When my husband and I traveled to Australia last year, I reached out to my network of Australia friends and fellow eating disorder advocates in order to meet up. June Alexander was one of those who quickly said she’d love to chat and meet for a Long Black. In order to prepare for the meeting, I bought June’s memoir A Girl Called Tim and devoured it on the flight down under. Her story touched me beyond almost anything I had read before and it provided me with hope that there is always a way out of an eating disorder, even if you have been struggling with it for decades.
I asked June if she was willing to write about her book in order to spread the message of hope about the possibility of recovery and how life can change even after many years of being at war with yourself. If you’re inspired by June’s words, I strongly recommend reading the book, especially if you’re in a place of struggle right now and feel like there’s never going to be a bright and free future ahead of you.
I am thrilled to give the word over to June who writes about Coming out – and telling the world about ‘ED’!
My driving force in writing a A Girl Called Tim, apart from standing tall and showing my eating disorder that I was no longer its captive – that I was free – was the desire to connect with and inspire one person to recover.
If I helped to ease the torment and improve the quality of life of at least one person, I felt my own suffering would seem worthwhile. My wish was to let others know they were not alone, and to raise awareness so they would not suffer as long as me.
Since A Girl Called Tim‘s release in 2011, the response has been truly heartening. Women and men across the spectrum from age 20 to age 80 share their thoughts and feelings and describe their experience, their stories often identifying strongly with mine. The result is a warm, fuzzy feeling; we all feel less alone; we feel empowered; we feel understood; we feel okay; and we definitely feel we want to live another day.
I grew up in a time when little was known about Anorexia, and Bulimia did not even have a name. My eating disorder journey began in 1962, at age 11. It was not correctly diagnosed for more than 20 years. My recovery journey therefore began in my 30s, and it was a long road, with many turns! Sometimes in reverse! But I kept going. At age 55 I reached the summit of my climb, and reclaimed my long-lost identity. Six years on I continue to embrace every day; I am on a joyous bid to catch up on life. My four children (now in their thirties) smile understandingly when I tell them that I am ‘twenty-eight years old’; they are happy for they can see that their mother is free.
Life is not easy for children when their parent has an eating disorder. I feel truly blessed that my children’s father is stable, secure and safe, a truly wonderful man. He was the anchor for our children when my ED ran rampant in my life and in their life as well. The effect on family members when a loved one has an eating disorder has become recognised only in recent times. Everyone is affected. The eating disorder is a master of manipulation. Round-the-clock love, coupled with education and coping skills, are vital tools for the family in isolating and conquering this illness. The best outcome is achieved, I believe, when everyone is involved in the recovery process.
An unexpected but very welcome outcome of A Girl Called Tim is the growing the interest by health professionals. While the cause of eating disorders remains elusive, there is increasing evidence that collaboration of all involved – people living with an eating disorder, their loved ones and carers, the clinician, the researcher – is vital. Eating disorders are brilliant at isolating, dividing and conquering lives and relationships. We have to be more brilliant, and outsmart this insidious illness – to save lives and relationships. It gets back to that one word: collaboration. We all have a role to play; we each have a purpose; by respecting each other, and listening, we move forward.
A Girl Called Tim carries a strong message that recovery is possible at every age. That a growing number of clinicians as well as people living with the eating disorder, are recognising this, is a giant step forward. Early intervention with Family-Based Treatment was not around when I developed Anorexia. Clearly, if health professionals had given up on me, I would not be here to tell my story. Never, ever give up! Here, Claire Diffey – Manager, Victorian Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders (CEED), explains:
‘There is so much to celebrate and praise about A Girl Called Tim. June’s eloquent and frank story of her life and struggle to overcome her eating disorder, depression and anxiety is compelling reading. She creates the picture so clearly that I felt I was there with her, agonizing as she stumbled and wanting to help her up, cheering as she made steps in progress to recovery.
The central issues June describes of the power of eating disorder with its tyranny that isolates, deceives, creates self doubt and loathing, leaving sufferers feeling unworthy and misunderstood are critical to understanding the battle against eating disorders. Despite her torment, the determination to understand what was happening to her and then confront her illness was powerful, even when June felt it has almost deserted her. The importance of family, her struggles to find her place and acceptance are central to her story. Acceptance and understanding are personified in the way she managed those final years of her parents’ life.
As described by Laura Collins, June provides us with not only a personal journey of discovery, learning and recovery. She also provides the societal and professional history and evolution from ignorance and misunderstanding of eating disorders. Over the past three decades there has been increasing research understanding and developments in treatments for anyone at any stage of illness. Thank you to all those involved in this work and to June and her fellow travellers who have helped us all understand, learn and improve treatments.
This is a significant book in providing insights into how early in life and insidiously eating disorders can develop, and the crucial need for early detection and intervention. But even if early intervention and recovery is not available or happen, there is now services and hope for recovery at any time. June champions of the need for support, therapy, and instilling and constantly fanning the sparks of hope.’
A Girl Called Tim is a story of rebuilding a sense of self. I hope it inspires you in your recovery journey. Never, ever give up!