Opting for Change in the Face of Fear

Opting for Change in the Face of Fear by Anne Ball

Upset childMy 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
condition.

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!

Author: Anne Ball

Although she is now in the lucky position to be able to work from home as a writer, Anne Ball's life hasn't always been easy. She's a mother of two girls now, and for years has battled issues with eating disorders. Although mostly recovered now, she still sees it as something that she'll always have to battle. Prior to her working from home, she actually worked in the healthcare sector and volunteered for a number of mental health charities

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4 Comments

  1. Very insightful article. I feel like this article shows the importance of programs that can help to screen for students/ children/ teenagers, that may be struggling with eating disorders, as well as the important or access to programs that can help support people to shift and change their habits and negative perceptions of food and themselves. I feel that schools can play an important role in educating students of the dangers of eating disorders as well as pointing them to resources that they can use. This was a really great read…..

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  2. I absolutely love this! And thank you for sharing your story…..it hits very close to home for me, as my older sister has this same disorder, but she will continue to deny it to this day. (Though like you she has passed out and has lost chunks of hair), but she’s always been one to try to fit in….sad what kids will do, and continue as adults. I pray for your continued healing. 🙂

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  3. This is a very important story and I’m thankful you shared it with us. I feel bad for you that you had to go through this. I had a similar experience myself when I was dieting in high school, except that I realized that I’m going overboard before something really bad happened. Still, for a long time my breakfast was an apple and a carrot and my dinner was a bowl of cereals and that’s it for the whole day. Now when I look back, I was pretty messed up. Society is the one to blame I guess? Just like in your case, people (even my mother!) would call me “chubby”, “fat”. When I lost weight, they told me I looked good so I kept on dieting and no one saw anything wrong with that. I noticed it myself when I didn’t want to eat a yoghurt because – for me – it contained too many calories (and it was a non-flavoured one, just a regular yoghurt). I made a change myself, but I realize people are different and live in different enviroments, in different societies. I believe people should be taught that everyone is different and beautiful and that we should accept people the way they are. It’s disgusting that society makes a teenage girl anxious about her weight and her appearance. Anyway, I’m super happy for you! You live a great life now and your story is truly an inspiration. Make sure to tell it to your daughters and teach them about importance of self-care and respecting other people 😀

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    • Great comment Martina. There is a story of a man in India who, in 1979, decided to plant trees to save his island from erosion. Thirty-seven years later this forest is bigger than Central Park. Just one person could do so much! Now imagine an entire society of people devoting the same kind of energy into valuing diversity and inner-beauty! Wishful thinking on my end but I’m sure we will get there one day.

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