For those who have experienced an eating disorder, the stories section may be triggering for you. If you feel you have the potential to be upset, please do not read. If you are upset, please reach out to your support network or contact Lifeline – available 24/7 – on 13 11 14. Look after yourself. Be safe.
Natalie Hunt is a survivor of anorexia nervosa. Coming from a regional area, today she’s bravely here to tell us why she’s #fedup with all it took to get her well; long travel distances, being hospitalised hours away from home & excessive wait lists that nearly cost her life.
I am Natalie, and today I sit here – a 21 year old young woman with a bright future, about to start university after the long haul that has been the last couple of years in the vortex of receiving treatment for an eating disorder. It’s my hope that jumping on the bandwagon of this campaign will give the issue of treatment in NSW (and the rest of Australia) a much-needed signal boost.
I consider myself a very lucky individual. I have only suffered an eating disorder for about seven years, which is a short time in comparison to some of the other people I have met in the same position – some who have been suffering for up to twenty years.
My eating issues began when I was fifteen and studying for my School Certificate at my local high school in a small town, about 2 hours south of Sydney, NSW. I flew under the radar for many years, restricting and binging without any real obvious physical signs of an eating disorder. Of course there were other signs – failing grades, isolation, moodiness – but nothing that outwardly warranted alarm that I was heading for a really tumultuous time.
Unfortunately, because I had been flying under the radar in such a such a secretive fashion, all of the emotional problems I was experiencing bubbled to the surface where they exploded with such intensity that I tried to take my life in the year 2010. I was admitted to the PECC ward of my local hospital where I was monitored for six days. During this time I had explained to my care team that I had an eating disorder that needed to be tended to, but because none of the staff had been trained in ED treatment at all, I got away with a lot of behaviours. I barely ate in this time and would be so dizzy that I couldn’t move from the couch and I would purge in the bathroom. In hospital.
Following this admission I was on antidepressants and highly against the idea of treatment because I had been so disappointed with what had happened in the PECC ward, that I had been allowed to starve myself there without a second glance.
The following year I enrolled in a TAFE course, hoping to throw myself back into life and forget about my eating disorder like it was a thing of the past. It worked for possibly one week but because I had found myself to be more busy it was the perfect time to miraculously forget to eat. Again, I flew under the radar and nobody knew that I was torturing my mind, body and spirit as I had done for years, until my weight became a concern.
As I began to avoid my TAFE course I was seeing a GP at my local youth health centre but it wasn’t enough. We decided that getting therapy could be beneficial. The waiting list was several weeks long and in this time my weight continued to decline dramatically until I finally began attending regular sessions with a psychologist and dietitian who specialised in ED treatment.
There is something you must understand about the treatment of eating disorders, and it is this: it is incredibly difficult to do as an outpatient. In my personal experience I don’t think that it works. I don’t think that people can be healed in such a distant and disconnected way. I believe that it serves as merely a check-in to make sure you aren’t dead. When you’re in the thick of an ED it hardly matters what anybody tells you during a one hour session because you can simply attend the session and go home to your usual behaviours. And this is exactly what I did.
Eventually after months of monitoring and therapy to no avail, my weight plummeted so low that my doctor was not sure that I would keep coming back to his office for checkups because I might die along the way. He got in contact with the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s inpatient program, located in the Missenden Unit (a general psychiatric ward). The waiting list was so lengthy that my mother and I looked at private treatment that we couldn’t afford that might cost us thousands of dollars a week, an impossible task for a single mother.
Luckily for me, my doctor pushed and pushed and pushed the staff at the unit to let me be admitted because I would certainly die within the next couple of weeks if I didn’t. I was finally admitted at a very dangerously low weight, and stayed for just six weeks. Though any progress I made did not last long and upon discharge I relapsed, again paving the way for another admission with a similar BMI later that year, with the exact same waiting list obstacles. This time, however, I stayed a total of three hellish months and was then discharged into the care of the RPAH Eating Disorders Day Program – Derwent House, travelling 2 hours by train each day, four days a week, for more than 12 weeks. I was determined to live, but the difficulty in accessing treatment was paralysing and I often cried on the train because I was so exhausted with the process.
I have a lot to say about the current state of inpatient treatment because I have seen it first hand. Some days I feel like I have the words and some days I do not. Some days I have the courage to speak about the stress and strain of being in a locked psychiatric unit with limited access to nature and peacefulness amongst the chaos of a general psych ward. Some days I try to forget that I was far from home and from the ones I love because there was no support closer to home. Sometimes I try to forget that I was pushed and shoved around by my local health services who did not know what to do with me as my health declined.
But every day I am thankful because I cannot begin to express my deep gratitude for the people who essentially saved my life. While I do believe that the foundations have been laid for effective eating disorder treatment, I also believe there is a long way to go, to provide accessible treatment to ALL sufferers instead of waiting until the eleventh hour and risking the lives of our friends and family.
I am fed up, NSW Health, because every life is precious and every life is a miracle. One is not more important than another; one is not more sick than another. Each life needs to be presented with the opportunity to flourish – the opportunity to live and lead a meaningful life, to live with joy and boundless happiness. To be strong and healthy in both body and mind. Things which are so difficult to do when amidst an eating disorder.
We call on you to please help our daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers. We owe it to those suffering, those who have suffered and those we have lost.
It’s time to give people a chance.