"Ana's story" written by Bella
To recognise National Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we’re sharing a short story written by Bella, a young woman who received treatment at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) Paediatric Eating Disorder Service.
This story describes disordered eating and mental health issues. For information and support call the Butterfly foundation national helpline on 1800 334 673 or head to the eating disorders page on our website to see the supports available.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I’m hyperventilating but telling myself I’m taking in air steadily is enough to convince myself I’m alright. The constant vibration of my bouncing leg brings little comfort to the building anxiety I can feel festering inside my chest, jumping rhythmically into my throat with each heartbeat. A symphony manufactured from terror has formed my own orchestra of fear, performing every night by a conductor who will soon take their final bow. They will soon step down from the stage, taking the rhythm of life with them and ceasing my heart from beating its drum ever again.
Don’t eat it.
“You can do it, come on.” I meet my eyes with my mother’s; it looks like she’s been cutting onions, but her bloodshot eyes turned on a faucet for a different reason. She lends out a warm palm, hoping that today might be the day I embrace and accept her help. I pull my hand away from her as if the recovery she is offering me is a disease I can’t expose myself to; it would consume my life and take away my facade of control. This has become the nightly routine; the two of us sitting at the dining room table, watching the steam from my food disappear.
Don’t eat it!
The strings tied around my wrists yank me away from the plate, making me drop my fork in the cold, repulsive food pile. Two peas glare up at me; I can sense them plotting my demise if I swallow them, planning to make me so heavy the glass scales will shatter under the weight of my guilt. Stripping away my hopes and dreams, planting their caloric value into this moment in time I can’t escape, no matter how many sit-ups I do. But they’re just peas, maybe I can just try.
It will make you fat.
I desperately want to cut the ties to this evil puppeteer but knowing that I no longer have control is enough for me to give in to its tyrannical power.
DO NOT EAT IT.
“I don’t want to eat it.”
I spit this at my mother as if the letters on my tongue are the food sitting in front of me. I’ve said this phrase more times a day than I care to admit. My mother’s face drops, giving up the fight yet again. Her heart shatters like the mirror I stare into every day, a thousand sharp edges stabbing at her hopes for my future. Dreams of seeing me graduate high school and watching me walk down the aisle in a flowing white dress looking like a fairytale princess; all now endings that are left unwritten.
Her chair breaks the still silence as she stands up, squealing on the floor. She walks away in defeat, trudging back to her room to cry about the daughter she is watching fade from existence right in front of her. She used to pray that I would fight and get better, but her faith is being tested; how much more of this can she endure?
I feel bad for a second, wondering if my mother might go to wake me one morning, only to find me in a premature eternal slumber. Will she blame herself? Will she comb through every single thing she has ever said to me to find a reason why?
Will she soon have to drive to a cemetery to say hello to me?
Drifting down the hallway and into my room, the scent of a home-cooked meal wafts through the house, making its presence known that dinner is almost ready. I can smell the salty mashed potatoes and juicy roast lamb with rosemary and gravy. A deep breath through my nose creates a scene of delectable flavours in my mind, dancing together creating a new taste for my senses to experience.
Like a runner competing in a sprint, I go as fast as my legs will allow me to the kitchen to collect my plate. The warmth of the food soothes my cold body, which has been freezing from July’s harsh grasp. The colours on the plate are so vibrant and appealing, I can't help but eat a handful of peas before I even take my place at the table. My mother smiles at me, her eyes gleaming with happiness I thought had left her spirit long ago.
“Thank you to the many hands that helped produce this delicious meal, may it satisfy us with energy and nourish our bodies, Amen.”
A party in my mouth erupts, loud and fun. My mind, however, is quiet, content and at peace. There is no more conductor, no more melodies of anxiety or fear, just a feeling of calm. Who knew food could be enjoyable? Eating is no longer a chore; a task I must force myself to complete. My family is here, surrounding me with the same love and support that I took for granted. A safety net that I wore thin when I gave up too easily.
Conversations about the day begin, with each of us recounting moments that make each other laugh. When it’s my turn to talk, my mind isn’t consumed by calories or how many steps I took to burn off my guilt, I can only think about how grateful I am to be alive. I started focusing on the small things in my life that I once overlooked. I can spend time with friends in person; I can run with the wind flowing in my hair without fainting; I can walk and have a shower without a foot in the door. I can dream about my future without the fear that it might not exist.
“You finished that quick! Glad you enjoyed it!” My mother looks so proud of me, I’m proud of me. She embraces me tightly and I feel safe and protected in her warm arms.
For more support from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) Paediatric Eating Disorder Service visit the Eating Disorders page on the WCH website.