Georgia, 22, TAS
I never worried about anything when I was child. I was an idiot if anything. I never got sick, I was happy at school and home and nothing bothered me. One night when I was just 12, this all changed.
We had returned from a family barbeque at a friend's place. It was so much fun. They had a pool, a trampoline, scooters and heaps of yummy bad food! We were so tired when we got home and my sister complained that she had a sore tummy. We joked that it was because we ate too much junk food. We rarely got sick as young kids and rarely do now so we knew it would pass. However at 2am, she woke me up complaining of really bad cramps in her stomach. The look in her face terrified me. She was sweaty, pale and I felt so helpless. She went upstairs to get dad and he calmed her down a bit while she winced in pain. She then vomited and the pain ceased and she felt much better and fell straight back to sleep and that was that! However, I didn't relax so easily. I tensed up, my legs started shaking and I couldn't sleep. I never got worried about silly things really, I was pretty carefree. I didn't know what it was that worried me. The vomit? The fear in her eyes? The pain? Either way, life changed. This small bout of illness (probably due to too much food) lead me to fear all kinds of illnesses. I started to become irrational about disease and conditions. I thought that epilepsy was a virus you could 'catch' off someone- ie the girl with epilepsy in my class. I found myself spitting in the streets all the time because I thought my saliva was contaminated with meninggicoccal and didn't like talking to people much in case they themselves 'got' their saliva on me! Vomit and death terrified me and pretty soon I began performing rituals that I thought would prevent me and my family from getting sick. The rituals made no sense and I would have to perform them privately and could not be interrupted otherwise I would start again. It was time consuming, exhausting and my bubbly personality was fading fast as I became consumed by these fears. I thought it was normal, a phase, something that didn't need sharing. But I told my mum everything so I had to tell her this. Would she laugh? Would she pat my head and tell me I was being silly? I didn't mind, I just wanted to tell her. She decided I should see a psychologist and after a few sessions and a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I began to ease back on the rituals and stopped needing to see my psychologist. I didn't like to think that I had a condition. I didn't like having an illness. But I dealt with it. However, like most mental illnesses, they are difficult to overcome and are never fully deleted from your life, or your family's lives. After essentially overcoming this fear of death and disease, the OCD became focused on food. I was 15 at this stage and nearing the end of highschool. At first I just started to eat healthily, and stopped buying $1 chocolate freddos from girls who were fundraising for overseas trips. Then I cut out chocolate all together. Then lollies. Then chips. Then junk ( not that I ever had heaps of 'junk' anyway). I replaced them with heaps of fruit and toast for afternoon tea! I ate super healthily and exercised more regularly. People began to notice though as I refused offers of sweets from friends at school and started participating in cross country training before lunch. I went to the gym several days a week and lost a little bit of weight and was always hungry and tired, despited eating pretty well. I guess, I was exercising too much for what I was consuming and my constant paranoia was making me exhausted too. Exercise became like a ritual as did washing my hands to rid 'calories' off my hands. I thought that if I passed wrappers in the street or smelt food, that it meant I had somehow eaten the items. I worked at pizza hut at the time and would go home after work and often not have dinner from fear of eating pizza at work, even though I knew I hadn't. Again, the talk with mum and then the referral to a different child psychologist really helped me break down the fears and confront the rituals. I would hold empty wrappers, smell chocolates and eventually we would share a bit of chocolate together each session. I would add one more 'item' of food each day to my diet to break the counting of foods that formed in my head. I was doing really well and began to feel energised and normal again. I put on a bit of weight and really enjoyed my years at college. It didn't really become a 'thing' anymore. Sure, it was always in my head but it wasn't a priority. My friends, family and school were. But again, as the pattern of OCD tends to go, the eating disorder (as it was described) returned when I entered first year uni. And it was much much worse this time. Nothing seemed to really trigger it. I was happy with my boyfriend at the time, doing well in my subjects and had no problems at home. But I hated the change from college to uni and that could have been enough to cause a set back. Again, I changed my diet. I was only eating a tiny bit of chocolate as a treat anyway and always conscious of what I was eating. However, I virtually cut of all carbohydrates, walked to and from uni and went running or to the gym all the time. The fear of getting fat or being lazy circled in my mind. I ate fruit for breakfast, fruit salad for lunch, plenty of nuts and a normal dinner. But it wasn't enough for me. Not for my height or my activity levels. I was working with kids too at a childcare centre so this was physically demanding too. I pretended I was okay. I was secretive. I lied to my family about what I was eating and again, lost weight, lost my period and lost a lot of my spritely personality. I lost motivation to go out with my friends, didn't eat at social events and was quite miserable. To make things worse, my sister and I were saving to travel at the end of the year. I had to be in good shape for this. The trip went ahead but the anxiety or the food habits remained. I lied directly to my sister's face about food I had eaten that I hadn't eaten. My jeans were loose by the end of the first part of the holiday and then it was on to Indonesia. This was for a summer uni language course and much more mentally and physically challenging. I was with a private homestay and pretended to eat the food they gave me in the morning for breakfast (I threw it in the bin)- those long hours of preparation, the money spent, the effort and love. It makes me sick to think back on that now. People noticed. Other students asked if I was okay and eventually, I had to come home early. I immediately sought help, my boyfriend broke up with me because he couldn't deal with the change in me or my health aand I was diagnosed (again) with anorexia. I was in a critical condition. I was adament in not going to hospital and fought the condition, attending uni only part time the next year and working in childcare for the remaining days. I was getting happier and healthier but unlike previous times when the OCD has taken shape in my life, it didn't leave and it's still aggressive. What's different is that I have learnt to see it as an external 'thing' to me and can try and control it. Daily, it still taunts me but I am no longer anorexic, I am happy, have finished uni, have got my personality back, most of my trust back and am saving for a two month trip to Nepal and Thailand. Mental illnesses are destructive to the individual and everyone around them. They are demanding and can be well disguised, but they don't have to be and I am so glad I've had such a supportive network.