I have been a fighter since the day I was born. My twin sister and I were born 3 months early, and as such, I spent the first few months of my life in hospital. I was back on track in no time, and loved to talk, walk and explore, no matter the situation. My perfectionism and anxiety, however, started to really hit hard when I was in primary school.
I was an incredibly high achiever, and I worried about everything. In grade 6, I developed something called Mycoplasma pneumonia, which is a type of lung infection. I spent some time in hospital recovering from this, however, things were never quite the same. I was exhausted, and even the simplest of tasks would make me feel horrendous. After 3 months, I had some blood tests, which showed the infection was still in my system – and I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. This meant I had to reduce my workload at school and stop competitive gymnastics (which was something I really loved. Over the next 4 years, I was only able to go to school 3 days a week. As time went on, these changes really started to take a toll on my mental health. I was diagnosed with depression.
By the end of year 9, things were tough, but little did I know, there was more in store for me. I fell into cycles of binge eating – food was my sole comfort. Midway through year 10, I remember going to see my chronic fatigue specialist in Melbourne. In these appointments, my physical and mental health would be reviewed. This included things like checking my reflexes, my blood pressure, and my weight. On this particular occasion, as soon as I jumped on the scales, my doctor looked at me, shook his head, and said, ‘I can’t treat you anymore.’ Within a week, I was in hospital.
The proceeding years was a vicious cycle of hospitalisations and relapse. My medical team said they couldn’t give the eating disorder any power. And so, a ‘Zero-tolerance’ policy was imposed. This involved immediate admission to hospital if I engaged in any eating disorder behaviours or if my physical health started to decline. In hospital, I was not allowed any items of leisure – no TV, no books, no phone, no laptop, not even a newspaper.
Over the next few years, I fought hard to stay out of hospital, and slowly but surely, I entered ‘remission’. I now had the choice of going back to school part time, or TAFE. I knew I still wanted to go to university, so I chose high school. This was definitely an adaptive process, as I was nearly 4 years older than the current students in year 11.
Returning to high school, I placed much more importance on embracing opportunity. This led me to play with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Travel to East Timor on an immersion-volunteer trip, and above all, learn to pace myself, so I could embrace life in the healthiest way.
One of the greatest opportunities I had was taking part in an entrepreneurial competition. I wanted to use my lived experience to create a more supportive approach to eating disorder recovery. Consequently, I submitted my ‘Big Idea’ – an initiative focused on supporting young people with eating disorders through a compassionate lens. I wanted to help individuals feel respected, supported and given the best chance of finding hope. On top of this, I wanted to promote a service, based on compassion and understanding, but also reiterate that there is more to treatment than the eating disorder itself – there is a human being there too. I went on to win this competition and still feel incredibly privileged to have taken part.
In 2018, I was accepted into a Bachelor Vision Science and Master of Optometry. I graduated as an optometrist in 2021 and worked as a clinician in the public health sector soon after. I eventually found myself delving into the world of research, which leads me to the present day. I currently work as an associate lecturer and research fellow in vision science. I am soon to embark on my PhD journey, to explore the relationship between eating disorders and eye health.
Despite the pain, hardship and torment that eating disorders bring, you never know what the future holds. No matter how hard things get, doors will open when you least expect them. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Contributed by Madeline