Natasha’s Recovery From Anorexia and Bulimia | Eating Disorders Victoria
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As many others may experience, I found the transition from childhood to adolescence to be an awkward and challenging time. During high school I struggled to fit in with the other kids; I was shy, socially awkward, and didn’t wear the ‘right’ clothes or listen to the ‘right’ music; these traits made me a vulnerable target for schoolyard harassment.

The bullying I experienced focused largely on my physical appearance and I became convinced that my misery, lack of confidence and unpopularity were a direct product of my looks. Spurred by the desperate desire to fit in, and to the detriment of my health, I pursued thinness: always believing that a lower number would finally bring me happiness and popularity. It never did.

Many eating disorders may begin as diets or in the pursuit of a particular body image, as did mine. The transition from controlled and healthy intake to an out of control eating disorder snuck up silently and unexpectedly, and like many others I didn’t realise I had an eating disorder until I was already in the depths of one.

People often believe that sufferers of eating disorders are selfish and vain. Whilst their behaviour can appear this way, for many that I have met (including myself), their comprehension of the impact of their illness on others has been limited by the distorted, obsessional and anxiety-driven thinking processes, as well as the foggy mind that can accompany malnutrition and prolonged starvation. Additionally, In the depths of an eating disorder, the disease can become so powerful that it can be difficult to alter behaviours even when their negative impact on others becomes apparent.

My mother used to say, “You don’t have an eating disorder; the entire family has an eating disorder”. The illness affected us all. My loved ones lived in a constant state of worry, and I would later discover that some had received counselling and were placed on anti-depressant medication as a direct result of the eating disorder’s presence in our lives. At the time, my self-esteem was so low and my thinking processes so distorted that I couldn’t understand why my behaviours bothered everyone so much. I was convinced that everyone was exaggerating, that their concerns were unfounded and that I had everything under control. At other times, I saw how my illness affected them and through guilt and shame, wondered if they would be happier without me. None of these thoughts were founded in reality, but the illness warps your perception of yourself and of your value to others.

My interactions with the “real world” during my illness were extremely limited. The desire to spend time with friends and family all but disappeared, and I would refrain from socialising unless I had to; social situations were wrought with the anxiety of encountering food and kept me away from the perceived comfort and safety of my eating disordered world.

My personality during my illness was a far cry from the person I am today, and who I was before I became fell sick. I feel that it's important to understand that the destructive behaviours and personality changes exhibited by a person with an eating disorder are a product of an illness, and that many sufferers - myself included - may at times feel so overpowered by their eating disorder that managing the thoughts, fears and behaviours can be extremely difficult. Seemingly insignificant things others took for granted, such as sitting down for a family meal or eating popcorn with a movie felt terrifying and overwhelming.

Once my family understood that my abnormal behaviours stemmed from a powerful illness, they found it beneficial to separate me from my eating disorder; my mum used to say, “I love you, but I hate anorexia”. She directed her hatred towards the illness, recognising that the daughter she had known and loved was still in there, but that a complex psychological disorder was holding her hostage.

The media glamourises thinness and eating disorders in a misleading and destructive manner that glosses over the horrors sufferers actually experience. Before falling unwell, I truly believed that losing weight would improve my life by helping me to become more attractive, self-confident and accepted by my peers; it instead turned me into an obsessed, isolated creature. After many months in hospital, friends stopped visiting and I found myself completely alone with the eating disorder.

After years of neglecting my health, my body began to show signs of abuse.My potassium (a critical electrolyte that helps our hearts to function properly) levels were dangerously low, and I was teetering on the verge of a heart attack. My kidney function suffered, causing my body to retain large amounts of fluid; I had enormous, painful swollen glands around my jaw, and by 21  had experienced two seizures and countless fainting episodes. Where once I had beautiful, thick hair, it was now thin and brittle, and my face and body became covered in a fine hair that my system had produced to keep itself warm. It was a low point in my life, and a far cry from the life I had envisioned for myself.

Acknowledging that I had a problem didn’t form an instant solution. Some days I wanted to recover – at times desperately - whilst others I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. Recovery felt too overwhelming and I didn’t know if I could do it, or even at times if I wanted to. My eating disorder had come to form such a huge part of my perceived identity, and had consumed so much of my life that being without it was inconceivable.

My parents fought hard to get me into an out-of-region facility, and I eventually began my journey to recovery. It wasn’t a continuous improvement; there were ups and downs, steps forward and staggers back, but the seed was planted and with a fantastic team around me who persevered and pushed me through - even when I felt too defeated to push through for myself - I began to make steps towards health and freedom.

Throughout this journey, I began to relearn what life without an eating disorder was like. Where previously catching up with loved ones had been stressful and miserable, I was able to relax and enjoy their company without the illness looming over my head. To be able to go out to dinner with friends and to attend Christmas for the first time in years was an amazing, freeing experience.

I threw away my food measuring containers: whilst they had once been beneficial to my recovery, they had now become another point of obsession. I also pushed myself through anxieties like having full cream milk in my coffee, until they became second nature; something I never believed possible.

Having a new love interest on scene helped me to challenge myself a lot. Reluctantly, I bit my tongue when he added ‘scary’ ingredients to our home cooked meals, or when he suggested take away or restaurant food. I desperately wanted him to see me as a ‘normal’ girl and not be frightened away by my eating disorder. It was confronting at first, but the more I ate these foods, the more I began to realise that it was okay to do so, and that I could include them as part of a normal, varied diet without ever becoming "fat".

One of the major milestones in my recovery was falling pregnant with my son. The physical changes were confronting, and at times difficult to deal with, but these challenges, and the courage I gained through wanting to do what was best for my baby's health, forced me to confront lingering issues.Overcoming the challenge of pregnancy, and then confronting the post-partum weight without turning to old habits, whilst challenging, was a positive and empowering experience. I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times when I did little things which leant towards old behaviour, but I quickly corrected myself and kept going. The difference was that I was now able to put a stop to old thought patterns and behaviours before they escalated to an unhealthy level.

At the age of 17, I never thought I’d see my 21st birthday... the future looked bleak, both for my family and myself, and the end of the battle was nowhere in sight. Seven years on, life could not be more different. I’ve had the pleasure of watching the tears of sadness, frustration and hopelessness I once saw my parents shed be replaced by tears of pride and joy when they held their first grandson, my son Elijah – a wonderful experience I had previously thought impossible. I now consider myself fully recovered, and for all of us, the eating disorder feels like more of a bad dream than something which stole several years of our lives. Mum sometimes says to me, “I can’t believe it all happened...”

If I could travel back in time and speak to my teenage self, I would tell her that high school is nothing like the ‘real world’. Beyond adolescence, no one is categorised as ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’, these divisions simply don’t exist. I exhausted an enormous amount of time and energy trying to be someone I wasn’t and feeling outcast by my differences. As an adult, I realise the value of my own uniqueness, and in loving and nurturing my individuality I have made some incredible friends and accomplished some great things.

I believe one of the most valuable tools for recovery is hope; not just for sufferers, but for the family and friends who often walk the journey alongside them. I truly feel that recovery is possible for every sufferer, and I hope that in sharing my story I can also share a little bit of hope, for you to take and carry in the journey to recovery.

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