Amy’s story

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Amy, 33, Mum & early childhood teacher who waged a decade-long battle with anorexia nervosa, MELBOURNE

Mum-of-one and early childhood teacher, Amy, 33, Melbourne was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 15 years of age. Her diagnosis with this potentially devastating mental illness came after a six-month period, during which Amy’s mother grew increasingly concerned for her welfare.

What had begun as a simple diet to shed weight and “fit in” with her peers had quickly spiralled out of control, resulting in an all-consuming struggle with anorexia nervosa.

 Amy took many years post- diagnosis to recognise her substantial loss of weight, and to feel “good enough”.  After waging a 10-year-long battle with the illness, Amy says she is now in recovery and is “doing well”. She has chosen to share her personal journey with others to help shake the stigma associated with anorexia nervosa.

 This is Amy’s story.

 Amy believes her sensitive personality; being teased at school; hitting puberty early; and her peers’ positive reinforcement of her initial weight loss collectively triggered her decade-long battle with anorexia nervosa and other mental illness.

“I went through puberty at a young age. My body shape was different to my peers. I was taller and experienced a noticeable growth spurt at 11 years of age.

“I was always a sensitive soul, which increased my vulnerability when I was teased at school,”
said Amy.

What began as a personal bid to get healthier soon spiralled out of control, resulting in a diagnosis of an eating disorder at only 15 years of age.

“My mother, friends and other family members had become very concerned about my dramatic weight loss. For my mother it became even more evident when she watched one of my dance performances on stage.

“This performance prompted my mother to finally convince me to visit our family GP,” Amy said.

“Our GP handed me an immediate referral to a specialised doctor and psychologist and I was enrolled in an outpatient adolescent health facility through the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Amy describes living with anorexia nervosa as “horrible”.

“There was a constant voice in my head telling me I was fat, worthless and always wrong. It was like having another person in my head.

“I would lie wide awake at night unable to switch off all of the negativity in my head,” said Amy.

“Living with anorexia nervosa was like an addiction, whereby I had to control what I ate. It became something that was really hard to let go of.

“It’s almost paradoxical. Once you are in the grip of the illness, the control can provide you comfort,” Amy said.

Despite the treatment she was receiving and invaluable support from her mum, family and friends, Amy nonetheless continued to lose weight while also fighting debilitating depression.

“I was eventually admitted to hospital because my body was giving up on me.

“My kidneys were starting to fail, I was jaundiced, had significant muscle deterioration, and was at risk of heart failure,” said Amy.

During her two-week-long hospital stay, Amy was required to consume three meals and three snacks a day, or be force-fed via a nasal gastric tube.

Amy’s illness took a substantial toll on her and her family.

“My illness created emotional and financial implications for my family.

“My mum, dad and sister were constantly worried about me. My mum had to give up work to be my full-time carer,” Amy said.

Amy’s illness led to substantial absenteeism from school, and to her completing year 12 over two years.

“Missing so much school and having to take and change medications affected my performance at school, which ended up shattering my confidence.

“It took me many years to restore confidence in myself and my capabilities,” said Amy.

“On many occasions over the years my BMI was fine, but I still had an unhealthy mental attitude towards food and traits of my eating disorder were still evident.

“I still require on-and-off support from a healthcare professional to this day to help manage my ongoing anxiety and any other eating disorder symptoms that may start to show, especially after pregnancy,” Amy said.

Amy believes both genes and one’s environment play an important role in the development of an eating disorder.

Amy is excited to be contributing to the Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) – the world’s largest genetic investigation of eating disorders ever performed. The study is aiming to identify the hundreds of genes that influence a person’s risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder to improve treatment, and ultimately, save lives.

“We need to know more about eating disorders and the predisposing factors. We need better treatments and better recovery rates, which is why I’m participating in this study.

“I’m confident this initiative will help to pave the way toward improved diagnosis, management and treatment for those living with eating disorders,” said Amy.

Should you suspect that you, or a loved one, may be living with an eating disorder, speak to your local healthcare professional without delay, or head to www.insideoutinstitute.org.au to complete their screener and assessment, and to access more information and professional support.

Australian professional patient support services offering 24/7 helpline services include:

o       Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

o       LifeLine: 13 11 14

o       Men’s Line Australia: 1300 78 99 78

o       Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800. 

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