Opting for Change in the Face of Fear by Anne Ball
My name is Anne and I am a 34-year-old mother of two children: Maxine, aged 13, and Sarah, aged 8. When I look out of my kitchen window to observe my girls playing in the background, I pray that they always stay the way they are – energetic, fun, strong… Maxine is now entering adolescence and sometimes gives me cheeky responses to my questions, asserting her need forindependence and clearly getting annoyed if she feels I’m being too motherly. She is nothing like I used to be at her age and I must say that is the best gift she could have given me.
When I was 12, I embarked on a dangerous road that nearly took my life. After being called ‘porky’ and ‘chubby’ by a group of classmates at school, I began severely limiting the amount of food I ate. As the kilos dropped off me, everyone told me how good I looked – my parents, my friends and the teachers at school. It is funny but now, when I look back at pictures of when I was 11 and 12 (before the anorexia), I do not see a child in need of weight loss; I see a happy, strong child who used to love running and swimming and who loved having meals with the family.
By the time I was 13, I was skinny; a few months after my 13th birthday party, mom first expressed her worry to me. I normally hid my thin body
behind baggy clothes but once, she peeped into my room when I was changing and saw my ribcage peeping out through my skin.
She was alarmed and began putting the pieces together. I hardly ever ate with the rest of the family, she noted, yet that was nothing new since in our home, family meals were a rarity. All of us had busy schedules and Mom would normally cook a meal and
leave us the freedom of heating it whenever we were ready. She hadn’t noticed, therefore, how I would serve myself a portion and throw it down
the garbage disposal when nobody was looking.
At this point in my life, the bullying grew worse than before. The same crowd that used to call me fat, now teased me for having an eating disorder. It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, they said, since I was still ugly, pathetic, and dumb. The pain I felt led me to punish myself more; in addition to consuming just one potato or one tub of yoghurt a day sometimes, I also began exercising excessively, going for runs or bike rides. Once, I fainted while I was biking. I was lucky that a neighbor found me and took me home. It was dark at the time and I still shudder to think of what might have happened if the wrong person had found me. I was hungry, weak and dizzy; I think that was when I hit rock bottom.
Mom took me to an eating disorders center, where I was attended to by doctors, a nutritionist and my therapist, Jean, who I am still in touch with today. Jean helped not only me, but my whole family, helping them heal by pointing out that my eating disorder was nobody’s fault – not theirs, or mine… we learned that eating disorders like anorexia have a variety of causes. Sometimes, they can be prevalent in the family; Mom recalled that when they were children, my Aunt Martha had also suffered from an eating disorder (bulimia). At other times, an intense perfectionism can lead us to aim to achieve unrealistic body types. Bullying can exacerbate an obsession with perfection, since it lowers our self-confidence and promotes feelings of guilt and shame.
I was in the center for various months. At first, it was a struggle just to gain weight, despite the fact that I was eating so many calories – much
more than before the disorder had struck. As I gained weight, little by little, I started feeling more energetic. More importantly, I felt like I
could think more clearly and see how if I kept going the way I was, I would lose my life. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental
Now, at 34, I am in a healthy weight range and I exercise regularly, without going overboard. When I feel the urge to criticize myself in my
head or to chastise myself for something as silly as indulging in a ‘sinful’ treat, I remind myself that life is short and that food is one of
its great pleasures. I also know that food is the vital fuel that enables me to feel physically and mentally fit enough to carry out the most
challenging hurdle of all – simply being a Mom!