‘Half my bowel was coming out of my body. The doctor said, ‘Hannah, I have no idea what to do with you anymore.’: Woman survives life-long battle with eating disorders after trauma, ‘There is always hope for change’

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“My life has consisted of many highs and lows, beautiful experiences, and challenging times. My childhood growing up was simple. I went to the same school for 13 years, lived in two different homes as we moved when I was 10 and 15, and was heavily involved in every musical activity I could fit into my schedule. This included singing, playing the piano, playing trumpet, every school band and choir, and every school musical.

While things looked good on the outside, life was tough. I went through trauma at the age of 6 that nobody knew about until I was 19. That trauma significantly impacted my life in ways I still battle with today. My eating disorder began when I started starving myself at the age of 6. Following abuse and trauma, I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to take up as little space as I possibly could so people wouldn’t be able to see me, and therefore in my mind, not be able to hurt me.

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

Starving myself intentionally was something that began young and was diagnosed as Anorexia at age 15. It involved screaming and crying matches over food for hours sometimes on a daily occurrence growing up. I was always conscious of my body size and believed I was practically overweight. I was terrified of having food in my body and what my body would look like as a result.

My relationship with my body has never been a great one. Due to my struggles with food, I was underweight until I was 12. Then as my body and my relationship with food changed, I was a healthy weight again and enjoyed food for a few years before being ravaged again by anorexia, starving myself, and becoming underweight again.

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

At the age of 15 my anorexia once again took over, and I began struggling with crippling depression. I became increasingly suicidal, suffered from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks, and began self-harming all the time. The age of 15 was the first time I desperately wanted to end my life and begged God to let me die.

At the age of 19, I was hospitalized for my mental health for the first time. I was sent inpatient to an acute adult mental health unit or a ‘psych ward’ and began my journey of revolving in and out of psych wards. As I continued to battle severe depression, an eating disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and feelings, I was placed on medication and saw a number of psychologists and psychiatrists. As I began seeing a certain psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, meaning I was constantly having flashbacks to trauma that were debilitating and impacting my everyday life.

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

Whilst I was struggling with these things, I began abusing laxatives as a part of my eating disorder. For those that don’t know, laxatives are taken to help stimulate bowel movements and I became convinced they would help me to lose weight. Whenever I ate food, I would take laxatives and it got to a point of seriously abusing them very quickly.

Laxative abuse started out so innocently for me but quickly took over my life, and I have had very severe health consequences because of them. Laxative abuse has landed me in the hospital more times than I can count with severe heart issues, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and a bowel prolapse which is where nearly half of my large bowel came out of my body. I have been told I was on the verge of a colostomy bag.

I’ve spent weeks in medical units of the hospital with continuous nasogastric feeds, fluids, potassium, heart monitoring, heart medication, severe pain, and not being able to sit up without requiring oxygen. Following medical admissions, I’ve then spent up to 10 months at a time at an inpatient psych ward for my eating disorder, severe depression, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts.

My journey through physical illness and mental illness has been ridiculously difficult for me, and for those around me. There were times in medical wards where my parents thought I was going to die. I was told one day I wasn’t allowed to go outside because if there was a change in temperature I could collapse and die. My journey in mental health wards of the hospital has been just as tough.

During my 10-month admission I was told time and time again by doctors, nurses, psychologists, family, dieticians, etc. that nobody knew what to do with me anymore. I had been through so many treatments, so many medications, so many therapies, so many psychologists and psychiatrists with nothing working, that they weren’t giving up on me but had absolutely no idea what to do anymore.

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

That was so, so tough for me and I felt like there was never going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. In the end, it ended up being the wake-up call I needed. Having so many people at a point of complete defeat for how to help me… it clicked one day that if I wanted to see change, I needed to be the one to make the change. Healing and moving forward had to start with me.

For me, I had been waiting for someone to have the answer that was going to help me to feel better. I was waiting for the next medication or the next therapy or the next psychiatrist to have the answer I needed. There was one time in the hospital where I had mentally completely given up and so had my body. I collapsed, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, my lips were going purple and my heart rate and blood pressure were way too low. I was given IV fluids and placed on continuous nasogastric feeds for a week. After that week I went back to very little food and purging behaviors. Then one day the dietician came to me defeated and said,

‘Hannah, I just have no idea what to do with you anymore, I don’t know how to help you.’

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

Hearing that from the dietician devastated me, and that was my lightbulb moment. I knew if I wanted things to turn around, I had to start to turn them around myself. I knew I had to change my behaviors and change my mindset if I ever wanted things to change.

So, I started small. I started by keeping one thing down and then gradually keeping the next meal down or the next coffee down. Gradually, I started to realise that was possible and that the power lay within me to make a difference in my own life. My mindset began to change as my behaviors began to change. Those around me saw the light return to my eyes–my family, the nurses, the psychiatrist, the dietician, people began to see a difference in me, and I began to feel it.

I’d like for others to take away from my story that there is always hope and it is always possible to change. Where you are now doesn’t have to dictate where you can be in the future. It is always possible to make small changes that add up to make a difference. These days I’m two months out of the hospital and doing really well. I’m eating freely, eating what I want to eat, and enjoying food again. I’ve been invited to be on podcasts to share my journey. I am also involved in filming a video to fundraise equipment for the hospital I stayed in. I’m studying again and receiving really good grades. I’m enjoying time and meals with my family and spending time with dear friends.

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

In a matter of months, things have turned around drastically for me, better than I could have hoped. It all started with a small change to keep one meal down, to go for one day without laxatives, to talk to people instead of bottling things up. People say to me now that I look the best I’ve looked, the most well I’ve looked, in a very long time. For me, that is such a privilege and an honour and something I’m so thankful for. It’s been a tough journey but I’m out the other side, and boy is it beautiful.”

Courtesy of Hannah Mason

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Mason. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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