This is the first of a series of blogs to raise awareness of something very close to my heart; Eating Disorders. Tonight, I break my silence and share my secrets. For other sufferers, please know that this post has been written with each of you in mind, and you will find no speak of numbers, nor methods.
Statistics that are found in this post are from the Butterfly Foundation of Australia.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an Eating Disorder, please seek help via the Butterfly Foundation.
I promise, recovery is possible.
“Do I want to die from the outside in, or the inside out?”
Laurie Halse Anderson
I am sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. My Mummy is crying. I don’t think Daddy ever stopped.
The doctor speaks. He scares me. He is angry, serious.
I think that we are at a point now where you will need to be admitted with a nasogastric tube down your throat.
I cannot breathe. I look around the room. But they are clever. They have barricaded me in. There is no escape.
Due to the level of your starvation, you are experiencing something known as ‘Autophagy’. This means that your brain is eating itself.
I cannot believe what I am hearing. None of this is real. I try to scream, but I do not make a sound. No-one is listening.
Your vital signs show that you are at risk of your body shutting down. Right now, you shouldn’t be standing upright.
I sob and I scream and I yell. There is a mistake, and they don’t understand. It’s not how they think. I don’t have an Eating Disorder.
Only skinny girls have Anorexia.
20% of young women like yourself will die Jess. And right now, you are heading the right way to be in that 20%.
And now I cannot breathe.
My head is spinning as I try to understand how this all went so terribly wrong.
You need to understand; It was never meant to be like this.
I just wanted to be good enough.
My name is Jess. I am twenty years old.
I am a nursing student. I play piano, and I love my golden retriever.
I want to travel the world, and my eyes change color in the sun.
When I was thirteen, I got sick; really sick.
For six and a half years I have been fighting a severe musculoskeletal condition.
I have spent years in a wheelchair. Months in hospital. I was told that I would not survive. I was told that I would not walk again.
I take up to twenty tablets a day to keep me alive.
I am told that there is no cure.
The fact that I live with Serious Illness is no secret.
But I do have a secret.
Three years after I became Chronically Ill, I developed another type of illness.
Because don’t you see? When the body breaks, so does the mind.
Society tells me that I should be ashamed. That I should hide it. That it is for attention, or vanity.
That it is my own fault. That it is a phase.
Most of all, society tells me that I should not share my secret.
And it is for this reason that tonight, I share my secret.
My name is Jess.
And I had an Eating Disorder.
Anorexia; we all know the word.
It conjures pictures of pretty models, bones only highlighting the fact that they are beautiful. The teenage girls in the throes of their own self created drama. The diets that go on just a little too long.
Most of all, we know that it is for attention. We know that it is a choice. We know that it is beautiful, and we know that it is desirable.
And most of all, as a society, we know that it isn’t our fault.
Of course it isn’t; We are just silly young girls aren’t we?
aYou want to know where it started. You want the who, the when, the why and of course, the how’s.
I can feed you all that you expect. I was highly intelligent, the first born. An over achiever, a perfectionist. I was obsessive compulsive, and a girl whom committed to the most basic of tasks in a flurry of hysterical sobbing and cries of the need to perfect.
But this is where your fantasy will end.
I was never overweight. I didn’t spend my adolescence experimenting with yo yo dieting. It is always assumed that I did it for control, because after all ‘You are seriously ill Jess. You didn’t have control over anything. So you did it with food’.
I used to nod quietly, and let them believe that they knew all. They read the Herald Sun, they watched A Current Affair. So of course they understood Anorexia. I let them believe what they like.
‘It’s Kate*. Do you remember Kate?’
My eyes flashed back to my ward at the Royal Children’s hospital, where I spent two months learning to walk again. I shared a room with Cystic Fibrosis patients. We were the frequent flyers, the long termers. Next door was the ‘girls room’, as it was fondly called. This was the room for girls with Eating Disorders. Back then I too failed to understand the disease.
I remembered Kate. She was only twelve years old at the time. I remember thinking that she was too young to be filled with such self hatred. She had such pretty eyes. There was a naso gastric tube snaking into her nose, feeding her with the nutrients that she had so long desperately denied herself.
‘Kate died today Jess. She took her own life. Kate is dead’.
Kate was fifteen years old.
And it is because of Kate that I am not going to lie anymore. For Kate, I will not be ashamed. And for Kate, I will tell the truth.
An Eating Disorder is not about food, and it is not about weight. It is not about wanting to be beautiful, and it is not a diet gone wrong. An Eating Disorder is not a fad, and it is not a phase. It is not about control, and it is not a cry for attention.
Most of all, an Eating Disorder is not a choice.
And I know that you don’t understand.
Of course an Eating Disorder is about food. You all starve yourselves, and want to lose weight. You want to be skinny and pretty.
An Eating Disorder manifests itself in relation to food. Depending on the type of the Eating Disorder, a sufferer will starve themselves, exercise excessively, binge and purge and live in fear of the number on the scales.
But despite this, an Eating Disorder is never about food.
An Eating Disorder develops from a self hatred so profound, and so great, that the mind compensates by developing a disorder in which you slowly starve yourself to death.
If you ever doubt the power of the mind, meet with an Eating Disorder patient.
You will never hold those doubts again.
My doctors, my parents, the few close friends who know my secret. They want to know; Why did it start?
And I wish that I could answer them. If only there was a single moment that I could pull from the sky with a flimsy flick of the wrist, and announce
Here; Now it will all make sense!
I was by all means a pretty girl, and particularly thin. It was due in part to my Chronic Illness, and due in part to my genetics. I became a target for bullies.
Maybe it was when the girls at school would hiss ‘ugly slut’ as I walked past them in the yard as a timid thirteen year old.
Maybe it was the day that I woke up and couldn’t walk, and instinctively understood that life would never be the same again.
Maybe it was the taunts and screams that I attracted in my wheelchair, in the schoolyard, the shopping centre, the beach.
Freak. Retarded bitch. The sick cripple chick.
Maybe it was the day that I was shopping with my best friend and received 42 remarks about my physique, as my body slowly rotted away from my insidious disease.
Maybe it was when I read through Cleo, Vogue, Dolly and Cosmopolitan. Maybe it was when I saw that you were only beautiful if you were bronzed without a line on your face, hips poking through skin, and beaming teeth.
Maybe it was when I realized that girls in wheelchairs, girls losing their hair, girls covered in tubes and scars weren’t in those magazines.
Maybe it was when my ‘friends’ at my second high school reminded me day after day just how ugly I really was.
I would hate to be as pale as you. I would hate to have your nose. Your eyes are so ugly. You deserve to be sick. You deserve to be in hospital. You are just so stupid. Why do you wear lipstick, only grandmas wear lipstick? I wouldn’t pay $20 for your outfit. God you look ugly.
The truth is, I think I know the answer.
I think it was your fault; society.
You did this.
This means your daughter, your son. The girls and boys in your class, your netball team mates. Your niece, your nephew. Your friend, your girlfriend, your boyfriend.
90% of these teenagers feel that they must adopt a diet, and lose weight, rather than adopt a healthy life style towards food and exercise.
You did this society; You scream of weight loss shakes from the television, and accept the ‘Thinspiration’ pages that fill the Facebooks of the vulnerable. You endorse photo shopping to a point where the model no longer looks like the
model. You tell girls and women that even the models are not beautiful enough.
Nationally, body image is the top ranking issue of concern for 15-19 year olds.
These young people are not worried about their family, their health, their education.
They are worried about if they are pretty enough, slim enough, buff enough, attractive enough.
For you, society.
You did this when you condoned the bullying in the school hallways and said that Being called a fat slut is a nomal part of growing up. You did this when you compared each girl and woman to Miranda Kerr, and let her know that she would never measure up. You did this when you turned a blind eye to the photos of the boy in your year being posted all over Facebook with the captions taunting his weight.
You did this society.
This is only the beginning of my story. From now, until the end of Body Image Awareness Week on September the 7th, I am going to write as much as I can on Eating Disorders, the stigma, and the responsibility that society has to help reduce the mortality rate for the deadliest of all mental illnesses.
My name is Jess. I am twenty years old.
I am studying my bachelor of nursing, and I live with Serious Illness.
I love pandas, and the smell of old books.
I want to travel the world, and live in a blue house.
And I am the survivor of an Eating Disorder.
And I will not be ashamed anymore.