I’m talking to you today as a “most inspirational young person of the year”, a law student, a charity founder, leader, published writer, captain of a netball team and a successful young professional working to address gender inequality, youth challenges and mental health stigma.
I also speak to you today as the young girl who sat awake at night crying, the young girl who lay in bed and felt her heart slow to an unnerving pace and felt nothing but comfort in the idea of slowly drifting away. The young girl who broke her own skin and emptied her own stomach, as the young girl whose body was so weak she could not stand without her world and her physical being falling down.
The young woman who missed years of her education, the young woman who lay in a hospital bed, malnourished. The young woman who required years of physical and mental treatment, the young woman who didn’t think she could create any change, who didn’t think she could lead anyone, the young woman who didn’t think her words were worth writing. The young girl who saw no value in her life, her world of her body.
I speak to you today as both women, and I am proud to do so.
In 2012 I was hospitalized with anorexia nervosa, diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I was absent from school, I was placed on a heart monitor, multiple medications, strict routines and meal plans to get my physical and mental health back to a reasonable state. I spent a total of 18 months out of mainstream schooling, 6 months in inpatient treatment and a total of 4 years in outpatient treatment.
I often describe my journey with anorexia, depression and anxiety as an abusive relationship. In the beginning, it was simple enough, I lost my sense of security, someone made me feel like my body wasn’t good enough, maybe I just needed something to feel good about, and bane was the one I turned too. He tells me, “you look beautiful”. I feel the ends of my mouth curve upwards ever so slightly but the twinkle in my eyes says it all, a fleeting expression at the thought of someone finally loving me.
I squeezed the lemon watching the juice trickle out into the water below, a tiny bit sinking into the broken skin around my fingernail making me wince. I stirred the cup of warm water until the lemon juice was no longer separate and drank the whole thing in one go. Just like he expected me too, every morning. Its soothing feeling on my throat felt like relief, the same feeling the consistency and structure of having him in my life gave me, the sense of security I so desperately needed.
I place the glass back down, its weight straining my arm, so weak. Next to it, I see my phone screen light up. I pick it up to read the message scrawled across the screen. “who’s that?” he asks. “What are they saying?” he demands. I ignored him but he didn't stop, “They don't really care about you? You can’t go. Why would you want to go? They’ll make you act like you don't want too, they'll make you eat. I'm the only one who really loves you.”
I listened. I got back into my bed and let the darkness consume me for another day.
But it quickly became more than that, while a sense of security lured me in, anorexia had trapped me in a world of unhealthy behaviours and disordered thinking.
Before I knew it, I was laying in bed. The empty room that is was chest echoing with the sound of a fading heartbeat, and I feel nothing but comfort in the idea of drifting away. I cannot even separate the good thoughts and bad ones. I do not know what are his ideas, seeds he planted that have grown into painful thorns.
This was me, I wanted to die. I wanted to not have to listen to his voice, to not have the list of reminders. Every time I ate, that I wasn't worthy. Every time I saw a friend that they didn't really want me. Every day I got up, it wasn't worth it.
I was so captivated by the body he built for me I didn't see the hell he managed to trap me in. The beauty he stripped me off, the smiles he robbed from me, the memories he deprived me off; the life bane tried to take from me.
Bane was a behaviour, not a human, a disorder not a partner, an illness not a friend, a source of harm and ruin, not security; bane was anorexia.
Identifying him, naming him, was the first step in weeding out the thoughts he planted in me, separating mine from his, rebuilding my life as my own without him, finding a new sense of security in myself.
I learnt quickly that there was no point in running away because the more I try to run, the harder I pull away the louder he shouts, the faster he chases.
Throughout my treatment, I learnt to let him come through, destroying my world. I learnt to swallow my tears, to put down the razor blade, to walk away from the mirror and when those pieces are put back together, yes he came through again, darker, stronger.
But I quickly learnt how to pick up the pieces, I was getting better. I learnt to remember where certain pieces went, I learnt how to get them to stay together longer, I had people to help me hold them in place, to withstand his force. I had learnt to allow myself to learn on those who wanted to support me to help me put these pieces together again.
Now, I lay in bed, my chest floods with the melody that is my healthy heartbeat, with each beat I think of a new opportunity life may give me. My brain is quiet, giving me time to reflect, to let my thoughts wander. I find peace, not in the certainty of drifting away from life but in the uncertainty of driving head first into it.
Today, I speak through a wavering voice and write with sweaty palms because I should not be ashamed of the battles I fought, the skills and lessons I learnt are something that ought to be taught. I tell the story of the mountains I climbed because my tale could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.
I may be a victim of a brain that failed me, I may have had to fight to leave a toxic relationship with myself, I may sometimes question what thoughts are my own, I may not always feel good enough, I may have to try and silence a thousand thoughts crashing through my mind. I may have to fight every day and sometimes; I may cry, sometimes I may listen, sometimes I may lose.
But, I have more victories because I don’t wait for permission; even when validation is all I need. I show up; even when I feel weak. I speak; even though my voice is shaking. I step forward; even though my knees tremble, I hit back even when I have no strength and I continue to walk outside of my comfort zone, every second of every day. And I emerge, a force.