As a writer, I usually avoid the use of the first person, ‘I’ but because I am sharing my personal battle, my anorexia story, this personal pronoun can’t be avoided. Sharing this story may help someone, so please excuse the ‘I’s.
Anyway, this tale is not exactly an ego bragging trip, but a story of my shameful teenage years!
A Teenage Stick Insect
I was a teenage anorexic, a weird, tragic stick insect for over ten years of my youth. If only I could have those years again and enjoy being a normal teenager! When all my classmates were starting to fill out bras, date, and buy bikinis, I resembled a skinny ten-year-old.
Gradually, I began to eat in my final years of high school and grew tall to resemble the nerdy stick insect my friends remember me as. But I was still a stick insect!
My periods came much later than all my friends, shortly before I turned eighteen. Finally, by university, I started to develop and vaguely look like a woman, a skinny flat chested one.
But I never dated until 23 and even then, remained a virgin until after marriage a few years later. (If you hate your body, you are not eager to share it with anyone.) I did everything late. After my first marriage failed, I remarried and had my children in my late thirties, late for those days.
At school reunions years later, my old classmates raved over my 55kg fleshed out body, still very slim for my height. The nicer girls congratulated me on my recovery.
Distorted Body Perception
But I’m not sure girls like me ever fully recover from anorexia.
I’ll never eat more than two squares of chocolate or more than one biscuit at a sitting. Salad is still my preferred food. The iron discipline is still there. I’ll never be fat.
Today I still weigh the same 55kg, give or take a bit. Inside my head, the same distorted body perception is still there. I don’t see myself as others do.
This is the problem with anorexia, the distorted perception. My last post on this encouragement site was about depression, which is a distorted perception of the world, like wearing grey tinted glasses, a negative mindset. But anorexia’s negativity is reflected internally at the self. How and why does this happen?
What Causes Anorexia?
The term anorexia was not in common use when I was twelve and developed the condition. I never heard it until years later. Whether the doctors labelled me as an anorexic as a pre-teen, I don’t know. Technically speaking, the correct term is anorexia nervosa as it is self-induced lack of appetite not medically induced.
What the exact trigger was, we may never know, as in most cases. For me, I believe it was the fear of puberty. I saw my body adding flesh to my bean string frame and somehow panicked, after a relative, surely in jest, called me ‘chubby’.
My Anorexia Story And Karen
My anorexia story has a special connection to Karen Carpenter, the singer, another anorexic. For Karen Carpenter, the word ’chubby’ also raised alarm bells, though neither Karen nor I could ever be considered as anywhere near ‘chubby’.
Karen of course, was in the public arena, so her fate was sealed by this careless comment by the media. People should take care when they refer to other’s weight. You never know whether someone is a closet anorexic or about to be.
That ‘chubby’ comment, a careless throw away word, was probably the trigger for me. Days after, my mother noted my refusal of meals. Before we knew it, Mum and I entered a decade of food obsession, food diaries, and hospitalization.
I kept the notebooks from those years as a reminder to never go there again.
I marvel at how I ate a slice of banana for breakfast, four peas for lunch and a wedge of tomato for dinner.
Months in Hospital
Like an Auschwitz inmate, somehow my body survived. At 35kg I went to hospital for months at a time over years of my young life. I was a terrible patient. I ripped out drip lines, induced vomiting after they force fed me and was very un-co-operative. This is typically selfish anorexic behavior.
Anorexia is more common in anxious, self-driven children who want to perfect themselves at school or sport. I turned my perfecting at food intake control and schoolwork.
Despite my very low calorie intake, somehow I had energy to study. Even after a year in hospital, I finished 6th class top of the class. This continued throughout my teen years. I was not only a skinny freak, but now a double freak, a skeletal nerd. Anorexia is more common in girls, especially models and ballet dancers, where the focus is on body.
Anorexia can be Fatal
My anorexia story got sadder. I kept dreaming about hovering above my lifeless body watching doctors resuscitate me. In another recurrent dream, I spiralled down a tunnel towards a bright light. Years later, I read about near-death experiences and realised that it must have happened to me. My mother confirmed it had. I did die and doctors resuscitated me. I was in bad shape.
Doctors admitted me to a psychological unit within the hospital. Here, all my roommates, all young girls, died one after the other from eating disorders. One after the other, they disappeared, leaving empty beds for me to contemplate. Still, I continued on my self-destructive path.
Karen Carpenter Saved Me
It was Karen Carpenter who saved me from her own grave. A young resident doctor took an interest in my case. I guess he liked a challenge. He sat and read to me, encouraged me to drink sips of juice and because he looked like Dr. Kildare, played by movie star Richard Chamberlain, I was nice for once.
I did eat some soup for him one day and continued to drink diluted juice. When Karen died from anorexia, he told me her story. He played her songs for me on a cassette player.
From him, I learnt that self-starvation from anorexia wastes the muscles, stresses the organs and destabilizes the electrolytes and hydration levels in the body. Karen died from a heart attack caused by abnormal potassium levels in her blood compounded by self administration of ipecac syrup. Anorexics often over use laxatives and emetics to purge their bodies.
My Anorexia Story And Recovery
I responded to Karen’s story. She whispered ,’Live!’ to me.
I started eating tiny amounts, and eventually, months later, I went home. But it was still early days, my early twenties. Years would pass before I ate any more than one Ryvita or a piece of fruit at a time. But I was alive, unlike talented, beautiful Karen. What a loss!
My over achieving academic status landed me a scholarship to Sydney University where I studied chemistry and biochemistry. My studies confirmed that the body needs adequate fuel. Long-term starvation does irreparable damage. After graduation, I entered the first ever Nutrition Post graduate course in Australia at Sydney University.
It is interesting so many people who study Nutrition are ex anorexics or bulimics. The course was full of troubled young girls of twenty with eating disorders!
Women and Food
I only practiced as a nutritionist for a few years. I found myself becoming a food Nazi again and quit this controlling mind set for my health. The course had reignited my anorexia.
How many women are their own food Nazis? I believe many, many. Women are much more food obsessed than men who seem to shove pies and burgers in indiscriminately. They worry far less about their body shape.
Despite women’s liberation, women still suffer from the focus on their bodies. Social media has made it even worse. Many men still see them as sex objects, whereas the converse is not so true. Do as many women solely focus on a guy’s body? We usually prefer a few other assets as well!
Anorexics Need Help
A healthy interest in food and nutrition is great. I’m all for it. But anorexics don’t have a healthy relationship with food or their body. They need professional help or a caring doctor. It’s very difficult to cure yourself, escape the iron grip that anorexia exerts on your mind that promotes the faulty self-perception and self destruction.
Many well-known people have suffered from anorexia or bulimia. Princess Diana, Jane Fonda and Elton John, to name just a few.
If you see yourself or someone you know in this description of my journey, get help before it is too late. My 1000 words do not do justice to the torment I caused myself and my family.
Anorexia is a battle like depression that is difficult to fight alone. There are many places now to help you. Doctors, dietitians, Nutrition clinics and the Butterfly Foundation offer programs that can help you.
Like Karen did for me, I whisper to you, ‘Live! Eat!’
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
photo source Unsplash
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