Archive for the ‘personal story’ Category

Poem by Ali Valenzuela

March 4, 2008
Ali wrote this poem about her experience of recovering from an eating disorder and kindly sent it to me for publication on this site. I would like to take this opportunity to commend Ali’s courage, determination and generosity. In her struggle to gain treatment for anorexia and despite being desperately ill, she has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of eating disorders in Wales.

I was lost and alone, didn’t know who to be,
and felt like an outcast, unaccepted for me.
When I needed a friend; a voice to console,
I heard a small whisper: “You’re not on your own.
I’ve seen you around and you’re needing a friend,
and i promise to be there right until the end.”
I jumped at the offer of close company,
but little did I realise quite how close it’d be.
I felt proud to decline food-it showed me my strength
To say bno to the things I would want at great length.
I felt so in control and my confidence soared,
what with all of the exercise, I was never bored.
People said “what willpower it takes to do this!”
but little did they know it came with a twist
I was hungry and needed to eat a good meal
But the voice would get louder and started to squeal:
“what the HELL are you doing, you fat, dirty BITCH?!
We’ve got you SO far, now you shovel down THIS?!
It doesn’t make sense to delay your progress!”
But by this point, I only began to obsess
about every morsel that passed my lips
Added shame and disgust to the top of my list.
Temptation’s no match for this beast that’s insidethat slowly consumed me- I had nowhere to hide.
It was eating me up, and rotting my soul-
If it were to continue, it’d swallow me whole.
My clothes wouldn’t fit and my body was frail,
but no matter my state I couldn’t possibly fail
The anorexic voice that drowned out the lot
of my terrified family, begging me to stop.
Who crept into my room in the dead of the night
To see if their daughter was still breathing alright.
People gasped at my bones that protruded my skin,
pointing with horror at ‘the girl that’s so thin!’
I was ashamed and afraid, so much internal pain,
I thought i would never become me again
It was the worst nightmare i could possibly know
as even when I woke up, it was there in full flow.
At a rock bottom where I could have easily died
Finally, hospital help had arrived!
It took all away control of anorexia’s ways
and slowly but surely I started to change
My passion for life started to get on track
I can’t tell you how good it feels to be back!
With recovery started, I learnt to control
The anorexic voice, and listen to my own.
But I still live in terror of the voice I followed,
Dragging me back to it’s world of sorrow
So I’m sharing my story of horror and pain
to prevent this from happening to anyone again
I can never repay those who supported me through
the hardest time of my life- all i say is Thankyou.

xxx
Ali Valenzuela

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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holy anorexia

February 4, 2008

 

 

Sister Marie Thérèse:

‘Anorexia has been a

friend’

She devoted her life to God, but Sister Marie Thérèse couldn’t let go of her lifelong eating disorder – until she faced up to a childhood scarred by abuse

Interview by Peter Stanford
Sunday, 27 January 2008

“Anorexia has been a part of my life for more than 50 of my 61 years. It has been a friend really. Having it is like being with somebody who takes away your feelings. Anything you can’t cope with, you put into anorexia. Once you confront it, as I have in recent years, you are left alone.

I grew up in Luton, one of four children. My parents, who married in 1939, were not well matched. Nowadays their marriage would have ended quickly but they were good Irish Catholics and marriage was for better or worse. When I was small my maternal grandfather came to live with us. Mother would never see him as anything other than a perfect gentleman. When my two sisters were born, I was handed over more and more into his care. I came to be called “grandad’s little girl”. As far back as I can remember, he would take my upstairs, undress me and sexually abuse me. He died when I was nine.

I could always talk to God when I couldn’t talk to anyone else. He was the only person who knew everything and still loved me.

I didn’t think of being a nun until I went to a Catholic school at the age of 10 and met some sisters. I knew I wanted to be an enclosed nun, giving myself totally in prayer, living in a convent, as I do now, at a Carmelite monastery in London. I remember talking about such a life with my mother and she said, “They wouldn’t have you.” I thought, “Of course they won’t have me because I’ve been abused. I’m not good enough.”

So I decided to be a nun in an active order, giving my life to God as a nurse or a teacher. I joined one order at 17 but left at 19. By that time I was very anorexic. I can’t remember a time as a child when I ate normally, but my mother said I did until I was nine. I didn’t eat as I felt like the biggest sinner in the world. I wanted to die more than anything else; I thought I’d go to God and he understood.

I was very ill by the time I left the first order. I ended up in a mental hospital. I remember a doctor asking me what I wanted to do and I said, “I would have liked to have been a nun but I’ve taken two overdoses now, so that’s impossible. Nuns don’t do that sort of thing.” And he said, “I don’t see why not.”

So I discharged myself and tried again, in my mid-twenties. I entered another active order and spent four years with them, but I couldn’t make final vows. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be. So I thought I’d come to Carmel for a week and show God it just was not possible. But God showed me it was possible, so I became a Carmelite at 30. It wasn’t the end of anorexia, though.

After I’d discharged myself, I’d decided to live with whatever was wrong with me. I still didn’t think of it as anorexia. Everything I read about anorexia seemed to say to me that people who had it wanted to have a figure or be thin. And I didn’t want either.

Entering a contemplative order where fasting is part of the way of life was, with hindsight, a bad idea. There was an expectation in Carmel that you will eat everything put in front of you. You had no choice. One thing about anorexia is that you have to be in control of something – and that is your food. I couldn’t do that in Carmel.

I coped – not very well – by vomiting and using laxatives. There were a lot of questions and a lot of trouble about why I wasn’t eating everything given to me. They tried to be kind but food was a daily nightmare. I cried a lot of the time, but I don’t think those around me really knew what was wrong. It made me feel I wasn’t a proper Carmelite. In an enclosed monastery you are left totally with yourself. You have long hours of silence. Any psychological problem is magnified. Prayer gives you so much self-knowledge and there is no escape.

It was five years ago, when I finally went to an anorexia clinic, that I finally made the connection between the abuse and my anorexia. I met some other girls who had been abused and lived with the fear of normal body weight. In the clinic, they insisted on calling me Sheila – my baptismal name – rather than Marie Thérèse, which is my religious name. I didn’t want to be Sheila because I hated her, but I had to. It’s only now that I am beginning to realise that Sheila is living her vocation and has become Sister Marie Thérèse. They are the same person.

I struggled to admit to myself that I had anything to forgive my grandfather for. I didn’t want to go back to those memories. Then my sister brought me some photographs of myself as a young girl, and I got angry with my grandad for what he had done to that little girl. It took me time to work through that, but the love I’d had for him is still there somewhere. I think he must have been very sick.

Now, I can eat things that are put before me, but anorexia has damaged me so much physically that I have to be careful what I eat. The biggest change is that I don’t think about anorexia any more. I have something to eat and that’s it. I get on with other things. I now look back on my life and see so much value in it. It has made me who I am and it has formed my relationship with God, which has been such a precious part of my journey to recovery”.

Interested in this subject?

Suggested further reading:

‘The Silent Struggle’ by Sister Marie Thérèse of the Cross (Redemptorist Publications, £12.95).

Please check the “eating disorders and religion” link as this blog is up-dated daily.

Understanding anorexia

February 3, 2008

A thin excuse…

The author of this insightful essay is an unknown woman who struggled with severe anorexia nervosa for many years. It is one of the most accurate and honest descriptions I have read and is really worth reading if you are trying to gain some understanding of this illness. The article was published in the Independent on Tuesday 18th September 2007.

“It was two days before Christmas, and for the third time in my 20-year-long existence I found myself having my blood pressure monitored, my blood taken for biochemical analysis and my mental state being assessed for risk of self-harm and suicide. Once again, I’d been admitted to an eating disorder unit, rescued from my own little world of self-destruction. The day before, I had filled my every hour with food (or rather the avoiding of it), exercise, my ongoing obsession with academic work, and fantasies about a future where I wouldn’t be there to spoil everything.

My parents came to visit, my younger sister excited in anticipation of present-opening. It hurt to sit up, and hurt to lie down, yet I refused to believe that this was due to starvation and muscle wastage. My family brought me a stocking, but I couldn’t understand how they would ever think I deserved nice things. I left the presents unopened for over a month.

I’d suffered from anorexia to varying degrees since I was 11, hiding food and concealing my body under layer upon layer of clothing, and once again it had caught up with me”.

 

As London Fashion Week continues, the controversy surrounding “size zero” models is once again up for discussion. Prompted by the Madrid ban on models with a BMI below 18.5, fashion capitals around the world have undertaken enquiries into the links between eating disorders and the catwalk. Although any measure to protect models at risk of eating disorders is to be applauded, to believe that the fashion industry causes eating disorders is to completely misunderstand this most complex of illnesses.

 

At 11, I was showing early signs of puberty, and the prospect of an adult life ahead terrified me. I was afraid of responsibility, of a time when I would have to face the world without my parents’ hands to hold. But most of all I was scared of men and sex.

Throughout my illness, even when I was motivated, I was convinced that recovery was impossible. But miracles do happen. I was in the grip of anorexia nervosa for more than eight years, but with a lot of help from family, friends and professionals I was able to turn my life around.

Anorexia has often been perceived as a quest for model-like beauty, as a teenage fad or as a diet gone wrong. It has even been described as a lifestyle choice. Seldom is anorexia acknowledged as the life-threatening medical condition that it is. Many anorexics detest their bodies, refusing even to pose for family holiday snaps. I, like many of the eating disorder patients I have met, never sought beauty; instead, I spent years trying to make myself look as ill as possible in order to avoid male attention.

 

As far back as I can remember, my self-esteem was low and I lacked confidence. Children can be cruel, and although they weren’t the “cause” of my eating problems, the bullying I endured throughout my schooldays only added to my feelings of self-hatred.

It is often assumed that the distress in anorexia revolves solely around food and weight. However, the vast majority of eating disorder patients have numerous other difficulties, including low self-esteem or confidence, lack of self-care, and social difficulties. Sufferers are often presumed to pour over the pages of glossy magazines and starve themselves in their aspiration to become glamorous, thinner-than-thin sex goddesses. From my own experiences and from those of numerous other eating disorder patients I have met, I can say unequivocally that nothing could be further from the truth. Beauty has very little to do with eating disorders, and the desire to be thin is merely one of many symptoms. Rarely can a single “cause” be identified.

 

On the ward, Christmas had been and gone, and it was beginning to dawn on me that I would not be well enough to return to university. I was convinced that, once again, I had failed. During those weeks, I hit rock bottom. After years of pretending, I finally opened up to staff at the hospital, and began speaking about some of my troubling innermost thoughts.

I had never felt so ill; the pain was excruciating. My memories of this hellish period are sketchy, but I have since been told that my kidneys were failing and that I was at risk of cardiac arrest. I had many meetings with the doctors, and eventually I agreed to be fed via nasal gastric tube. It was horrible when they passed the tube, though deep down I know it probably saved my life.

It was at this point that something flicked inside my head. It was as though I’d “swapped sides”: I stopped fighting everyone who was trying to help me. As the weeks went on, my stomach ached as it was stretched to accommodate food again. It still took me hours to eat a bowl of soup, and I still had a tube up my nose, but nevertheless, things were getting better.

I wasn’t an easy patient. I cried and screamed and threatened to run away. But in spite of everything, staff at the hospital never gave up on me, and I’ll remain eternally grateful for every hug and kind word.

 

Although my first trip home was challenging, it did open my eyes. At last I began to see how much anorexia was holding me back. I was getting stronger, thinking more logically, and perhaps most importantly my sense of ambition was returning. I started to dream about getting back to university and one day being able to help people with mental illness myself.

I spent seven months as an in-patient and two more as a day patient. I regained a healthy body weight, spent numerous hours discussing my underlying fears and was slowly beginning to develop a sense of self-worth.

My fall into the dark world of anorexia was never influenced by fashion or waif-like celebrities, though I knew others whose recovery from life-threatening illness was indeed hindered by the Western world’s culture of thinness.

I believe that the British Fashion Council’s guidelines will go some way to protect the models themselves (of whom 40 per cent are said to suffer from eating disorders). However, I see problems both with the approach taken in Madrid of banning models with a BMI under 18.5, and the recent health certification scheme proposed in Britain.

Although BMI can offer a crude measure of physical health, it can never quantify psychological distress. Despite popular belief, low weight is not the only danger of eating disorders. There have been times in my life in which my BMI has been in the healthy range and yet my eating behaviours and mental state were far from healthy. I would starve myself for days on end before my body gave in to the pains of hunger and I would binge, after which I would feel so disgusted with myself that I would make myself vomit and/or cut myself with razor blades.

As for doctors’ certificates, it takes considerable time and skill to assess whether an individual has an eating disorder, not least because sufferers often go to great lengths to hide their illness. I’ve been there, told the lies and tricked the scales.

It is a fact that a higher proportion of models suffer from eating disorders than do the general population. The “grooming” and competitive atmosphere undoubtedly perpetuate eating disorders within the modelling profession, but I am personally of the opinion that young girls with existing eating disorders are selected by modelling agencies because of their tiny figures. But, although the fashion industry may be rife with anorexia, the majority of eating disorder patients have not become ill through catwalk influences. And nor are they models.