Living with an eating disorder. You’re not alone.

Last week MONGA had its first major editorial board meeting this semester. We were told that amongst other things, we should perhaps consider writing about depression and suicide, as suicide rates have been on a steady rise.

Now, I’ve thought long and hard about this. Suicide and depression are not easy things to write about. I don’t want to give anyone a list of what to do and what not to do, because depression and suicide aren’t as simple as that. Both of these situations are dealt with differently by each person, and if overcoming them really were as simple as a list, well, I wouldn’t be writing about it. So instead, I’ve decided if I can’t put out a list, and I definitely don’t want to write a technical piece and throw rates and figures at you, I’d just share some of my own experience.

Before I get into it, there are a few things I want to say (write?). First of all, I don’t know if what I am about to share is… worthy. I don’t know how else to put it. A part of me tells myself ‘Hey, look, you survived, so were your problems reaaaally that bad? How can you claim to have been in the same boat as these people if you’re well and happy today? You didn’t see a specialist, are you actually going to self-diagnose the situation? Is this trivializing what they’re going through? Will other people think that these problems are easy to overcome because you’re doing just fine?’ – The worry doesn’t stop. Then again, if this is the only way I can address a problem that many people are affected by, shouldn’t I try? Secondly, I understand that not everyone might want to read about this, but again, refer to the conclusion from the first statement. Lastly, I had an eating disorder.

GOD, I IMMEDIATELY WANT TO BACKTRACK.

Okay, how do I go about this. Let me just try. Get ready everyone this is gonna be verbal diarrhea

I had always been a fleshy kid. If you look at me now, you’d never have guessed I had an eating disorder too. I had always been a fleshy kid, and confident in myself. Sure I had my insecure moments, but they were few and far in between. When I was 16, somehow, I started to lose weight without trying. Maybe it was puberty, maybe it was the tennis lessons. Regardless, more and more people starting complimenting me (as people do) on losing weight. It wasn’t anything drastic, a couple of kilos here and there, but the physical change was clear. Perfectionist that I was, I decided that I liked the compliments, and that if I was lucky enough to lose weight naturally, the least I could do would be to maintain it.

So that was the beginning of the problem. Because I didn’t just maintain it, I got competitive with the numbers. When I left secondary school and started pre-university, my eating disorder then became a way for me to exercise control over my life. I was in a new environment, without most of the friends I was close to, and calorie-counting was my control. I had the calorie counts for everything in my head. The numbers never stopped. Every minute of every day I was counting the calories of the meals I’d had, planning the calories of the meals I was going to have. I couldn’t sleep without planning my breakfast the next morning. I limited myself to 500 cals a day. An apple has about 90 cals. Every day I managed to get under 500 cals was a victory, every day I went over the 500 cal limit I spent crying on the bathroom floor, feeling like a failure.

With time, I started to aim for 300 cals a day. Again, it was either under 300 cals or sobbing on the tiles. By this point, my mood swings had started, and I’d developed a tremor in my hands. I was grouchy, unpleasant, I would get angry with everyone in my family. I hated when people asked me to eat. Couldn’t they understand that I couldn’t eat? But of course, you can’t always decline food, and that was how my depression settled in. I hated myself every time I ate, I would get so upset that I’d throw a large fit then settle into a dazed state where I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day.

Every day I’d speed to school while desperately logging my calories on to an app on my phone. I needed to have it logged before arriving at school. I needed to. And I could only start logging it after I’d started the car’s engine. I can’t tell you the amount of times I almost crashed. I know I was selfish, thoughtless, a danger to those around me. It was another way for me to be in control.

Very quickly, I lost a lot of weight. Everyone noticed. No one was complimenting me anymore. My hip bones were visible through clothes (which were practically falling off me), as was my backbone. I could count the individual vertebrae on my back. My period had stopped for almost a year before I finally went to see a doctor, who told me that I had a heart rate of 52 bpm, something athletes and astronauts train for. He recommended that I see either a gynecologist or endocrinologist. I did, but nothing changed. My body was failing, and I was okay with that, as long as I didn’t have to go through the agony of chewing and swallowing my food.

Now I don’t know how to explain it, but throughout all of this I was aware of how badly I was treating myself, and I hated myself for it. I hated that I didn’t let my brain stop calculating calories every day, I hated that I panicked and couldn’t breathe when I thought I’d exceeded my calorie target, I hated that I didn’t let myself go out with friends because I was scared to eat, and I hated that I knew I was the only one who could help myself. Because I did try. I would allow myself to take a bite of food and I’d either spit it out, or if I swallowed I’d drop into a pit of self-loathing for days. I hated myself for what I was doing to my body and mind, but at the same time I couldn’t bear the misery I felt when I did eat. I wanted to kill myself, because the vicious cycle didn’t seem to have an end. I didn’t know how else to stop the numbers in my head, nor the desperation I felt. And so, one night after I’d had yet another screaming match with my mum, I grabbed a knife and locked myself in the bathroom.

This wasn’t the first time I’d done this, but something about this time was different, because I think that was the time I cried the most desperately, the first time I screamed and screamed that I didn’t want to be stuck in the cycle anymore. I wasn’t the confident, bubbly person I was, I couldn’t remember the last time I had a genuine laugh. I guess it was the first time I didn’t cry because I desperately hated myself for ‘failing’, but the first time I cried for the person I was and wanted to be, and the first time I cried in anger at being stuck in the cycle I was in. In a way, it was the first time I lashed out at my disorder, not because of it. I see that night as one of the worst nights of my life, but also the night I decided I wasn’t going to be a part of all that negativity anymore.

There was no big change after that. Like I said, it’s not that simple. I went through many more rounds of trying to eat, failing, and lashing out and deciding that I wasn’t going to be stuck in the cycle anymore. The difference was that I still kept on trying to eat. I kept on trying, knowing that I’d feel the worst, and I kept on telling myself I could break the cycle. It was hell, but I told myself it was either that or killing myself, which was the reality of my situation.

And then one day, I got through a whole day of not counting calories and not feeling guilty. I didn’t even realize it till the next morning. It didn’t just take months, it was almost 2 years before I could eat without a care. But I got there. My period came back, my hair stopped falling, and one day my cousin told me that she liked that I was smiling, it was like I was returning to my old self.

Except, I don’t think I’ve ever returned to being exactly like my old self. When you go through trying times, they never leave you the same. Today I can eat without a care, but if you were to ask me, I could still tell you the calories of almost anything you eat. If I wanted to, I could still limit myself to 300 cals a day. I still fall into a depressed slump from time to time where I have to be cautious of letting in those familiar dark thoughts — but I don’t want to, and I guess that is the point I’m trying to make (God really? Took this long to come to this point?). In the end, I had to be the one to decide that I didn’t want to be in the shithole anymore, and claw my way out.

So if nothing else, I hope that this article manages to let some people know that they aren’t alone in their struggle, and that there is a good end in sight. I sincerely hope this article doesn’t trigger anyone, and it isn’t written to highlight how bad I had it or to congratulate myself for overcoming my disorder. I wrote this article to open up a dialogue about depression and suicide, and so that people know that they aren’t alone. So congrats if you made it all the way down here. I was nervous about writing this, nervous about how my friends would view me (like any of them would read this to the end LEL) but as my brother told me, ‘No shame in it, ’. I hope that whatever it is you’re going through, you know that there is no shame in it. I hope that you know that you do have the power to change things for the better, and even if it only gets better for a day, that you have the power to continue to try. Because the world really would be a darker place without your spark of light.

**Reminder: Hope no one goes around thinking all skinny people have an eating disorder. Be smart.

Article by Larissa Liau

Cover photo by Huffington Post

musaeditor

Editorial board of Monash University Student Association

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