teenage

Today’s post isn’t funny.  Today’s post is a deeply personal and honest account of a difficult time in my life that I rarely talk about.  The time I had an eating disorder.

I don’t even think my best besties know/knew this about me.  It’s not information I offer up freely or easily, unless I think it will help someone else.  In fact, I often forget it ever happened.  So before I erase it completely from my memory bank, I thought I would share my experience with you, in the hope that it might bring hope, inspiration, or clarity to anyone struggling with self acceptance, depressive feelings or an unhealthy relationship with food.  It may also give those of you with teenagers an insight into what could be happening inside your child’s head, even if the outside seems completely normal.

BEFORE

I remember it was my last year at school that I started to have negative feelings about my body.  I remember because I kept a food diary and recorded my weight every day.  I also had a list of reasons to lose weight.  The number one reason was a boy.  His name was Daniel and he was perfection.  He was a year below me, but in my home room, so I got to see him every morning.  I even got to partner up with him in a three legged race during orientation week, a moment I can picture vividly and oh so fondling fondly 23 years later.  Anyway, to date him I felt that I had to lose weight.  I was 51 kilos.

Looking back I picture a pretty girl, covered in acne but with a lovely little figure, funny as hell though a bit shy at times.  Smart, kind, creative and loyal, I could burp any of the boys under the table.  Daniel would have been lucky to have me, if only I’d had the confidence to ask him.  51 kilos! Are you f*cking kidding me?  I was tiny!  I’m small now, and I’m way over 51 kilos.  I spent too much time and wasted too many opportunities obsessing over that number.  I had a Calorie Counter pocket book at home which listed the fat and calorie content of every food imaginable.  Every night I’d add it up to see if I was any closer to my goal, and every morning I’d plan to get it lower than the day before.  I never did because I lacked self control and so the scales remained the same.

I was a disorganised procrastinator (still am), who could never stay on track or stick to anything for too long.  Depressive thoughts and a decreasing self esteem started to set in and by the time I graduated and landed a spot in my preferred, and bloody hard to get into, university course, all these elements came crashing together and I started to having small binges on comfort food.

To counteract the input, I ramped up the output.  Already very active, I started to walk everywhere.  25 minutes to the train station, 30 minutes from the train to uni and then back again.  Most days I’d add in an extra one to one and half hour walk or a fitness video.  I was so preoccupied with exercise, and comparing myself to others, that I neglected my studies and eventually dropped out.  Before that happened though I found another way to counteract the input, and that was by purging it.

DURING

So, each morning I would reset from the day before and start again the right way (by 1993’s standards).  A healthy low calorie, low fat breakfast, free of guilt or regret would fill my belly as I cheered myself on to make the most out of the day ahead.  By ten o’clock I would have walked for at least an hour , everything would seem on track and I would be feeling like a success.  As the day progressed however, my positive thoughts would get pushed aside for darker and more depressive ones.  Feelings of failure and worthlessness, negative comparisons to others and a loss of control dominated my consciousness until I lost control completely.  At night after enjoying a beautiful home cooked meal by my loving mother, instead of feeling satisfied, I went looking for more comfort.  One yoghurt ice block would turn into four, a slice of cake would turn into me eating the whole thing, bowl after bowl of ice cream disappeared into my mouth.  I devoured them in silence in our kitchen which was conveniently hidden from view of my family while they watched TV in the next room.  Everything at this point was done in silence.

After my first super binge I thought, “How am I ever going to do enough exercise to burn off all those calories?”  It was impossible.  My only option was to reverse what I had done.  My actions at this point felt very pragmatic.  Emotions were blocked by logic and solutions.  I just had to get rid of the food and I would never be so stupid or out of control again.  Tomorrow was always a new day.  So beneath the sound of the shower I made myself vomit.  To my surprise I didn’t make too much noise and it didn’t feel like the violent retching of involuntary spewing.  Because I had only just consumed the food, it wasn’t gross to bring back up and it was easy to just push and rinse down the shower drain.  No one heard me, there was no smell and I emerged from the bathroom clean and fresh.  No one suspected a thing.  It was the perfect crime.  I had satisfied a need and had taken care of the consequences.  Of course I wouldn’t do it again…

I did do it again.  Sometimes up to five or six times a day.  I knew where the quiet toilets were at the train station, uni, at the shops and even friends’ houses.  I knew which foods felt more comfortable coming back up and didn’t smell conspicuous.  I knew the routine of my family and when I could be left alone in the kitchen.  I worked out how to plant the seed as to why all the food was running out faster and justify why I would indulge in second dessert helpings (oh, that crazy fast metabolism).  I was sneaking behind everyone’s back and deceiving them until one day when I got caught out, sort of.

CONFESSION

The drain in the shower became blocked, and what was pulled out (along with so much of my hair) was rotten food.  How did food get into the shower drain?  Everyone was perplexed.  I did my best “How should I know?”, until the pressure and guilt became too much.  That night I told my sister everything.  And then we told my Mum.  It was such a relief and the emotions just poured and poured out of me like a burst dam.  The more we talked about it, the more I realised what a huge problem it was.  It wasn’t normal.  I had an eating disorder.  I had bulimia.  Above all though, I had some pretty major self esteem issues for someone who seemed to have it all.  Much later I would realise that I also had depression and anxiety.

My sister took me to her female doctor, who happened to have a cute young male medical student sitting in on our consultation.  After sharing with them what was happening and how I saw myself, his response was to say I was a very sexy girl.  I don’t think that helped.  So I went to a support group for eating disorder sufferers instead.  This didn’t really help either.  My present self can see how absolutely insane my thought process was at that time, but all I felt like in that meeting was a complete and utter failure.  I sat there comparing myself to the other women in the group.  One girl was really beautiful and enviously thin.  She was a recovering anorexic and I was so jealous of her.  She spoke of her extreme self control and discipline, something I lacked completely.  In my head, all I could think was “I wish I could stick to my diet like her.  She’s so skinny.  Her skin is so perfect.  I’m such a failure.”  It was like the willpower, dedication and control was so strong in the girls living with anorexia, while the complete opposite was true for me and my fellow bulimics.  My life felt out of control and my mental health was a mess.  I was aspiring to be an anorexic for f*ck’s sake.

The other backfire from that meeting was the brochure they sent me home with.  With everything written on there to help with recovery, all I took from it was that vomiting can destroy the enamel on your teeth, so don’t brush them straight after throwing up.  Good tip.  Thanks.  It just made me change my tactics a little, because god forbid I ruined my teeth.

TREATMENT

Seeing these options fail, my sister tried a different approach.  She bought me a book.  A funny book.  ‘Real Gorgeous’ by Kaz Cooke.  Many Australian women would be familiar with Kaz’s work, especially if you’ve been pregnant – her book ‘Up The Duff’ is utter genius.  She is a cartoonist, comedian and a social observer, who’s common sense and ability to see things for what they truly are, have kept a lot of women from falling off the deep end.  ‘Real Gorgeous’ was targeted at teenage girls and young women experiencing changes in their bodies and hormones, while living with the ever increasing demands for perfection from media and society.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve recommended that book, I would have enough to buy another copy.  It changed my life.

Comparison was definitely the thief of all my joy at that time, and this book made me realise that everyone was different, everyone was unhappy with something, there was very little we could do about it, so let’s all get over it and be a whole lot kinder to ourselves.  It was also piss funny and I still remember the page of boob drawings more than 20 years on.  Classic.

This may seem like a pretty simplistic solution to an otherwise difficult problem, but it worked like magic – for me.  I needed to change the way I saw myself in the mirror and in the world.  I was a pretty great chick and had better things to focus my energy on.  It took a little while to completely change the way I thought, and I did relapse a few times, but once I hit 23 it was all pretty smooth sailing (except for the depression & anxiety).  I had to retrain my brain to stop the comparison monster and to love and accept both my good and bad bits, but I put in the hard work and it has paid off.

AFTER

I am a mother of dragons daughters now, and although my experience as a young woman had some shitty moments and drowning low points, I feel it has equipped me with the skills and knowledge to help them through these stages of life.  Having to work through body image and self esteem issues, and emerging at the other side as a well rounded and quietly confident woman, gives me the hope that I will be a positive role model for my girls.  It would break my heart to see them go through what I did or to think of themselves as anything less than the incredible women they will grow up to be.

While I would love to see some discussion about this topic here or on my social media pages, I ask that you don’t make it about me, unless you are asking advice to help yourself or a loved one.  I am absolutely fine now and have a very healthy relationship with food and with my body, so a pity party isn’t necessary.  Plus I f*cking hate talking about myself.  Thanks Beauties.

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