My Recovery: Inspiring Stories, Recovery Tips and Messages of Hope from Eating Disorder Survivors
Sample of My Recovery: Inspiring Stories, Recovery Tips and Messages of Hope from Eating Disorder Survivors
Somebody to Love
The world of beauty pageants and international modelling saw Kirsty become so worried about her weight and appearance that she developed anorexia. Her illness went undetected in the world of modelling and was, to an extent, even supported by it. Now forging a path outside the rigours of modelling, Kirsty’s story is one of learning to open up and express her true feelings, which prompted the self-care and self-love she needed to be well.
I know that many children have memories of kisses, cuddles and feeling adored by their parents, but that was not my experience of childhood growing up near a small country town in Scotland. While I know my parents loved my brothers and sisters and me, I came to realise as I was growing up that they showed this love differently to the ways other children received affection. I certainly loved them too and while I did get the occasional cuddle, it was a rare occurrence. I wanted it to be something I got all the time.
I got along well with my parents but did start to notice that my mum was different to other mums when I started to go through puberty. When my body began to change I had no idea what was happening to me. No one had ever told me about what was going to happen, including that I would get my period. I panicked when it came and didn’t feel as if I could tell anyone.
Mum eventually found out, of course, and got me the sanitary items I needed, but she still never spoke about it to me. She left them in my room for me to work out how to use them. I felt confused and more than a little freaked out, but despite not understanding what my body was going through, I didn’t feel negative about it or the way I looked. I loved taking dance classes and using my body to move and have fun, and I think I dealt with it quite well, especially for a child who never had anything about puberty explained to her.
When I started going to a local public high school, being around so many new people soon made me realise what little affection was shown in my family and how different I was from them. I was very open with my feelings and they weren’t. I wanted to be shown love and affection like I saw my friends getting, but I never was. I became desperate for affection as I got older and found it very hard that there seemed to be nothing I could do to get it. I wanted to hear someone tell me that they loved me and I became increasingly lonely in my own family, feeling more and more like an outsider.
It’s not surprising, with my increasing need for love, that when I got my first boyfriend at fifteen, he was four years older than I was. Andrew was charming and seductive and he gave me what I so desperately wanted: love and affection. My parents never liked him, finding him overly confident and confronting, and they only put up with him because they knew I wanted to be with him. They hated the thought of me going out with someone who was so much older, but we managed to sustain our relationship for three years. He was by no means a perfect boyfriend and cheated on me a number of times. Friendships also became difficult. Other girls all had boyfriends their own age and my friendships drifted as I found myself spending more and more time with Andrew.
From my mid to late teens, my mum strongly encouraged me to become a model by entering my photo into modelling competitions and sending it to different agencies. I never won any competitions but came close a few times. I got an agent in Glasgow at seventeen and while it took a while to build up, I eventually got a lot of work. It was never really something I chose for myself though and soon the image- and body-obsessed world of modelling saw me turn from being a relatively confident teenager into a young woman with raging insecurities and body issues.
Despite the fact that my agency and casters were fine with my body, I quickly started to turn on myself and became worried about my appearance. I became self-conscious about my body and started to reduce the amount I was eating. I didn’t want to lose weight initially, but sustain the body shape I had so I would continue to get work. Clearly, with still some growing to do, this was always going to be impossible. I believed I would get more work if I was thinner and all the models I was working with were obsessed with weight loss and their bodies too. There was constant talk about diets and new ways to lose weight. I managed to hide how little I was eating so others around me never knew. I was incredibly self-conscious and deprived myself of so many foods even though I was often very hungry.
I left school just prior to the beginning of my last year to study beauty therapy. I was seventeen, and after I finished I was offered a job at the school salon. I only worked there for a few months because it wasn’t very stimulating. This was also the time I made the decision to end my relationship with Andrew, after discovering he’d been unfaithful. I was broken-hearted but decided to throw myself into studying my dancing further and being a teacher. I taught tap, jazz, disco and street dance until I was twenty-one and I really enjoyed it.
While I enjoyed teaching dance during this time, modelling was something else entirely. I think the only reason I continued was because Mum really wanted me to. I also started entering beauty pageants, including Miss Scotland. Beauty pageants were a pressure pit of negative body image, body obsession and diet talk, and I found every pageant I entered to be a terrible experience. I would never recommend anyone enter a pageant but at the time I thought it was a chance to help me get somewhere and take me further than the horizons of Kinross. While I did well and finished more than once in the top three, I never won.
When I was twenty-one, my family went on a trip to New Zealand, where my sister got married. On the way home we stopped over in Singapore and I fell in love with the city. A modelling friend was living there and she invited me to come back for a holiday. While I was visiting her I decided to see if I could get an agent. By now I was very keen to leave home as I felt hugely suffocated in the small town environment and I saw modelling in Singapore as a great opportunity. I returned to Scotland for two weeks and then moved. My parents thought I would only be gone for a few months, but I knew in my heart it was going to be much longer than that.
I loved living in Singapore; I was free and independent and loved being away from home. The only problem was I hated modelling. Modelling in Singapore was worse than Scotland had ever been as from my very first job I was told to lose weight and colour my hair. Initially I resisted but the constant pressure got to me and I became obsessed with losing weight. I ate only tiny amounts of food and would walk for hours in the intense humid heat. No matter how much weight I lost I still felt too big, and began to lose touch with what size I really was.
I quickly slipped into a depression, my entire mind consumed with searching for ways to lose weight. Being surrounded by advertising for slimming teas and detox programs did not help and, within months of leaving home, modelling had become a nightmare for me. All the Anglo-Saxon models were told to lose weight, likely because the Eastern European models were so much thinner than we were. I remember sitting in castings and hearing only tummies rumbling. We all knew it was happening but chose to ignore it either out of embarrassment or the realisation that it was a side effect of what we had to do to get work. I know without question now that I was not the only young woman who was sick with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Such illnesses were rife within the industry.
As I was only in Singapore on a holiday visa, things became difficult for me to stay. I didn’t want to go back to Scotland so decided to go to Sydney in Australia, which was somewhere I always wanted to visit. At this stage I had no idea I was sick, even though I undoubtedly had anorexia. I got an agent in Sydney where I thought things would be better, but once again found myself in an environment where everyone around me was highly critical of my weight and shape. I was very thin and they validated this by telling me I looked great, despite the fact I was clearly underweight. I got a lot of work but the constant scrutiny of my body fed my insecurities. Where was the glamorous life of a successful model? It was certainly nowhere I was.
By now I had a strong anorexic voice inside my head and thoughts telling me I could never exercise enough or eat too little. I believed if I lost more weight I would get more work, but also that I would get a boyfriend too. I was lonely and felt I needed someone to take care of and love me. I did love being in Sydney, however, and I made some great friends. It was such a beautiful city and I got a part-time job in a restaurant, which I enjoyed. This made things bearable, but the modelling still made me miserable.
I started to avoid doing things so I wouldn’t have to eat or drink in front of others. I began to isolate myself and started getting sicker. When my parents came to visit me they saw how much weight I had lost and commented on it but never asked me what was wrong. They stayed for a month and I felt they were watching me the whole time, making me feel more scrutinised.
When I was twenty-two, I met someone – Mark was very health and body conscious and strict with what he ate. I immediately felt there was no way I could eat more than he did and it made me even more conscious of what I was eating. I had longed for a partner and I did get some love initially, but then it was like being with my family again as Mark slowly withdrew and barely communicated. Things were OK between us for a year-and-a-half but I found myself entangled in a terrible relationship I didn’t have the strength to get out of.
Mark got into a course in Melbourne and I followed him there. My eating disorder was worse than ever. I was extremely restrictive, would only eat certain things and barely ate in front of others. I continued to isolate myself from everyone around me, intensifying the feelings of loneliness I was already dealing with. By now I thought that maybe I had an issue I had to deal with, but I kept suppressing it. When you are receiving validation for how you look on one hand but thinking there may be a problem on the other, the validation is likely to win out every time because it’s so much easier to believe.
Only my best friend, Lauren, who was also a model, thought that maybe there was a problem, likely because she had the same concerns for herself. I didn’t have a good doctor and I genuinely didn’t know where to start to ask for help. Even though I thought it would be a good idea to talk to someone, I never followed through because I thought I was not sick enough. By now thoughts about food and my body consumed me. Every minute I was awake I would think about food, what I was going to eat, where I was going to eat. I would dream and have nightmares about food too. It was the entire focus of my life. I had now been having thoughts like this for nearly eight years, albeit at different intensity levels.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life so it felt natural to follow Mark to Melbourne, where I found living very hard. We initially lived with his cousin but I began to have panic attacks about the type of food they were eating. We moved to our own apartment, which I chose, but from the first day Mark hated it. I took it as a personal affront and my self-esteem and confidence plummeted.
By now I had given up modelling. I had been working for a wine company in Sydney and I started to look for work in Melbourne but found it hard to get anything. I felt very unsettled and returned home to Scotland for a visit. My family were very worried when they saw how much weight I had lost. They commented on it but never asked me if there was anything wrong – something I was desperate for someone to do. I was screaming inside and desperately needed someone to hug me and help me.
Mark’s life in Melbourne was going well but mine was not. I had no friends and I became increasingly depressed. I was achingly lonely and isolated and started to feel trapped by my own thoughts and feelings. I asked Mark if he thought I should get help and he told me I was the only person who could help me. I became sicker and sicker with constant feelings of not being enough.
By now I was barely eating enough to survive. I no longer had to be thin to model, but that was irrelevant now. I was totally gripped by the eating disorder. Mark’s mother came to visit for a month and I ended up spending a great deal of time with her. Ironically, she recognised I was very unhappy and encouraged me to leave him, but soon my ability to do that was taken away from me as Mark broke up with me. I was distraught, having no idea what was to become of me. I had to move out, even though I had found our apartment.
I came to the realisation I couldn’t live the way I was anymore. I had been emailing a friend who was being incredibly supportive and telling me to reach out for help. I rang a helpline but found them useless. I felt they simply fobbed me off to go and see a doctor but I didn’t have one nor had any idea of how to go about finding the right one for me. A dear friend told me about her doctor and encouraged me to see her. I was petrified sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and I wanted to leave every second I was there. I had no idea what I was going to say but I told her I thought I may have an eating disorder and that I was depressed. From there she took control and led me through the conversation. She weighed and measured me and told me that I was unwell and needed psychological help.
She referred me to a psychologist, which I initially found very hard. Growing up in such a closed family it was difficult to express my thoughts and feelings, but from the first appointment I knew it was where I needed to be. It was helpful to talk about my upbringing and how it was affecting the way I thought and expressed myself. It made me realise and learn so much about myself as a person, and I finally found, with the psychologist and the doctor, I had a support system. I saw the psychologist intensively for nearly six months and I still see her on an irregular basis now. She has helped me to express, rather than repress, my feelings. When I’m not happy with something I can now look at it differently and try to work out why I’m feeling that way and how I can think and deal with it more positively.
I slowly began to put on weight and I started a business with a friend, an online wine store. I am enjoying it, but will admit to still not being fully certain about what I want to do with my life. Wine is again something I feel I have fallen into and not really chosen. Once I started to feel better I did want to get back into modelling. I went to a lot of different agencies but none wanted me, which I couldn’t understand. Initially I found it very hard, as even though I never really enjoyed modelling, it paid well and was really all I knew. It did cross my mind that the reason I was not getting offered work was because I had put on weight, but with the support I was receiving I came to realise that I needed to close that chapter in my life and leave modelling behind. I realised that there was little chance of a long-term career for me and it had never made me happy. Truthfully, it had made me miserable.
I lived on my own for a long time and I loved it. It was so wonderful to have my own space both metaphorically and physically. It was the first time in my life I really concentrated on me and what I need to be happy and I had everything set up the way I wanted. It was my space and it finally felt like I was living my own life. I developed a close circle of friends and I believe all that self-nurturing led me to a wonderful new relationship. I now live in Perth and it’s amazing here, I feel like I can love myself and someone else in a way that is truly real.
I told my parents about my eating disorder via a letter about three months after I starting seeing the psychologist. I knew this was the best way to communicate with them about it. I’m sure the truth was just too difficult to bear and would have broken Mum’s heart. She has never spoken about my eating disorder openly and I highly doubt she, or anyone else in my family, ever will. I can see in her letters it is very hard and awkward for her to talk about. She is being supportive, but in her own way.
I now feel so much stronger within myself. I know that I won’t settle for less than what I deserve in a relationship and I like myself now. I know what I need and what I want, but of course I’m still a work in progress. The best thing I ever did for myself was stop modelling. It was such a toxic environment.
Getting professional help was also clearly a turning point, as it has taught me to be kinder to myself and not be afraid of getting in touch with what I truly feel and want. I needed support and to have someone help me learn to trust and talk about my feelings, which I now do. I have never had role models in my life who have encouraged me to be expressive and open. I am that role model for myself now and I’m proud of the job I am doing in creating a more open and accepting me.
Kirsty’s Recovery Tips
1. Try not to be afraid of what you are feeling. Talking to someone you trust, whether a friend or a professional, will help you to get in touch with what you not only feel, but need. This will be the beginning of your path to recovery.
2. Don’t hide yourself away from others. Eating disorders thrive on isolation but people don’t. We especially need caring and loving people around us when we are unwell. Accept the help others give you, or reach out as hard and as long as you can to get the support you need.
3. Don’t compare the way you look to models or indeed anyone. Our society places far too much emphasis on thinness and external appearances, and being thin or a model is not a guarantee of happiness. It is also not the glamorous and fun profession that many think it is.
4. Having an eating disorder can feel like your whole mind is consumed with negativity. Focusing on positive things is hard to do, but learning a practice like meditation can help both retrain your thinking and quieten that voice inside your head that is keeping you unwell.
5. Reading books about eating disorder recovery and also stories of love, hope and relationships helped me immensely. Reading such things can help you realise you are not alone and that others may have similar feelings and emotions. Reading inspiring things can also be a beautiful and reflective time for you to set aside to relax and unwind.
“Is it really possible to recover from an eating disorder? I need to talk to someone who has beaten this and is happy. I want to know what someone else did to recover.”
If your life has been touched by an eating disorder and you have ever asked these questions, then My Recovery is for you.
Clinical counsellor Julie Parker shares the inspirational and courageous stories of eighteen women and men who have survived anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or an eating disorder not otherwise specified. Each survivor shares not only their eating disorder journey, but the tips, strategies and tools that helped them regain their life and true sense of self. Each holds the unwavering hope and belief that recovery was not only possible for them, but is for others too. Stories of the importance of professional help, self-care, doing loved activities, creativity, and separation of the eating disorder from the self are all shared.
If you are considering buying this book and wondering if you will ever recover from an eating disorder, My Recovery will leave you with the resounding belief that you can, direct from the hearts, minds and experiences of those who once wondered the same thing. An inspirational and hopeful book, My Recovery is also relevant for carers, loved ones and eating disorder professionals.
Proceeds of this book are being donated to The Butterfly Foundation to support those whose lives have been touched by eating disorders.
My Recovery: Inspiring Stories, Recovery Tips and Messages of Hope from Eating Disorder Survivors
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Julie Parker is one of Australia’s foremost positive body image and eating disorder advocates. A clinical social worker and life and business coach, Julie manages a full time counselling and coaching practice specialising in supporting people with negative body image and eating disorders, with a belief that recovery is possible for everyone. Julie has appeared on Sunrise, The Morning Show and Lateline, and in publications such as Practical Parenting, Wellbeing and Cosmopolitan magazines. Julie lives in Melbourne with her husband, step-daughter and feline therapeutic assistants; Cookie and Leo.Find out more