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Rachael

The hospital intervened when I was 15. I was the weight of a primary school child. I couldn’t walk or go to school, I could hardly move. The doctors said I was lucky — we’ve caught the anorexia early, they said. How wrong they were.

My school was shocked, they thought I was just skinny. And the more people don’t say anything, the more you tell yourself you’re fine. It was my sister who first said something wasn’t right — I can see your spine, she said. I got really defensive.

Anorexia felt like a prison.

I’d isolated myself from everyone around me and limited my relationships to basic communication. I didn’t want people to see me eat or distract me from my study. As the weight dropped, I lost the ability to function physically and mentally, and I couldn’t see a future.

I think back to how things might have been different, to how a strong connection could have made a difference. If someone had noticed my anxiety and withdrawal when I was 10 or 11, my anorexia and depression might never have escalated like they did.

I reacted badly to the diagnosis. Reading the chart at the end of my hospital bed I thought — anorexic? I’m just eating healthily. It was when they told me I weighed as much as an eight year-old that I was shocked into thinking differently. I realised I could die from this and felt guilty for the impact I was having on my family, on my sister.

I had an amazing paediatrician in the psychiatric ward but the nurses were really dismissive. They said I was taking up a bed that someone with a real illness could have. I remember thinking I was 15 and had been in a ‘psych ward’, my future was gone.

After leaving hospital I reached a healthy weight pretty quickly, but food was only part of the problem. My thinking was still distorted and I spiralled into deep depression. I felt overwhelming hopelessness and was re-admitted into hospital three times for attempted suicide.

The turning point was with my social worker Margo. She encouraged me to tell my story outside our one-on-ones. We had open therapy sessions for students to observe. I started speaking in lectures too. That was life changing, being given a voice and participating in something so much bigger than me.

Family therapy showed me how we’re all connected and part of a larger story. There was a lot of brokenness around me in my family, and I learned that we had to work through it together.

I once believed the experience had robbed me of life, but now I realise it’s enriched me. I found my faith in hospital, and I’ve become more compassionate. The illness also made me realise how fragile life is, to go after my passions.

I now tell people when I’m not okay and have made close connections — my husband, mother-in- law, friends. I have colour in my life, I never had that before.

I’m 24 now, and share my story in schools and church groups. I want to give young people hope, encourage them to reach out and connect.

We can fill ourselves with so much hopelessness, but love is at our centre and that’s what helps us make the shift. As well as starving myself, I used to cut myself to avoid what I was really feeling. So, if I have any advice for others it’s don’t run from how you feel.

A friend of mine painted three words on her van:

Love Melts Fear

It’s the only way.

Last updated: 8 October, 2016

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