I got 20 minutes into watching Netflix’s new movie ‘To the Bone’ and turned it off (and here’s why you shouldn’t watch it either*).
I don’t need a movie to tell me what it’s like having an eating disorder, because I’ve been there done that. To anyone out there who has suffered or is suffering, potentially triggering yourself isn’t worth it. You don’t need to have every symptom portrayed in a movie in order to be a ‘good anorexic’, because the only way to be a good anorexic is to be dead.
Maybe the movie is in fact a good portrayal, unlike many already out there that can act us ‘how to’ guides to young people, or not (I wouldn’t know. I haven’t watched it). But that’s not really the point.
The point is, I don’t think I will get any benefit out of this movie and I don’t think that anyone else who has experienced an ed will either. And more than that, I’m sick of eating disorders. They are BORING. You hear the same thing over and over. One day someone is fine or maybe it’s gradual but then suddenly ‘boom’ and there’s the ed. The lucky people recover the first time. Some never do and most of us spend years in bouts of recovery and relapse. There’s nothing interesting about starving yourself or ending up in hospital.
I’ve had my share of supervised toilet and shower use and I’m not a fan. I didn’t enjoy being forced to eat and swallow when I didn’t want to, and sometimes wasn’t allowed the luxury of tasting my food. Where’s the joy in that? I’m sick of being weighed and pricked by needles. Of never feeling beautiful no matter what any number says. I’m sick of never feeling ‘enough’.
It’s true that the worst day in recovery is better than the best day in a relapse. I’ don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be choosing what I eat because I enjoy it and not because I have to have it. I like that I can spend my days doing things; waking up when I want, going on adventures and spending time socialising and having a life. I like that my cat sleeps on my bed and I look forward to preparing breakfast each morning.
I hope that soon I won’t have to associate with the word recovery because the eating disorder just won’t be in my life.
Don’t watch the movie. You don’t need it to tell you how difficult things have been or how strong and brave you are being for fighting. You don’t need to hear that because you’ve lived it.
A movie won’t tell you that you are beautiful and amazing and so worthy of life and love, but I am. You are wonderful because you are alive, with a beating heart inside your warm chest and not a character in a movie that only exists inside a screen.
* this is especially important if you are or have suffered from an eating disorder in the past, or if you happen to be a teenage girl between the ages of 11 and 18 (adolescent girls are most at risk of developing an ed).
These pills, these tiny little pills. Especially this one. this single white pill.
It seems so simple, so easy. Follow the instructions on the packet. Yet, my experience with it is so far from easy. Me and this pill, we have a complicated relationship.
This white tablet in my hand, you see, is an antidepressant. And it’s not just any antidepressant, it’s my antidepressant. Prescribed by my doctor because she believes it helps me, but I have so much trouble taking it.
I can’t tell if it helps me or not and taking it is difficult because it means I’m actively doing something to help myself. A lot of the time I don’t feel like I deserve help and I don’t know if I want to get better. Why? Because this is safe and familiar and anything different is scary. I don’t know how to live without mental illness. Feeling better terrifies me because who will I be if I am not who I am now?
For some reason, I can take sleeping pills and vitamins but antidepressants scare me. It’s because they affect your brain chemistry and your brain chemistry is makes you who you are. I am still the same person if I take this or not though and I need to keep reminding myself that. Taking this does not mean I am weak or will magically be cured. All it means is that I am taking it. Maybe it will help or maybe it won’t but regardless, I am still me.
I wish it was easier to do this. I wish my brain could see it as a solution or medicine but it’s hard to see it that way when results aren’t immediate and when it’s your brain that’s sick.I’m scared of feeling better but I’m also scared I’m going to feel like this forever.
I am starting these again because I have to, deep down I know I have to. I need medication and that’s okay. I wish there was a sign pointing to the one that is the right one; the solution of all solutions. But I’m learning that it’s not that simple.
Please work little pill, I need you to work, even if sometimes I don’t want you to.
I’m sick of being sick. I’m sick of admissions and appointments and not being able to do what I love. I’m sick of putting hunger and a half-assed life over my own happiness. Of having to enrol and unenroll from university each semester because I’m too ill. I’m sick of denying myself foods that I love so that I can keep my weight at the bare minimum of healthy. None of this is healthy. I didn’t choose anorexia, but now I’m choosing to get rid of it.
It’s not that easy, I know, but I’m determined to beat this. I know it’s not going to be an easy journey and I don’t expect it to go smoothly, but I do believe in recovery. I know it’s possible because I’ve seen it happen for other people.
I’m finally accepting what it means to recover. For me, that’s eating enough food to satisfy myself and my dietician and increasing the variety of my diet. It’s choosing things for taste and not because the bitch in my head says so. It’s facing the thoughts again and again and not giving in. Recovery is going out and eating meals with my friends. It’s going to bed thinking about relapsing but waking up and sticking to my meal plan anyway. It’s gaining weight even though I’m scared of what that will mean, engaging in therapy and taking my medication.
The reality is, I cannot be healthy whilst I am undernourished. And I cannot be happy unless I am healthy.
I want to work and study and be independent. I want to have friends and joy in my life again. And to do that I need to recover.
You don’t have to feel ready to recover because chances are if you wait for the perfect time it will never come. You don’t have to feel ready, you just have to be brave.
Today I am choosing recovery, and not that fake eating disorder turned vegan or clean eating recovery you see on Instagram. I’m choosing chocolate and ice cream and happiness. Today I’m choosing myself.
7 weeks. That’s how long the eating disorder ward was my home, by far the longest admission I’ve ever had. I ate, slept and lived within those walls with no more than 7 other patients at any time. Those girls (and guys) became my friends and my family, along with the lovely nursing staff.
The day I was admitted, I thought they had made a mistake. I wasn’t sick enough and I didn’t need to be there. I didn’t ‘deserve’ the label of anorexic or the privilege of a hospital bed because there were so many people out there who needed it more. But the thing is, that’s how eating disorders work; they convince you that you don’t deserve help when in actual fact everyone does regardless of the severity of their illness.
I sat on my bed and cried. And cried. And cried. I was escorted to the dining room to sit with the other patients. Then began the routine of eating, resting, more eating and still more resting. I began on level 1 of a refeeding meal plan and eventually worked my way up to a meal plan of three meals and three snacks a day. A meal plan that meets my bodies nutritional needs. In the beginning, it was extremely difficult. I spent many a mealtime battling my thoughts and wanting to refuse the meal or supplement. And sometimes I did. But the nurses were determined and week after week it got easier.
My day began at 6.30am each morning when I’d take my first lot of medication, and on Mondays and Thursdays I’d change into a gown and be blind weighed. Breakfast was at 8 am, morning tea at 10, lunch at 12 pm, afternoon tea at 3 pm, dinner at 6 pm and supper was 8.30 pm. For 15 minutes after snacks and 30mins after main meals (also the length of time we had to eat) we weren’t able to move around and had to sit in a living area. Afterwards, we had a little more freedom and could use the toilet (next to the nurses station) or go into one a small ‘quiet’ room, but really we were fairly sedentary. Throughout the day we had regular blood tests and our physical obs taken (anywhere from once a day to hourly depending on our health).
Between 9.30 am and 9 pm at night, our rooms were locked. This was so that it was possible for us to be supervised with fewer staff, to help keep a regular sleeping schedule and to prevent overexercising. It was really hard not being allowed to sleep during the day or to spend time by myself and that’s one of the things I found the most difficult. I’m not a very social person so having to spend all day every day with other patients was a nightmare for me. Or at least it was in the beginning.
As this particular ward was underfunded, there weren’t many activities on. Twice a week, we hard art therapy run by a student and often only a couple of people would attend. I was usually one of them. I made a lot of collages in this time, as well as; watercolour paintings, paper mache type sculptures and journal pages.
Occasionally, though they were supposed to run weekly, we would have a group with the registrar that could involve anything from pros and con lists of our eating disorders to discussing identity or watching a video on the physical effects. We also had a pharmacy group with topics such as bone density, anxiety and sleep hygiene. Out of all of these, the best day of the week by far was pet therapy day. This was when we all got to sit around and cuddle a dog. Because what therapy is better than animals?
Ward rounds happened twice a week and they were the bane of our existence. The night before we would fill out a form with questions relating to what we had achieved, what we were struggling with and what we wanted out of the program including any questions we had. The longer you were in hospital and the more you progressed in treatment, the more responsibility and privileges you would get. Common requests included; downstairs leave, leave from the ward, unsupervised bathroom visits, participation in ward activities such as cooking and take away challenges (a rotation of Thai, Indian and Italian) and the most requested of all; discharge.
During ward round we would go into a room with a whole range of professionals that usually consisted of about 10 people (psychologist, psychiatrist, registrar, doctor, dietician, pharmacist, social worker, nurse, medical students, unit manager and whoever else happened to be there that day) and it is one of the most daunting things I’ve ever had to do. Think of it as a job interview but with everyone prying into your personal life. Not ideal.
The nurses made my experience what it was and are the reason that I progressed as far as I did, farther than anyone had expected. They prepared our breakfasts (toast or cereal), snacks and lunch (sandwiches) every day, but not dinners which were provided by the hospital kitchen. They ate with us, provided meal supervision and encouragement, washed our dishes (low and behold there was no dishwasher on the ed ward) and became our supports. A lot of laughter was had over the dinner table, a lot of tears too but mainly laughter. I become close to a few of the nurses and will always be grateful for them and how they made me feel like a person again.
I’m also grateful for the other patients and the special bonds we formed. Spending weeks and weeks with strangers, it was hard for us not to become close. Some of the girls I met were the kindest and most compassionate humans that I’ve ever come across and they are the reason I got through the admission in one piece. Having that support made mealtimes easier and gave me the motivation to eat so that I didn’t trigger anyone else or make eating more difficult for them. Though over time, it became less about that and more about getting better.
Though I went into this admission involuntarily, I am leaving with hope and desire for a better future. I take with me the knowledge that it is possible to beat this illness and that I possess the strength within me to do so. For the first time in a long time, I truly want to recover. I want my life back. I want to be free. It’s not going to be an easy road but I am finally ready to fight.
Sitting on the dining table in the ward is an empty glass coffee jar that has been repurposed as a gratitude jar. Essentially, patients write down things or people that they are grateful for and then every few days we go through and read some out. It’s a great way to brighten someone’s day by paying them a compliment as it’s completely anonymous, and it also helps to practice mindfulness.
I love this concept because it is such a simple action to take and after a while it becomes less of a ‘why am I doing this’ activity to something that can be quite enjoyable. Below are 7 of my own;
I am grateful for…
Being able bodied and physically healthy.
Authors who write books about feelings and experiences that I can relate to, and just seem to ‘get it’.
The existence of therapy dogs and their owners. There’s been many a day that I’ve been calmed mid meltdown by a four legged friend. Animal therapy is the best therapy.
Hot cups of tea and cosy blankets
Chocolate fortisips (hospital desserts) that taste amazing. (probably the only thing I’ll miss from hospital)
Lovely, compassionate and understanding patients who are always there for a chat or a hug or even just to pass the tissues. Knowing that I’m not going through this alone is a huge source of my strength right now.
My gorgeous and strong mother who despite everything, has never given up on me. She’s put up with a lot and has learnt and sacrificed more than I could have ever asked for. She’s my lifeline.
I am sharp edges that hurt
when they are touched.
A hollow chest
with a heart that thuds
exhausted with each breath.
Numbers are my power source
but like how an electric stove
is never quite as good as gas,
I am a slave to the backup
that threatens to sputter out
when I push too hard.
This second-rate life defeats me.
I am an empty vessel
going nowhere but down
and I have no one to blame
I am counting down days
until my weight equals death
because there is no joy in
learning to fall.
Turns out living without
is not living at all
and those size 6 jeans
were not made to be worn by
Turns out the people who care
about your size,
they’re not worth keeping.
Turns out magazine are not interested
in teaching you to love what you have
who would buy magazines?
Take me back to when my little chubby hands
held ice cream cones on the beach,
to when the best part of birthdays was
digging in to cake.
Take me back to when diet culture
was not a thing,
to when going up a size was exciting
because it meant that you were
Take me back to when food was enjoyable
and not just a source of guilt.
I’m sick of teaching myself how to shrink.
This was not the future I had in mind
when I thought about growing up.
Edit: An alternative name for this was ‘Hollow Bodies’ let me know in the comments which title you prefer
1. Adolescent angst is a normal part of growing up.
There is no denying that adolescence is a complex and confusing time. It involves changing relationships with peers and family, identity confusion and juggling pressures from school and home. Yet what appears to be normal teen behaviour can often mask deeper problems.
Research indicates that half of all mental health conditions emerge by the age of 14, and 3 in 4 by age 24 (i). Despite the high prevalence, studies have shown that less than a quarter of young people (16-24) suffering from a diagnosable mental illness have had contact with professional services in the last 12 months (ii). Suggesting that despite suffering, most young people are reluctant to seek out help for themselves and therefore dismissing their issues as ‘normal’ teen behaviour could be preventing them from getting the support they need.
2. It’s just a phase
In fact depression is a progressive disorder and instead of getting better without treatment, it’s probably going to get worse. There’s also the risk of suicide and you can’t outgrow something that kills you.
Instead of doing nothing we should take steps to prevent things from becoming a bigger issue.
3. Your mood swings are hormonal
Puberty in teens and menstruation in females may very well cause mood swings but they’re still real and valid. It’s also possible for puberty to mask an underlying problem and dismissing problems as ‘hormonal’ can invalidate the experience of teens and prevent teens from receiving help.
Some girls do become depressed or suicidal when on their periods. This could be because of hormones exacerbating an existant condition or it could be something could pre-menstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD) which is a serious and legitimate medical condition that can be treated and managed.
4. You have nothing to be depressed about
That’s why depression is classified as an ILLNESS. It doesn’t need to have an obvious cause, it just is. Some people are more vulnerable to becoming ill because of their genetics or upbringing and whilst this doesn’t mean they will become unwell it definitely increases the likelihood.
When you’re 15 the ‘worst day of your life’ will differ greatly to when you’re in your 40s but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still ‘the worst day of your life’. Being a teenager isn’t easy. You’re coming to terms with who you are, juggling stressors from school and home and are usually dependent on your parents. Teens can and do experience abuse, poverty and violence. And they do experience mental illness.
One thing that can separate normal teen behaviour and emotion from an illness is the duration and degree of difficulty it causes. A good guideline for depression, for example, is that a negative mood which persists for longer than 2 weeks could be a sign that something is off and needs to be checked out by a professional. This method isn’t foolproof though and if you think something is off, and even if you don’t, just ask.
For many young people who are suffering, the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness can be as difficult to deal with as the disease itself.
i Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR & Walters EE (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age of onset distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, p 593
ii Slade, T, Johnston, A, Teesson, M, Whiteford, H, Burgess, P, Pirkis, J, Saw, S. (2009) The mental health of Australians 2. Report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.
‘Raw this’ and ‘raw that’. ‘Paleo’. ‘It’s not a diet, but a lifestyle’. Blah blah blah. ‘Low carb, fat-free’ 100% chance of unhappiness.
When you disparage your body out loud, you contribute to the culture that it’s normal to hate your body. Bonding over self-hatred of our bodies is not okay and what you say rubs off on other people. Please do not impose your own insecurities on other people. Body size is not a measure of worth and weight does not equate to health.
Diet talk can be damaging to people who are attempting to heal their relationship with food. As someone in recovery from an eating disorder, being around people obsessing about their food makes things infinitely more difficult. It can trigger feelings of guilt and shame to resurface and even point me towards the direction of a relapse.
Food is a lot of things. It’s energy, nutrition, comfort, community. But it’s not good or bad and you do not need to justify what you eat. Food is not the enemy. Yes, it can be an addiction, but unlike drugs or alcohol, you cannot ‘quit’ food. So please stop trying to. Instead of becoming restrictive and denying all pleasure associated with food, the aim should be to eat intuitively.
By all means, go on a diet if you wish, I can’t stop you. It’s your body and you can make your own choices, just don’t expect a ‘well done’ from me when you declare that you’ve lost a dress size. I don’t care about your diet. I. don’t. care.
The question I want to pose is this; Why, as a society, are we so focused on shrinking? Instead of trying to take up less space we should be asking ourselves how we can become bolder, more confident, more intelligent, more.
Please stop talking about your diet. I don’t care. I. don’t. care. There are far more interesting topics. Talk about something else, anything just please spare me another conversation about your own self-sanctioned torture.
,The year. The worst year. The year that was the worst year so far.
My weight has declined rapidly. I am in the depths of my ed but I cannot see it. I feel amazing. Depression is nowhere to be found.
I am forced to have twice weekly physical check ups, weekly therapy and blood tests in order to stay out of hospital. I see a dietician for the first time but don’t stick to the meal plan because ‘I’m not sick’. I struggle with turning 19. I am miserable.
I return to uni against everyone’s advice and do well for a while but it’s difficult and I can’t concentrate. I am isolated from my peers by my illness. Inevitably I gain most of the weight back, leaving me full of self hatred. I stop my meds. Stop talking to people. Stop going to appointments. Start skipping classes.
Depression roars it’s ugly head. I throw everything into study.
I start on medication #2 (escitalopram) and sleeping pills again because my head is too loud. I recommit to therapy. Almost exam time and I become incredibly suicidal. I don’t study because I don’t plan on sitting them. I’m failing my classes. My exams are deferred.
Admitted to an adult psych ward. First time in hospital and I’m terrified. Everyone is so much older and I feel like I’m making everything up. I am kept physically safe but there is no treatment. Out after a week but nothing feels better. July-
I get to vote in an election for the first time. Struggle through exam time. I’m not getting better. A culmination of things lead me to taking a large OD and ending up in hospital. I have a bad reaction to a medication they give me, and hallucinate but then I wake up the next day and I’m fine. Covered in bruises from being restrained, but fine. I’m glad I don’t remember this. Have to have my heart monitored in hospital for a few days. I am angry at being alive. Have to defer uni. The pressure eases.
I spend these months holed up in my room miserable and wishing I was dead.
I am stopped from making another attempt and am transported to a youth ward. The nurses are lovely and the patients are kind but being locked up without my normal coping mechanisms causes me to stop eating. I trick everyone into thinking I am fine. But when I’m allowed out after a week I really do feel good. Strong. Maybe I can do this.
I’m starting to feel better and positive about the future. My meds are working and I’m seeing my friends again. Things are great.
Coasting along. Starting to make plans for next year. Didn’t think I’d still be here. I’ve stopped taking my meds again but I feel happy and stable. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that things might get better.
What I’ve always wanted out of life is to help people whether it be as a health professional a stranger or a friend. It’s been the thing holding me to this world, getting me through the dark nights. My dream is to one day become a clinical psychologist and I really hope I get there. If I could make any small difference in one person’s life then I have to fight this. The suffering would be worth something.
I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire. -Stephanie Sparkles.
Except that right now…. I don’t know how to help people. I can’t be that person because I’m still burning. I can’t even help myself.
Sure, I can spread positivity and tell people to not give up because one day things will get better and they deserve to see that day. But I’m not sure if I believe that. For other people certainly, I do but I’m not sure things will ever improve for me. In fact, I’m certain they won’t. I feel like a hypocrite for telling someone something that I can’t apply to myself but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how they can recover or what will hep because I’m still struggling and I’m going through this all myself.
To everyone out there who is struggling, I want you to know that you are not alone. It may be impossible for another person to know exactly what you are going through but the things you feel, the thoughts you have- other people have them too. You are not alone. You are not alone. Repeat that over and over if you have to until it sinks in. There is help available and there are always other options. The times you feel like giving up, are the times that another person wants to give up too.
We need to fight. for each other. We need to fight so that one day adequate treatment is available and all mental health workers show the kindness and respect that is so desperately needed. We need to fight so that one day the stigma associated with the word ‘mental’ will be no greater than that of ‘illness’.We need to fight so that the world will become more understanding. You can make a difference so please don’t give up.
To those struggling, I want you to hear that I am coming. I am coming with buckets of water and firetrucks and bandages but I need to heal myself first. Please wait. I am coming.