This year marks a significant milestone for me, I’m nine years into my recovery journey for an illness that is often very misunderstood and overlooked.
For more than a decade I lived a secret life shrouded in guilt and shame.
I was living with Anorexia and Bulimia.
My struggles were made all the more challenging because on the outside my life was so very different. I was on a scholarship at university, were I excelled academically as well as being a successful Paralympic swimmer, living the dream as I got to travel the world representing my country.
I was first diagnosed with bulimia when I was just 15 years old, and as the years went on my eating disorder changed behaviours changed, alternating from anorexia to bulimia and back again.
Back when I was diagnosed most professionals didn’t understand eating disorders, and I was told to simply go home and ‘eat’.
Of course anyone who knows anything about disordered eating or eating disorders, knows that food is not the main issue that needs to be addressed.
There are so many underlying factors that contribute to the onset of an eating disorder. But, it was because of these common misconceptions that I felt unheard, no one was listening to me, so, I stopped talking. It was easier for me to keep it a secret, even though it was a secret destroying my life.
There is no one reason or explanation as to why I developed these illnesses, rather it’s a combination of so many complex factors.
I was born missing my left arm and to this day there has been no explanation as to why that occurred. Not having answers meant that I spent my childhood and teenage years searching for them. Why me?
Then, when I was just 18 months of age, I suffered horrific burns to 15% of my body after a terrible hot water accident.
Growing up was a difficult time for me, I was always the odd one out. I hated being different. I just wanted to be ‘normal’.
Home life was great, I have a very loving and supportive family. However, they were never able to answer my questions about why I was different, and as a result, I lashed out at them whenever I was feeling lost or confused. My anger and frustration put a huge strain on my relationship with family members over the years.
In many ways I felt as though my life was a complete mess. I convinced myself that I wasn’t enough – I wasn’t good enough or worthy enough for anything or anyone. It was self-hatred on an unprecedented level.
The only constant thing in my life, was swimming. It was my sanctuary; it was the one place that I felt safe and secure.
But when I wasn’t winning, once again that inner voice would haunt me, telling me that I was a failure. The voices became so consuming that I started to believe them. I felt completely out of control.
The shame and guilt I lived with every day simply because I looked different was suffocating. I just wanted someone to listen to me. But instead, I felt invalidated and insignificant. I’m not sure why, but managing my weight seemed like the only possible way to regain some control in my life.
Before I knew it, ten years had passed. Ten years lost to the devastation of eating disorders. Ten years of depression and anxiety, shame, guilt and embarrassment.
Ten years of health complications. Ten years of lies and broken promises.
Ten years of struggle and heartache. Ten years of tears and defeat.
My eating disorder brought me to rock bottom. It ended my international swimming career and I was admitted to rehab.
Anorexia and Bulimia are insidious diseases that have the potential to destroy lives, if intervention doesn’t take place.
Being admitted to rehab was the scariest time of my life. But it was the exact thing that saved me.
With the support of a multidisciplinary team of professionals I embarked on my recovery journey.
It wasn’t easy – there wasn’t an overnight cure.
It was, and continues to be, one step at a time.
I’ve now reached a point in my life where I trust myself again and I know that recovery will be life long, but it’s up to me to stay on this path.
Recovery from an eating disorder involves overcoming physical, mental and emotional barriers in order to restore normal eating habits, thoughts and behaviours. The journey is different for everyone, but its important to know that recovery is possible.
I decided early on in my recovery that I wanted to be a voice for others who were struggling with eating disorders. I wanted to shine a positive light on what is a very dark and scary time for so many. I’ve dedicated my life to raising much needed awareness of these illnesses through educating people. Sharing my own personal journey to help break down communication barriers.
Research has shown that having the correct information and gaining the right education about eating disorders can help to prevent an eating disorder from developing.
We can all positively contribute by talking about these issues more. Because the more we talk about it, the easier it will be to combat them and prevent young women and men from going down a similar destructive path.
It’s about supporting one another, without judgement or criticism.
And most importantly, it’s about respect for others, but ultimately