Everybody who suffers from eating disorders deserves to recover; Canberran’s should not have to travel interstate, away from family and friends, to get the life-saving treatment they need.
Please support the individuals and families affected by eating disorders by going to change.org and signing the petition, FUND A SPECIALIST EATING DISORDER IN-PATIENT TREATMENT CENTRE IN CANBERRA
Young girls and women deserve to take up space and they deserve a government who recognises their healthcare needs.