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.
22 year old Tara’s eating disorder has literally taken her to the brink. Somehow she survived and would like to share her story with you of receiving care – at a cost to her parents of over $20,000 for four weeks of treatment in order to save her life.
My name is Tara and I am 22 years old. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have survived the last two years, during which I have suffered from severe anorexia. There were times when I thought that I would never recover from this illness, or that I would die. I still have a way to go, but I am embracing recovery and taking my life back.
My eating disorder started during my second year of university at Newcastle. I was under a lot of stress with my studies and personal life and developed depression. I was very unhappy with myself and my life, and to simplify an extremely complex reality, controlling my food intake became my coping mechanism. What began innocently enough, by trying to eat more healthily, soon spiralled out of controlled. I lost almost half my body weight in a matter of months, and began to have serious physical health issues. However I also became extremely skilled at lying about my illness (to myself, my family and friends, and health professionals). For a long time no one confronted me about my behaviour and I was in denial myself.
When I did finally admit the full extent of my eating disorder to myself and my friends and family, I then attempted to seek medical help. It got to a point where I was fainting almost every day, had several seizues,and was having heart arrhythmias. I was told that if things continued I had about 3 months to live. I had many many ambulance trips and emergency department visits, and each time was sent home, often without even being seen by a doctor.On one occassion, while lying on an ambulance stretcher in a hospital corridor, I was told by the ambulance officer to wave my arms around so my heart rate would go above 40bpm so they could legally send me home because they had no beds available. On another occassion an ambulance officer (who I disclosed my eating disorder to) asked me“What do you expect when you starve yourself?” The GP I was seeing on a regular basis told me to “stop being stupid” and threatened to admit me to a general psychiatric ward if I didn’t “hurry up and gain some weight.”
By this time I knew that I was extremely unwell but was too entrenched in my illness to do anything about it on my own. I could barely string a coherent sentence together let alone advocate for myself. My parents (who live 5 hours away) desperately began seeking out treatment options to help me. We contacted RPAH who told me that (althought I was extremely underweight), my weight was not considered critical and I would be placed on the waiting list, which would likely be several months. I was also placed on the (long) waiting list for public outpatient treatment in Newcastle. My parents found out about Northside Clinic in Sydney and I was admitted there after a 3 week waiting list. I did not have private health insurance, so my parents paid the fees in full for my 4 week admission. This amounted to more than $20 000. I ended up discharging after this time because of financial strain as well as the stress of the hospital environment and being away from all my friends and family. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that without this treatment I would have died.
After this I had a lot of ups and downs. I was fortunate enough to find a fantastic GP, psychologist and dietician with training in eating disorders. I have been seeing this team as an outpatient on a regular basis for just over 12 months, which is publicly funded. My health has suffered enormously from all the damage done – I have osteporosis, chronic anaemia, brain damage, and may not be able to have children. Nevertheless, I have taken huge strides in recovery and have just reached the healthy weight range. I am able to attend university, spend time with family and friends and most importantly, see hope for the future again.
At the end of this year my outpatient treatment will be withdrawn as I have reached the maximum time frame for publicly funded eating disorder services. I will then be forced to pay for ongoing private treatment or manage on my own.
NSW Health, when are you going to start taking eating disorders seriously? How many more people have to suffer with this illness or even die because of the inadequacy of public health services? It’s time to act – now.
Tara is fundraising for The Butterfly Foundation if you would like to contribute here.