At age 12 I was diagnosed with anorexia. I made a full recovery by the age of 15. Within those few short years, I arrived at a choice between life or death and I chose life. Although I conquered my eating disorder, my journey of mental health has been ongoing. I shoved my whole experience under the rug for years and pretended it had never happened - perhaps out of shame, guilt, or fear of revisiting the pain. So naturally, waves of depression & anxiety pop up to remind me that healing is needed.
I am 24 now and I share my experience of an eating disorder with 12 years’ worth of perspective.
My intention for this article is to give you an insight into my experience and therefore help you have a kinder understanding of others whether you know them or not. I hope to spark healing and recovery for anyone currently suffering. Life gets better!!
I grew up in a loving family. The only thing that made my life different to most was that we moved a lot, back and forth between Hong Kong and NewZealand. As a young girl I remember being easily moulded and therefore manipulated. I had the belief that others were always right and I was always wrong. When I began to hit puberty it felt like I was mourning the death of myself. I was very sensitive to the changes happening inside me and I felt very alone in it. It wasn’t talked about and I didn’t know how to ask. I went through a massive tomboy stage to prolong being a child. I wanted to be like Peter Pan and remain a child forever!
There was no one trigger for me. It was a combination of having no control over the changes in my body, of being bullied, of having an insight into the pain that is part of life (which I was shielded from until this point), of doing things to fit in that were so far from myself (like being mean to another because someone else told me to), of feeling everything so deeply but not being able to express it, and the strongest feeling of all which is that I had nothing to offer and there was no point to me on this Earth.
In short, I felt powerless. And one day I discovered a way to take my power back. Although I felt chubbier than other kids my age, losing weight was never about how I looked, but about how I felt. I constantly had a sore stomach or tonsillitis and wanted to make it ALL go away – the physical and the emotional pain. As I lost weight, I was complimented and even encouraged to keep going, so I did. Over time my weight got to a dangerous level and everyone else around me seemed to have flicked a switch. Suddenly I was neglected, stared at, and talked about behind my back. I was made to feel that I was a bad person. I was so confused; my 12 year old self just followed the praise. So I lost trust in others. I isolated myself from people. I stopped speaking completely and I put a lid on my personality. I started to believe that the darker voices inside me were right. So I listened to them. I just wanted to feel FREE. But I never felt free. The voices got louder, OCD tendencies started; I felt anxious, full of rage, weak, faint, bone-cold, headachy. I had pain around my heart because my body started to use the muscles around it as fuel. Not to the mention the guilt of seeing the pain I caused to others in a ripple effect. Then came hospitalisation, tube feeding, psychiatric wards, outpatient facilities and eventually Mandometer - a specialised Eating Disorder treatment program in the States.
What worked for me was being seen as a real human (not a mental patient). Mandometer, founded by scientists in Sweden, is based on trust, time, relearning correct eating behaviour and managing ourselves when we are on our own. Once my brain was getting proper nutrition and I began to feel safer, my eating disorder behaviour started to slowly fade and I began to make steps to recovery. One day my case manager asked me to make a dream board. I cut out pictures from magazines of a life I wanted to live. All over it were pictures of actors, films, stage lights and colours. I knew I wanted to be an actress since the age of eight but life, including my dreams, had been drained out of me until now.
The decision to get better came from within myself. A decision can’t be forced like many other things can. Instead of destroying myself, I began working towards how I wanted to feel and what I wanted to do!
Today the eating disorder has no hold on me! It hasn’t for years. I am living proof it is 100% possible to be cured. Eating disorders do not have to be a way of life! That 12 year old girl who just wanted to feel free and alive like a child does.
I am grateful for what I went through because it has led me to a deeper understanding of the human experience! I aim to do all I can so people don’t have to suffer like I did. Through living the life I love, telling truthful stories about the human experience through acting, and through telling my own story – I am a voice of hope!
Practical things that helped me:
* Find something you love about yourself & keep adding to that list.
* Discover what it is that you really want and what you are born to do. Even if it feels impossible right now! WE ARE ALL PUT ON THIS EARTH FOR A REASON! (Dream boards work really well for me).
* You are where you are now because you took action on something – when you turn all that discipline, focus and energy into something productive and filled with love – the possibilities of what you can achieve are endless!
* See the bigger picture – imagine you are in space looking back at Earth. Find you. Your problems and all the suffering inside your mind are nowhere to be seen!
* Choose to feel good, and when you don’t, be kind to yourself and find ways to heal. (Therapy, life coaching, giving my body proper nutrition, Hatha yoga, dancing alone in my pj’s, talking honestly with someone, watching movies, writing, massages, acting class, discovering new hobbies & spending time in nature – they all work for me!)
Tips for parents & loved ones of people suffering:
* My mum used to leave little sticky notes around my room – saying, “You can do This!” “Go Laura!” “What the mind can conceive the body will achieve!” At the time I didn’t like it, but for years I would say those things to myself over and over. Sometimes in recovery, it is the small things that have the most impact.
* Listen to your child. He/she is scared just like you. See them for their greatness, not their illness. They need to be reminded of their value in the world.
* Give them hope that life can be great. Start with yourself and lead by example!