A few friends have commented that already I seem a lot more confident with myself since having this operation.
I’d like to think this is the case but as yet I’m not entirely sure but the whole process, ‘journey’ if you excuse the over-used reality TV term, it has taught me a great deal about myself and I think confidence is a natural by product of facing my fears and opening up about myself, my struggles and my disability.
To go from never discussing my disability, hoping it would slip under the radar to it being a focal point, suddenly in thrust into the spotlight after being hidden in the shadows for so long has been quite confronting but it has also been accompanied with a sense of freedom. Perhaps a dash of self-acceptance and forced confidence.
I’m not sure I would say I was ashamed of my disability per say, but uncomfortable with it being so closely tied to my identity, most definitely.
People have been accepting, encouraging and supportive.
Some have commented about me sharing so much about myself, some have been surprised by my level of honesty, most have appreciated it.
But I from the beginning I believed if I wanted to tell my story and share my adventure with this transformation and then only way to go about it was with the upmost honesty and transparency. I had to be honest, open and completely and utterly truthful. I would have to lay myself bare.
It hasn’t always been easy, all my life I have always kept hidden my struggles, my weaknesses, choosing to hide them away like one would sweep items under the bed. To suddenly put them all on show was a daunting prospect. But I have always hated the memoirs and biographies of people where they glossed over the hardships. Sure it’s great to focus on the triumphs, the stories of survival but everyone has moments of struggle, of fears and doubts and not sharing them creates unrealistic expectations for others reading the stories. They need to be laid bare. Struggling doesn’t make you weaker, only human. It’s what you choose to do with the struggles, frustrations and low points that define and strengthen.
So with this in mind I am going to confess something very few people know about me. Something I have never truly discussed with even my closest friends.
But it’s a part of my life, a marking on my journey and has probably shaped me more than I would like it to have.
In the past, for a number of years I have struggled on and off with various incantations of an eating disorder. In my early teens I was anorexic before transferring to bulimia. But bulimia is a difficult beast to maintain so I would go for months where I would binge but not vomit and so my weight would balloon before I would decide to get healthy and lose the weight only to fall straight back into the arms of bulimia again.
For many years I couldn’t pinpoint the root of my disordered eating. Sure I had some of the classic traits, I was a perfectionist with high expectations of myself but I had never been sexually abused which is often thought of as a trigger and I had a very happy childhood.
It was only recently that like a light bulb it dawned on me where my body issues came from. It probably should have been obvious but it lay hidden in my blind spot.
It’s a rare woman who hasn’t had a negative thought about their body or have always whole heartily embraced their body but it is particularly hard to love your body when it is left out of the media discourse of body love.
Magazines like Cosmo, Cleo, Dolly and Girlfriend embraced the bodylove campaign and would run annual ‘Love Your Body’ issues featuring women of all shapes and size. But women with disabilities were never represented. It seemed it was encouraged to love your big boobs, small boobs, curves, flat butts and chunky legs but never was there a love your missing leg section.
I’ve noticed in the last year or so the magazines have gotten slightly better and inclusive in featuring inspiring stories about amputees and people with a disability and there was one ‘bodylove’ special that featured a girl in a wheelchair. But while there are stories about amputee models they are never actually used in any of the fashion editorials. The magazines like to pride themselves on using models of all shapes and sizes in their shoots to represent all women but that exclusion is a glaringly obvious gap.
It’s not the magazines’ fault nor the media and in no way am I blaming them but it certainly didn’t help during the teenage years when so much is focused on body image and wanting to be ‘normal.’
While I have never let my disability hold me back nor get in the way of what I want to achieve in life it has impacted me and how I feel about myself.
I guess at the root of it all, whether I was aware of it or not, was a deep sense of shame about my leg and my body. I guess have never been truly comfortable with my disability. I had no control over my disability or people’s reactions to it.
I could however control my weight and what I put into my body. Looking back this was the only way I had any sense of control of my body and how I felt about it.
My issues had long been there before S and his hurtful comments so I can’t in any way blame him but they did set me off again on a particularly destructive path.
At the worst I was I vomiting three to four times a day as well as using laxatives ‘just to be sure’. My knuckles are still a little scarred from where my fingers were shoved so far down my throat my teeth would continuously scrape my knuckles and back of my hand.
I continuously punished my body for letting me down, for its failure, for not being good enough for this boy.
An eating disorder is crazy like that; it messes with your head, skews your vision, taints your reality and is like a constant screaming banshee in your head.
Between each binge and purge I would survive on diet coke and half a diet yoghurt. Once a work colleague commented they had never seen me eat. I felt strangely smug hearing this.
While like each burst of bulimia I would lose a substantial amount of weight relatively quickly I was still of a normal weight, never verging on sickly skinny and so it was easy to hide from my friends, my roommates and my work colleagues. It would lie undetected, slip under the radar without my bones protruding like distress signals.
I often wonder how my flatmates at uni did not know about my eating issues. My shelf in the fridge was always filled with ice-cream, chocolate, Tim Tams and doughnuts and I would spend an unnaturally long time in the bathroom. Maybe they did and they chose to simply ignore it. Or maybe they thought I was just someone who was very clean and showered obsessively.
I never told anyone about my eating issues as I didn’t want people to forever monitor what I was putting into my mouth. I was also deeply ashamed. Not about suffering from an eating disorder but that people wouldn’t believe me. My weight has yo-yoed so much over the years I have been overweight just as much as I have been of a healthy weight or underweight. I have always worried people would scoff and say ‘how can you have an eating disorder, you’re not skinny enough.’
This year I have become the healthiest, fittest and strongest I have ever been. I decided it was time to kick the destructive habits to the curve, eat like an adult and fuel my body with healthy nourishing foods and exercise to get fit rather than to punish myself for what I had eaten. I had had enough of hating my body and decided instead to treat it with respect.
I lost weight without turning to bulimia, without starving myself and without a constant hatred for my body.
This whole process, this surgery, being open about my disability has I feel helped me take a giant step towards accepting my body. Helped me to be proud of what it can achieve rather than ashamed of what it can’t.
Right now I am the fittest, strongest and healthiest I have been. I eat healthy clean food, no longer crave sugar, my exercise may be limited in what I can do but I do something every day and I get enough sleep.
And yet I am starting to get a little concerned that the old habits are creeping back in.
I find myself obsessing about calories, panicking about meals and filled with guilt if I eat even the smallest treat.
Yesterday I had a small piece of cake a friend served up when I visited yesterday and the guilt, the panic, the fear of gaining weight gripped me like a vice and weighed heavy on me like a backpack of lead.
Rationally I know one meal, one treat will not make me gain weight and yet still I feel anxious.
It doesn’t help that I can’t exercise as much as I want.
While I do a cycle class at the gym twice a week and do an hour of weights and core exercises at home on the other days, I worry it is not enough. And if I miss a session not only do I feel grumpy and sluggish but guilty.
The other day I accidentally slept in and the reality that I wouldn’t have time to do my normal exercise routine smothered me in a panic. It flooded my veins and I felt irrationally anxious and horrified.
An eating disorder is like a lover that no matter how badly they treat you and despite knowing how bad they are for you, the allure of returning is never far away.
And I worry I may be heading down this path again.
All my habits at the moment are healthy but they are starting to verge on the point of obsessive and it’s fine line and a slippery slope from there.
I hope it’s only because at the moment I don’t have much else to focus on. My entire life for the past few months has revolved solely around my body, my leg, getting fit in order to have the best possible shot at walking and doing physio.
Without the distraction of work or friends or anything else that makes a life I suppose it is easy to become consumed. Plus with everything being so uncertain it is in the only thing I have any semblance of control over and so it is natural to take charge and focus on this.
Hopefully once things get back to normal the obsessive nature will slip away and I can simply be healthy. A meal can return to simply being meal and that be that. No feelings of guilt, no calculating of calories, of exercise to be done and no fear of gaining weight. Just a meal to fuel my body.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder please contact The Butterfly Foundation. The Butterfly Foundation provides support for Australians who suffer from eating disorders and negative body image issues. They also provide support for their loved ones.