“I am on a journey, a journey to recover from anorexia and learn to live. Not only live, but to thrive while dealing with all mental health struggles — anorexia, anxiety, social anxiety, depression, OCPD, and a hint of separation anxiety, just to top it off. As this is only a fairly short piece, I won’t be able to fit in all the details, I will mainly be discussing my anorexia. However, you can always pop over to my Instagram for more info and hopefully inspiration. I try to use my platform to promote body positivity and positive mental health.
When I first started my account, people I went to high school with were shocked to hear about my mental health struggles. I mean, apart from the anorexia, everything else I could hide pretty well. Of course, we should never ‘hide’ our sicknesses, but what I am trying to say is it is very possible to live a very fulfilling and amazing life, regardless of how crazy our brains might be sometimes. It’s not like we are walking around with a big sign on our heads saying, ‘I have mental health struggles.’ Most people will have no idea what you’re going through, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. It’s not a death sentence and it won’t hold you back if you don’t want it to. Yes, some days are total struggles for me but for the most part, I am a super happy, fun-loving, normal 21-year-old girl.
Ever since my family and I can remember, I’ve had anxiety. When I was young, I would cry when dropped off at school. I just wanted to stay with mum and dad. If people I didn’t know very well tried to talk to me, I would go all shy and hide behind my parents’ legs. Since I was still young, I guess it was okay and in all other areas of my life, I was totally happy and thriving. I describe my childhood as absolutely perfect, pure bliss. I truly am so lucky, and I thank my lucky stars every single day for that.
One day, out of nowhere, I asked my parents if I could start dancing. Both my parents played sport successfully for Victoria (a state in Australia) in their fields. My mum played volleyball and my dad played Australian rules football. Dancing? Where did that come from? They knew nothing about it, but as always, they supported me 100% and so I began dancing at 4 years old. Dancing was my outlet. I felt happy and free and as a bonus, it helped improve my confidence. Social situations still freaked me out completely, but I pretended I was on stage and performed my way through conversations and meetings.
The end of primary school came. High school would begin after the Christmas summer holidays. Every single day without fail for the 5-week break, I would wake up with a sore tummy, feel nauseous, and be unable to eat or get out of bed. I was sent off for dozens of tests and x-rays, but everything came back fine. The first day of year 7 came… and I had one of my biggest panic attacks. I cried and screamed uncontrollably, shaking, was hardly breathing, and refused to get in the car for school. I remember having so much fear running through my body and I simply didn’t want to go. I didn’t know exactly why I didn’t want to go but I was just so utterly scared. More than scared, I was terrified! Three days later, there were no more stomach pains. They had miraculously disappeared, vanished. My anxiety was so bad, I had stomach pains every day of the holiday. I had everyone fooled, thinking I had some sort of horrible stomach condition, but really, I just had crippling, untreated anxiety.
I breezed through school, made friends, and kept good grades. I was still anxious and worried a lot about everything, but I was pretty good at hiding it. I remember so badly wanting to go to the school wellbeing team to talk to someone, but my social anxiety made me too scared. I still danced almost every night. Dance was the one time of day my mind was quiet, and I loved it. Around years 10 and 11, I started getting stomach pains again before school. I felt this pressure to be the best. The best student, the best daughter, the best friend, the best dancer. This is when I started to see my first psychologist to help me through the maze that was my mind. At dance, I would compare myself in the mirror to the other girls and I truly believed I was fat. Looking back now, I certainly wasn’t. In fact, I was quite on the small side. I started counting calories, but I thought nothing of these behaviors and told no one about it.
Disaster struck in year 11 when I got stress fractures in the shins in both of my legs from dancing and was in a moon boot for 11 weeks. Obviously, I couldn’t dance for a while! My anxiety rose because I no longer had an outlet. I was bored and sad, and I ate a little more than before. During this time, I gained a bit of weight. I was still healthy, but bigger than before.
I was overjoyed when I got the all-clear to go back to dance. At this time, my anxiety became crippling again. I stressed about everything I said. I thought my grades were not good enough, even though my parents said they were great. Crowds stressed me out and before work, I would get the worst nausea. I would go to my psychologist every week but I still felt like nothing could help.
It was my dream to dance full time and become professional. Two of my dance teachers told me if I wanted to dance, I had to lose weight. (Keep in mind, I was a very normal size.) They told me to eat less and exercise more and definitely start running. So I did. I cut out all snacks and stuck to no more than three meals a day. If I was hungry, I would have a black coffee to suppress hunger and I started going for runs. I would also never allow myself to finish a whole meal. How greedy of me, I thought. A year later, I got into full-time dance and this is where I spiraled even more.
So much happened in this time, I could literally write a whole book. Dancing is great BUT, it is such a perfectionist sport and VERY appearance-based. If you don’t do something right or perfect, you would get yelled at, screamed at, and sworn at in front of everyone. My anxiety was so out of control, I could no longer eat. Everything would come back up, due to anxiety upsetting my belly. I would walk in the studio riddled with fear but for some reason, a part of me still loved it. Dancing 5 days a week for 2 years was intense. I have many happy memories but also many horrible memories. In the first year, I saw my psychologist weekly but to no avail. I was still counting calories and exercising on top of the 5 days a week as we were told we should. Eating carbs for lunch also was frowned upon so I cut them out completely. I was sucked into anorexia but managed to hide it well. The second year came with more pressure, more yelling, more swearing and more body talk.
‘You need to wear makeup every day. You never know who will walk through the door.’ ‘Have you put on weight?’ ‘Watch what you eat and exercise out of class, so you look nice and fit.’ ‘If you want that job, you need to lose weight off your arms.’
Anorexia began taking over my life. I cut out all carbs and then all protein, too. I started losing weight and my teachers told me, ‘Well done, you look so much better, keep losing more.’ So I did. By the middle of the year, I was merely a skeleton and found myself in the hospital, hooked up to a drip and forced to drink supplements.
Still, I refused to admit I had anorexia. I continued fading away. I was faint and dizzy all the time and my brain was so foggy, I could hardly remember the choreography. My poor heart would pound out of my chest and it was a struggle to do the dances. Even though everyone around me could see what was happening, I denied it. To make it worse, as students, we still had mealtimes taken away from us if we didn’t perform well enough. Second year finished, to my parent’s relief. ‘You’re not going back,’ they told me. I only just made it through the year alive.
At the end of 2018, I hit rock bottom. I slept all day on the couch. In the hot Australian summer, I was wrapped up under blankets, freezing cold. I lost my personality and I never laughed. My anxiety was high and my depression made me wish I wasn’t on this earth anymore. I just wanted it all to end. My poor friends and family watched on hopelessly as I refused help. At this time, I was scared to even chew sugar-free gum, thinking even that would make me gain weight. All I ate was pumpkin and mushrooms with a bit of sugar-free tomato sauce…. and I thought that was normal. I was getting panic attacks every day and still, I refused help. Even the kid sized clothing would hang off me, but I thought I looked great. The smaller and skinnier I was, the better I thought I would feel. The smaller I was, the more people would like me, I thought.
It’s been a few years, three hospital admissions, three times in medical and two psychiatric, and here we are. Today as I write this, I am the happiest I have ever been. My heart is full, my soul is alive. I see the good in every day. I have the best family, amazing friendships, and the job of my absolute dreams. The fight was sure worth it. In saying that, the fight still continues. A week ago, I had a panic attack over pasta and cried for hours, but hey, there is so much to be happy about and grateful for. My body is restored. Now I just need to work on my mind. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m touching it with my fingertips. The next step is to grab it with one hand, then two hands, and then hold that light at my heart space, proud of what I have done.
I am slowly learning to love my body. At the end of the day, it is my home. It carries me around, allows me to laugh, and go on adventures. Without it, I am nothing. I really should take care of it. My body deserves my love because it does so much for me. Every single body is beautiful, every lump and every bump. The people who truly love us, the kind of people we want or should want in our lives, couldn’t care less about what we look like. I’m learning that smaller doesn’t mean healthy and larger doesn’t mean unhealthy. I am now on a mission to empower others to be themselves and love themselves. Each of us has a gift and each of us is different but that’s the amazing bit!
Don’t be afraid and don’t be embarrassed — we all have struggles in life big or small. Whatever they are, they are valid and your feelings are valid. We are all pieces of art, works in progress, but that’s the beauty of life! Please promise me two things: you will never give up and you will tell the ones near and dear to you that you love them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessie O’Meara, 21, from Melbourne, Australia. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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