From the age of eight, I first encountered the detrimental and domineering voice of anorexia nervosa, accompanied by the depths and darkness of depression. It wasn’t until the age of 11, when I completely gave all my attention to these two enemies, when I decided to place my trust, energy, time and my entire existence in their hands.
From being a healthy, active, carefree young girl to someone who was completely unrecognisable was simultaneously astounding and horrific. Admittedly, I was bullied throughout primary school and had severe self-esteem and confidence issues which anorexia subsequently thrived on, further taking me under its forceful wing which I, strangely, found immense comfort in. I spent many long and tiring days with anorexia, listening and adhering to its aggressive demands and constant tormenting.
When anorexia nervosa became too demanding on my body, I was hospitalised at the age of 13 for a duration of four months. I was fed through a nasogastric tube, underwent regular blood tests and medical observations as well as being restricted to permanent bed rest until I managed to regain a considerable amount of weight. Once I returned to the normality of everyday life outside of hospital, I became an outpatient at the Regional Eating Disorder Services. Here I attended numerous meetings and one on one counselling sessions each week to ensure my recovery was positive and remained on the right track. However, a year later, I was once again thrown into the firm grips of anorexia nervosa and depression and was re-admitted to Starship hospital for another three months of refeeding and observations. This time I experienced a great increase in anxiety and began to self-harm as a means of coping with my fear of weight gain. As a result, I was prescribed anti-depressants and an anti-psychotic which enabled the voices in my head to be numbed so that I could solely focus on recovery, as opposed to being tempted to retreat to my old ways (well, anorexia’s ways). After being discharged for a second time, I returned to outpatient treatment for a few more years and was finally discharged from the Regional Eating Disorders Services at the age of 16. Such a moment was truly special and highly significant as I was able to live my life comfortably without anorexia, depression and anxiety in control.
To say that I never struggle with anorexic thoughts, bouts of depression and anxiety would be a lie. However, through the many years of intensive counselling, self-discovery, facing my fears and meeting amazing health professionals, I am now aware what my triggers are and know how to access my recovery/coping strategies to ensure that life remains as it is and to eradicate any thought of retreating into the darkness.
Through my journey with anorexia nervosa and depression, I found the act of journaling extremely therapeutic as it enabled me to release all thoughts, whether they were positive or negative, in a healthy manner. Expressing these thoughts on paper allowed me to release all frustration, manifested anger and tension in my body. Additionally, practising mindfulness techniques and attending yoga classes helped me to learn about my body, about mental strength and patience. I believe that acquiring a toolbox of beneficial techniques and coping mechanisms is key to recovery as without these tools I now realise that recovery would have been more difficult and prolonged.
Additionally, having a great support network of close family and friends helped immensely with achieving my goal of recovery. Being surrounded by people who understand your struggles and who will do anything to help you to get better is essential for recovery. I can honestly say that without my immediate family, particularly my twin sister Madi, I would not be alive today.
Although living a life with anorexia nervosa, depression and anxiety from a young age was not ideal, nor expected, I would not take back or replace those years with any other experiences as I have learnt so much about myself and others. One positive thing about my experience with mental illness is the fact that I have met so many amazing young men and women who have taught me that we are not alone in our struggles and that by supporting each other we will eventually conquer mental illness. Standing as a united front has not only made me feel empowered but it has also allowed us as sufferers to realise that we are not alone; that we are surrounded by so many people who love and care for us. Such a realisation made me understand that anorexia nervosa lied to me every single day and continues to do so. However, having met such incredible individuals has helped me to ignore the treacherous voices in my head and ultimately lead a life that I want, not a life governed by anorexia’s demands.
Overall, through struggles with mental illness I have learnt to never give up and that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Through utilising my toolbox of coping strategies, I am able to remind myself that there is more to life than spending endless hours performing vigorous workouts and scrutinising what I am going to consume for my next meal. I am now able to embrace my individuality and be proud of who I am because at the end of the day we only have one body in this lifetime and we may as well take care of it so we can be the best that we can be, not only for ourselves but for our loved ones around us.
Stay brave, stay unique and trust in the goodness but most importantly, say no to the darkness and shine your radiant light brightly.