Imagine having a compulsion to go to the gym that was beyond your control, crying in the toilet because you are too weak to actually do any of the classes, passing out when you were in a class because you are so malnourished that you don’t have the energy, too scared to look in the mirror but not being able to stop yourself, hating yourself, hating every day, feeling constant pain, hurt, self loathing, day after day!
That is what Anorexia sufferers feel everyday…
On the brink of death 26 year old Janice Elizabeth (Mardesic) booked herself into the New Farm Eating Disorder unit six months ago after passing out again from lack of food. She weighed 42kg with a body Max Index of 15 and thought she was fat! She knew she was sick and didn’t want to feel the pain anymore.
So how did it all start?
The young Gold Coaster started dieting at the age of 10 after her brother called her fat and told her no-one would ever like her. Of course he was only teasing the slim young girl, as siblings do, but she took it seriously.
What her brother didn’t realise at the time was that Janice had already suffered abuse at an earlier time in her life and that one little comment was just enough to tip her over the edge.
“I had a real fear of not being loved, afraid of growing up, settling down, having a career, responsibility…. it was a debilitating fear, but it wasn’t at a conscious level it was in the sub-conscious,” she said.
In what seemed to be an out of control life, not eating was the only thing she felt she had control over… “I could reject sitting down with my family for dinner and that become my comfort,” she said.
So when Janice was first admitted into hospital at the age of 16 she was suicidal and depressed but what seems really surprising is that her eating disorder was never addressed!
When she finally got out she turned to alcohol and replaced one addiction for another “I started partying and gave it all up, I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she said.
All she was doing was swapping one addiction for another and soon she was back in hospital, but this time it was long term rehab for a drinking problem.
Eighteen months into the rehab Janice lost her appetite again, one day of not eating turned into three, she was very anxious but the doctors said it was post traumatic stress.
However once it had taken its grip there seemed no way out “I left rehab and tried settling back into life, I didn’t have an appetite and I ran, exercised and soon I was obsessed with losing weight, it just snuck up on me,” Janice said.
At one stage she said she was standing in front of the mirror screaming at her mother beside her “I’m so fat, I’m so fat…I’m a short fat tree stump, look at me, I’m a short fat tree stump,” her mother was trying to tell her it wasn’t real, but her body image was completely distorted, “I could see the bones but I even thought they were fat, I just wished I could shrink my bones,” she said.
When she checked herself into the eating disorder unit at the beginning of this year she still didn’t want to put on weight but knew something had to change.
“I was sick of feeling constant pain, I was sick of going to the gym, but I had to go to the gym it was a compulsion, I was sick of the torment, I was sick of being miserable,” Janice said.
At the unit she was fed through a tube and was forced into consuming 3000 calories a day just to keep her alive. Anorexics instinctively know the tricks of the trade so soon it became easy to trick the doctors if she wasn’t continually monitored. “When I was no longer being watched every 15 minutes, I used to go out for runs, workout beside the bed, then when the doctor asked I lied and said I hadn’t worked out,” she said.
So strong is the grip of anorexia that it has even the most honest person being dishonest “I could look the doctor in the face and say I had not exercised,” she said. “I learnt to change the bag and mix it with water so I wasn’t getting the calories they were trying to put into me”.
Finally once she had put on a much needed 15kg, Janice was released for day outings and still she had every intention of losing the weight she had put on.
Janice is one of the lucky ones and it is all attributed to one person who has given her guidance and support. A role model she found on Facebook of all places! Just when she was about to fall into old habits again Janice stumbled upon Sports and Fitness model Justine Switalla while searching Facebook for health and fitness tips. Now she follows Justine’s advice and the only reason she counts calories is to make sure she is getting enough to build muscle.
Sitting opposite Janice now I see a bright girl who is determined to beat this crippling disease and live a healthy life, Janice wants to share her experience so that it might benefit other anorexia sufferers and hopefully inspire them take action.
“When Justine stepped in and started to talk to me about food and exercise, she said ‘you have to stop being afraid to put weight on’, for the first time in my life I felt someone believed in me,” she said.
This friendship is helping her to love herself, believe in herself and to see everything in a different light.
“She (Justine) actually really cares, I trust her and I do whatever she says” Janice said.
So when Justine recommended Janice to start taking supplements to help build up her abused body, she did.
Today Janice fills her mind with positive thoughts about food and even though she still has her low days she sticks to her routine of eating six meals a day, exercising but not going overboard and taking supplements.
“I have so much energy and it feels so good not to spin out half way through an exercise class,” she said.
Finally after so many years of struggling it feels good to take control “the eating disorder is losing its grip on me,” she said.
The prognosis for most sufferers is bleak,
- A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease.
- 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover.
- The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15 – 24 years old.
- 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder, including suicide and heart problems.