From a young age, my friend Charlotte had her eyes set on success and she had everything she needed to make it happen. She was driven, determined and strived for perfection in all she did. But somewhere along her road to success, those very characteristics proved to provide more pain than gain.
Charlotte was a talented dancer and the more important dance became to her, the more aware she was of her body shape and size. Not long after her 15th birthday, Charlotte’s mum was diagnosed with lung cancer and shortly after passed away. This event shook her world. She was devastated and distressed. She struggled to work through her grief. She wanted to make her mum proud so she poured everything she had into becoming a better dancer. She thought losing weight was the only way to achieve this. She placed her family on a healthy eating plan but took it to the extreme as a way of gaining control in her life.
At the age of 16, Charlotte was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted to a hospital eating disorder unit. She thought everyone was over-reacting but when she saw the other patients and learned she would remain in hospital for 4-6 weeks, she began to realise the severity of her illness. She had already exposed her body to horrible damage. Her bones were developing early signs of osteoporosis, she had lost her periods jeopardising her ability to have children and her heart rate was so low that she could have died from a heart attack.
Not only was her physical body suffering, her whole life was in turmoil.
“Each day was a constant struggle to restrict my eating and to exercise as much as possible. I would attempt to eat the bare minimum in front of others, hide it or throw it away. I would exercise before and after school, often in secret, pushing myself to the limits and feeling guilty if I didn’t do enough. I was constantly hungry and exhausted. I became very cold, my hair fell out, and my fingernails were blue from the lack of circulation. I grew hair all over my body, as my body was attempting to keep itself warm. The starvation severely affected my brain so I couldn’t concentrate on school or anything other than food and exercise. I became extremely moody and irritable and withdrew from people. It was awful. I was so unhappy and I hated looking at myself in mirrors. I weighed myself every day and was never happy with the number on the scales. I evaluated myself purely on my weight, shape and size and therefore always felt guilty and worthless.”
Dancing teachers and friends tried to voice their concerns but she was in denial. Her family was worried but she kept assuring them that after her end of year dance concert she would eat more and put on weight. She wasn’t lying – she really did believe it would be that simple.
It wasn’t that simple, so hospital became her home for the next five weeks. It was hard but every week became a little bit easier. A defining moment for Charlotte was seeing so many of her friends be discharged only to return weeks later. She made a decision that once she was discharged, she wasn’t coming back. She made a decision to get better. She was sick of missing out on life.
Thankfully Charlotte’s anorexia was detected quite early and she received treatment from an excellent team of medical professionals. She had wonderful support from family, friends and fellow patients but it still took a long time for her eating disordered thoughts to become weaker and weaker. The thoughts became less frequent as more fulfilling things entered her life (friends, relationships, study, dreams) and eventually disappeared completely. The journey to complete recovery took time but Charlotte reached it. She overcame anorexia nervosa.
She finished high school and went on to study psychology at university. Now through her postgraduate degree she’s helping patients suffering from mental health issues, including eating disorders. She’s also returned to her beloved dancing. She’s no longer missing out on life, she’s embracing all it has to offer!
Charlotte’s message to those struggling with an eating disorder: “It is never too late to have hope, things can get better with the right treatment and support. I have seen in my personal world and in my work that people can recover. It’s a journey but it’s certainly possible. There is so much to enjoy in life and to be grateful for. There is hope.”
Posted by beccyg17, 31st January 2014