Anna has been in recovery from her eating disorder and she is not looking back
My name is Anna. I am 23, and I am in recovery from an eating disorder (initially anorexia nervosa, then later re-diagnosed with bulimia nervosa in July of 2016). I have been in recovery for one and a half years and am not looking back. My life has completely turned around.
I began showing eating disorder symptoms in early 2014. Like most of us with ED's, I initially didn't see my behavior as problematic. I knew, logically, that my behavior certainly wasn't 'normal', but I wasn't technically underweight so I didn't think I had a problem.
The afternoon of my final exam in November 2014, my mum let it slip to me that she had cancer. She had known for awhile, but kept the news from me so as not to distract me from performing my best in my exams. During this time, my Nanna was also in treatment for terminal cancer and my mother was acting as her home carer. My Nanna didn't know about my mother, so soon myself, my Aunty and mum (when not at cancer treatment) provided 24h care to her until her passing at her home with me just before Christmas. I feel like this was the final stressor for me, and the first half of 2015 saw a rapid decline in my health.
I started 2015 in my dream course, a Master of Music (as a classical singer), but only a few weeks in I dropped out, as I was soon too frail to sing correctly. I don't remember much of those months afterwards. I remember being very cold, unable to lie on a mattress comfortably due to protruding bones. I passed out in my car while driving home from work alone on the West Gate Freeway. I imported prescription medications into the country and abused these, along with industrial chemicals/poisons that were put in caps, in order to lose more weight. My liver was failing. Eventually it got to the point that I struggled to get out of bed and I stopped going to work entirely.
The event that prompted me to get help was a surprise visit from my mum in June. I was lying in my bed, I look up and see my mother at my door. She said, "You have two options. One, You come with me in my car to the hospital. Two, I call an ambulance to take you." I screamed at her and put up a fight, but eventually mum got me to the hospital. I had always thought they refused to treat me and I was calm. However, a few months ago when I was saw my file at the psychiatrists, it said I was non-compliant, refused to be admitted, constantly pacing the emergency department floor as exercise and drinking large quantities of water so the staff couldn't get an accurate weight reading. Understandably, soon after I arrived there I was taken home. I was free to abuse myself as I liked. But, I didn't.
I spent the next week or so having a long think about that experience, and I finally woke up to myself. I realized how sick I was, and the pain I was causing to myself and those I love. I realized that I didn't HAVE to do this. I realized all that I had given up on in order to stay in my ED. I knew there was more to life. I had it once, and now I wanted it back. I called my mother crying, asking her to help me pack and move back home so I could get better - even though I was terrified of doing so. She drove hundreds of kilometres to my city, and within the day I was back in the car to home with my belongings.
I spent the next few months in the care of my very patient and loving family weight restoring. When I was more physically stable, I agreed to be admitted to live in a specialized eating disorder unit in a psychiatric hospital. I spent 2 months there and was discharged on New Year's Eve. I started 2016 with so much hope. I felt like a new woman. Recovery isn't linear, and alongside a new bulimia diagnosis I did spend some time in that same hospital - as well as other places - in 2016 for about 3 weeks total. I still receive treatment as an outpatient. In August, I got my medical monitoring downgraded from testing once a week to once a month, after my first ever completely healthy blood test and ECG results. I literally danced out of the doctors clinic that day.
I would say that I am fully recovered physically. I still have bad days occasionally. A lapse does not have to be a relapse though, and I pick myself back up, dust myself off and eat my next meal without fail. I am still getting help emotionally and am working on underlying anxiety, self esteem and self worth issues, but I am a million miles ahead of where I was. I feel like myself again, the Anna I remember from 1993-2013, except a hell of a lot more confident and assertive of my personal boundaries.
Advice for those battling their eating disorder? I have so much advice I could give. There's no way I could choose just one or two things to elaborate on. Here is a list of some recovery truths and tips to remember. These have served me well:
If it doesn't feel near impossible, you should think about challenging yourself further. The harder you push, the sooner it'll be less difficult. It's going to hurt. You're going to have to confront things that you have tried to avoid through manipulating your body and your eating. You cannot fully recover without confronting these difficult things, whatever they may be to you. I promise, when you get to the other side, the freedom and happiness you will feel far outweighs the difficulty of confronting these issues.
You don't have to hit rock bottom to get help. You deserve help whether you've been sick for a few weeks or a few years, no matter what your weight is. Eating disorders can and do kill at any size at any time, and living with an eating disorder is an unnecessary hell nobody deserves to be stuck in. There's so much more to life than this.
You may have to cut out dangerous or triggering friendships for a while, if not forever. Your health is far more important, and if these friends are not understanding of this, are they really a true friend? What kind of friend wants to enable their friends mental illness? Think about it. You gotta be able to set healthy boundaries for yourself.
At the same time, don't be afraid to reach out and reconnect with old people you may have unintentionally neglected during your ED, even if you feel you have burned those bridges. You may be surprised who is understanding, and how readily relationships can be salvaged with time, effort and trust. Please don't be afraid to get out there and make new friends too! Trust me - people DO like you. Regaining a social life was integral to my personal recovery.
Self care is always necessary even if you feel undeserving. ESPECIALLY when you feel undeserving.
You didn't choose to become sick, but it is your choice to remain sick. This is a harsh truth that often upsets sufferers and seems blunt and unfair. I certainly thought so, at least, initially. I thought I really wanted recovery but was powerless for a long time, and that my treatment team just didn't understand. Now that I am on the other side, I agree with these words 100%. I did not fully want to recover at the time, despite me saying I did. I did not choose it all the time. I did not want it enough then. No amount of treatment, no doctor, no psychiatrist, no amount of money invested will help you if you don't truly want to be better with every fibre of your being/if you don't put in the hard work. Personally, it's the most difficult thing I've ever done. But it is so worth it.
What am I doing with my life now? Well, as I write this on my phone, I'm sipping a cappuccino in Starbucks... in Zhuhai, China. I'm over 3 weeks into an international tour. An international tour doing what I love, singing opera professionally. The photo of me is a quick selfie in one of my costumes I snapped while starting on my stage makeup. I honestly never thought I would be able to do this again. I can't believe how lucky I am. Really, though, I know it isn't just luck. It was hard work, perseverance and choosing recovery EVERY day (even when it felt like the most impossible, painful, terrifying thing in the world) that got me to where I am today. It's only up from here.
Life doesn't start 5kg from now, it's already happening. You can make the choice to include yourself in it. I'm so thankful I made that choice.
"Don't miss out on 95% of your life in order to weigh 5% less."