Losing My Life to Anorexia - a Visual and Written Journey
A message to those currently suffering or recovering: please take caution with reading this post as it does include images which may be triggering to some, however it does not contain exact numbers. As this post is intended to be transparent and candid, just about every last detail has been left intact. This is not edited for comfort, it is not sugar-coated or glamourised. My intention with this post is a blunt, raw account of my own journey through an eating disorder and to raise awareness of what it's really like.
To put it bluntly, I'm anxious beyond belief about writing this post. The intimate details of the past few years of my life have not been something I thought would ever make it out of that time, but I feel called to share my story if only to show you that you are not alone. To hide the illness that has consumed much of my adolescence feels inauthentic and a disservice to those who suffer silently alongside me. With that said, bear in mind that what I share here is just a snapshot of one year of my illness, which realistically started long before this and persisted for years after.
In truth, it is still very difficult for me to realise that this actually happened. I look at the photos and cannot connect the dead soul staring back at me to the woman excited about life in the mirror. There was an emptiness in her eyes. She was a porcelain doll.
May 10th, 2013
As I write this, it is the 10th of May, 2015. Two years ago on this date I was driven to Starship Children's Hospital with very little, or perhaps no idea, of what was to come. My mind was fuzzy and I couldn't walk. My only other memory of this time is of my mum and stepdad walking me down the street, one holding up each arm, until I got to the end of the road and said I couldn't go any further. They brought me home and I sat in the bath to defrost. My legs, shocked with the sudden heat, turned motley blue and then yellow.
In the emergency department, I was taken to a small room with no windows. The door was shut, and I was incredibly anxious. A psychiatrist came down to speak to me. He was brisk and tried to humour me. I did not laugh - I screamed and screamed until my voice was hoarse. Tears were shed, again and again.
He said he was going to have to admit me. I denied being ill, this can't be happening. Then he told me that I was going to be fed through a nasogastric tube, and I lost it.
A nurse wheeled me up to a hospital room opposite the nurses station and that is where I spent the next 8 days as well as received the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa.
I thought my life had just fallen apart at the seams.
In reality it was an extremely short admission, and comparatively painless when I think of the many later admissions to come.
And that brings us to hospitalisation take two.
July 9th, 2013
After my admission in May, I was discharged too soon and got aggressively sicker after I left. Things were on a sharp decline and by July I had definitively hit rock bottom. I have no memories to speak of from in between these two hospitalisations, because I was dying. My only recollection of this time is through hoards of journals which I kept, intricate, all-telling journals that I cannot read anymore without flinching. It all becomes too sad and far, far too real. One entry dated June 28, 2013 reads:
"Something is very, very wrong. I'm not entirely sure how I know it but I can just tell I'm going to end up either dead or in the hospital again very, very shortly. Physically, I'm in so much pain that life seems pointless in and of itself. I am perpetually cold. The degree to which I am experiencing hypothermia is indescribable. Some days, my temperature drops below 35 degrees. My body is packing up under the stress to keep me alive. I'm showing all the signs of an anorexic on her death bed - my skin is yellow; when I stand up from the bathtub I have to sit down again because my heart pounds so hard under the strain to keep my body upright. My blood pressure and temperature are low and I know it - I guess my body is shutting down all these systems in a last-ditch attempt to keep me alive. If I keep going like this, eventually my body will have to shut down my heart. And we all know what happens next.
I was beginning to think that maybe I'd get better, but over the past few days or weeks (I'm not even sure) my mental state has taken a sharp turn for the worse. I'm thinking with the same obsessional, distorted, completely irrational part of my brain in the same way I was right before I went into hospital. Sometimes, my thoughts are absolutely pounding in my brain, fighting for space. They become so loud that I genuinely want to scream and claw them out of my mind with my hands so I have some room to breathe. By contrast, sometimes my mind is very quiet. Not quiet in the sense of peaceful - but quiet in a way that can only be described as a tingling numbness; a cotton wool effect; a ball of thick cloud. The muffled crippling anxiety squats in the back of my mind and hums; idle.
Oh God. The shit is going to hit the fan soon, isn't it?"
I was right. The shit hit the fan with full force, and 11 days later, I was returned to the hospital half-conscious, with hypothermia and bradycardia.
There was no umm-ing and ahh-ing this time. Straight back into a little window-less room I went where I was coaxed by two nurses into having the NG tube put back down while two or three security guards stood in the doorway and I desperately tried to get the f**k out. Those with anorexia tend to feel that it is all they live for, and will do anything to "protect" their illness.
Now, it brings to me an immense sadness when I realise that I was more concerned with protecting the illness that was killing me than I was with than saving myself.
I spent three weeks in the hospital that time around, mostly being tube fed, screaming and/or swearing at everything, and crying.
I remember on one particularly sad occasion being taken by wheelchair back to my room after dinner and realising that I was dying. Another patient was walking ahead of me, holding her father's hand. The frail, lifeless, and incredibly lonely version of myself starting weeping and weeping, her sunken eyes welling with tears; only to find her best friend, who lives in England for all but one month of the year, sitting on her bed upon her return. She made all the difference, that day.
This admission ended rather abruptly when one night, I kicked up such a fuss that my mum was forced to take me home. I swore I would eat.
It was a lie.
August 15th, 2013
This time out of hospital was, predictably, extremely short lived. August 15th, I am readmitted with low heart rate, upright tachycardia and irregular heart rhythm. I was aware by this point that the way I was living was unsustainable. For a week beforehand, I had been deliberately trying to stabilise my weight to avoid readmission, but my efforts were futile. In hindsight, my body had collapsed, and my mind was long gone.
Fortunately for my anorexia, and not so fortunately for my health, I managed to wheedle my way into making this admission last only four days.
Late August, 2013
It didn't last long. Just days after being discharged I was escorted to hospital by Police car. It took three security guards, one parent, most of the eating disorders service staff, two cops, and very nearly a pair of handcuffs to get this 30-something kilogram girl on her way to the hospital. I remember insulting every one of them and picking a fight with the security guards, because all that mattered in that moment was protecting my anorexia; my coping mechanism, my life's purpose. Looking back, I am shocked by the intensity of this. How it got to this point, I have no idea.
I was tube fed for weeks this time around, and my stay ended up being two months long. The hospital staff knew me well by now and saw little point in letting me out until they truly thought I had any genuine chance of making it. For this, I am immensely grateful, as much as I was not at the time.
This admission was long, incredibly eventful in the worst way possible, and blurry. My life became breakfast, lunch, three snacks, and dinner. It became four confining hospital walls. It became blood tests and spitting rage and utter, utter hopelessness.
I was discharged on October 18th, 2013 and only readmitted briefly in August last year. It has been a long, frustrating, tiring and very nearly soul-destroying journey for everyone involved.
You may have noticed the lotus tattoo on my wrist in some of my blog posts - I got this when I was 16 to represent my battle through anorexia in comparison to where I am today. The meaning - lotus flowers grow in muddy water; rising above the murk to achieve enlightenment.
After The Wreck, 2015
There have been struggles through my journey back to health - some bigger than others. There have been relapses, and to this day there still are. There have been emotional scars, and sadly physical ones too. But I am still here, and I express gratitude for that every damn day. But I can't lie; picking up the wreck hasn't been a smooth journey nor a straightforward one.
Present Day, 2018
I have been recovered for two years.
If you take just one thing from my story please let it be what I wrote in the midst of suffering on the 17th day of June, 2013:
"This is not about food or weight or shape. This is not about appealing to society or boys and men. This is not about striving for perfection or achieving any sort of acclaim. And for fuck's sake, this is not about being thin.
It is, perhaps, a violent attempt to crucify unrecognisable childhood demons. It is, perhaps a desperate, scrambling effort to create an identity when one either did not develop or got lost. But I may never know. It is, in fact, a two way street. Recover or die.
You can only have one."
So I leave you with this:
"And I could fit a fist in the gap between my thighs
but I couldn't feel beautiful so I assumed maybe
I was doing skinny wrong, more collarbones more coffee
less control over what was killing me.
Thank God for recovery, for hair that shines
like the setting sun, for fingernails that don't
flake off, for hipbones that don't bruise just by
looking at them, for hands that are strong enough
to hold onto the ones I love instead of
shaking so hard they cannot write
a poem, thank God for the people who saw me at
my worst, for the boy who stood next to me in the shower
when my knees hit the ground and I sobbed for an hour,
thank God for the girl who kept sending me text messages about how good being healthy is
until I finally believed them, thank God for
the love spilling out like liquor over these bones
until I finally got better, so yes
my tummy is round now like
a smooth hill and my thighs kiss each other
like a desperate couple and my arms are puffed up
and I fucking love it
because I am alive."
All my love (and keep fighting),
Show me some love and hit that like button, and if you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about this post, please do drop me a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.