I am all about spreading the message of hope because this is something we so often lack.When we’re in such a deep relationship with our eating disorder and these sick thoughts and behaviors take up most of our time and shape our days, it is hard to remember that there is a way out.
Today’s word of the day is “warrior” and Sia Jane is a great representation of what this word means in real life, which you understand when you read the interview.
I am hoping to inspire and motivate you with these interviews and that you too will see that you can get your life back.
Today the lovely and beautiful Sia Jane shares her story and thoughts on recovery with us.
1. Tell us something about you. Who are you? What do you do in life? Etc.
I am a Post Graduate student in Psychology. I studied Culture and Media Communications at university before deciding on a career as a therapist. I am in the process of looking for work in the mental health field and will also be applying to do my PhD in Clinical Psychology this year.
I do a lot of volunteer work and that varies from youth work to running a self help group for those with Eating Disorders. I am a writer, a photographer, and love to travel. I love languages and books, and learning, and reading. I love fashion and design and feel inspired daily by the world around me. I am 31, very much in love, and very content in my life.
2. When and why did your eating disorder start?
I think it began in my late teens. I struggled in my mid teens with some form of depression but not eating disordered related. When I was 18 I was diagnosed with Anorexia. I had been through a very difficult relationship which meant I didn’t achieve academically, and had to go to a different university.
I was stalked for a long time, and during that time I was very depressed. What started as a few weeks of depression became a terrifying Eating Disorder within weeks. Maybe the Anorexia had been lingering before, as it went from nothing to something over the space of a few months. Through the summer of 2000 I deteriorated rapidly in all ways and had to pull out of university full stop. I was placed in treatment.
3. What was your biggest fear? Why did you starve yourself?
At the time, when it started, I barely realised I wasn’t eating. It just became something i no longer did. Food was nothing to me. I didn’t want it, didn’t feel hungry, and seemed to cope without it. I did work through that summer, and as I worked I realised that it wasn’t normal to not be eating (although my whole life I had known I needed food!) and I started to feel conscious that people were noticing.
I avoided times around food and began to lie. The weight loss and the personality changes in me (from outgoing to withdrawn, chatty to quiet, laid back to very irritable etc) made it clear to those around me that things were not right. I liked that I didn’t need the complications of eating. I liked that I didn’t have to think or feel. I became obsessed with the size of my body. I would measure it and watch television programmes and compare myself.
I felt proud to be underweight. My biggest fear was people knowing because when they did they tried to get me to eat which then led to me purging. I was terrified of food within me. I became obsessed with certain foods being okay and others being totally terrifying. It was like all my fears from life were projected on to food and my body.
The starving became addictive, as did the weight loss. I spent most of my days coming up with means of escaping eating, getting rid of food, lying to those around me, avoiding meals and dinners. It all became its own addictive cycle of starvation. Matched by highs from lack of sleep and food all triggered and perpetuated fears of weight gain and change.
4. When did your healing process start and do you know what made you decide why you wanted to change your life?
I was in treatment within the first few months of my Anorexia. Over the next 4 years I would be hospitalised endless times, engage in therapy, given medication, re-fed, go into residential care and on and on. That itself became its own drama and the whole thing took on yet another life of its own.
Starving, purging, cutting, burning, hallucinating, suicide attempts and a plethora of coping mechanisms meant that I could rarely be left alone. My “moment” as I called it, came a month or so after discharging myself from residential care against medical advice. I remember sitting in my room at home, I was about to turn 23 and I thought, is this it. My arms and legs were covered in burns and cuts. My body was nothing but a cage with no soul within it.
I couldn’t eat, I was depressed, I wished I wasn’t here. Yet again I found myself suicidal, planning my own demise. And then, a little voice came alive. It told me I could do this. Maybe it was a mass of voices from therapists, my parents and friends, but it all came alive in my head.
I wrote down that from this day, I needed to change my life.
I decided this would be the first day of my recovery. And it was. I just started. I started to eat, stop hurting myself and recover. No, I didn’t magically, a week later be recovered, but each day, from that day, I have been in full recovery. Before that I tried, no doubt. I engaged in treatment and in hospital care. I tired. But this time, this time I meant it. This time I was 100% committed to getting better.
5. Can you tell us more about your healing process?
It began that morning in January 2004 and from that day forward I pledged to myself, not everyone else, by myself, that I could and would get better. I had no idea how I did it. I could tell you more about why. But maybe for now I can say how. I started to eat. Yes, simply I started to eat. I told the people around me that I needed support.
I came up with a meal plan based on those I had in patient or advice I had from others. I asked people around me (my mum especially) to help me with portion sizes. I was not afraid to ask for help because I knew I had to reach out, I knew I could do this, but not alone. I started small with the food, and it came in waves.
Some days I could eat better than others. I actually managed to stop self harming all together and didn’t relapse at all apart from a couple of incidences later on. Weight gain was slow, but manageable. Life began to take shape. I started university again and I reconnected with friends (which was so hard because I had isolated so much).
I began to remember the things I enjoyed. I wrote, and drew, danced and laughed. It wasn’t all straight forward. By the end of my first year at university, the perfectionist in me caused a breakdown. So I took a year off. I went travelling, I started to photograph more and more and exhibited and sold work.
I fell in love. I gained in health and strength and self. By 2006 I was healthy and stable. Trauma therapy began in 2005 and was very intense and exhausting. It helped I had the year out from university as I could focus on that and used my photography as a creative outlet. In 2007 I unfortunately relapsed severely with my Anorexia again.
But determined to not let it take over my life, I stayed in therapy and by my graduation in 2008 I was again happy and healthy. I make it all sound so easy, and it really wasn’t. In many respects it was simple. I made a choice. But carrying out that choice is one of the hardest things I have ever done. To fight against oneself in such a way is terrifying, overwhelming, intense, exhausting, but so worth it.
It is now 2012 and I consider myself fully recovered.
I never have eating disordered thoughts, I no longer hurt myself, and I am happy.
I have shifts in mood and remain on medication but I am well, something I never thought I would be able to say.
6. Do you still have a “black list” of items that you won’t eat? Or can you now say, you eat everything you want?
I have nothing I won’t eat. I am literally not afraid of any food. I am vegetarian. I turned vegetarian at the age of 12 years of age based on moral reasons; I don’t agree with how animals are kept, transported and killed. Had organic meat been available then I would have taken that option.
I am not scared to eat meat or fish, I choose not to. I also don’t have animal rennet or gelatine. Going vegan could be a choice, but it is not one I can opt for because I feel it would limit me too much. All the reasons are moral not anything to do with eating disordered behaviour.
7. Do you consider yourself healthy now? Do you feel comfortable in your skin?
I am completely healthy. Physically I am a perfectly healthy weight. Not just for my height but for ME!
I have curves and a woman’s body. I don’t hate my body and in fact, I actually quite love it.
I have moments when I feel self conscious, but that usually isn’t connected to my body. My mind is healthy and I have no eating disordered thoughts, or fears. I am completely 100% happy in the body I have and I actually wouldn’t change it. The only challenge I had with recovery was being a healthy weight in connection to having been raped.
I was scared that having a woman’s body would mean I was more likely to be raped again. I now realise that rape or abuse such as that won’t disappear with weight loss, and won’t happen again because of weight gain. I am happy in the body I am in, very much so.
8. Do you think that there could be done more in order to prevent eating disorders?
I think that in itself is a really complex and difficult question to answer. A lot of the work I do is with those who are already suffering, have confided in me without others knowing; many undiagnosed, or those in recovery. The other work I do is activism in the field of educating professionals, family and friends and also breaking down stigma as to what an Eating Disorder *looks like*.
There is still a massive problem in how Eating Disorders are understood. Anorexia is usually the most focused on and emaciated images flood us, only perpetuated by the media. With regards to prevention, again, an understanding of the issues that can lead to and trigger disordered eating.
Campaigns such as Body Gossip in the UK, are working to help young people feel they can be understood, they can reach out, and they are encouraged to engage in activities that build self confidence and self esteem. By engaging young people in to talk and reach out, there is the potential that they are perhaps less likely to use food as emotional crutch. In the realm of abuse and other such triggers, for me, early intervention is critical.
The sooner an Eating Disorder is recognised the better able treatment options can intervene and hopefully help. As a whole, I am not quite sure what can be done to prevent Eating Disorders because they are such a complex mental health issue, which more often than not come with a myriad of other mental health difficulties.
9. Is there any advice you could give our readers?
If you are a sufferer, reach out. There is no shame in what you are struggling with, and despite what the Eating Disorder says to you, you do deserve help. It may not be easy to access resources and treatment, and that can make recovery incredibly difficult, and in that case reach out to what is around you and allow others to support you and help you access care.
You have to remember that an Eating Disorder is very real and a very serious mental health problem. There are many forms of an Eating Disorder and everyone suffers in a different way. Just because you do not fit in a boxed criteria does not mean in any way that you are not Eating Disordered.
Believe in yourself and if you cannot believe in yourself allow others to, even if it is me typing these words. I believe in you. Yes YOU reading this. I believe you can recover from this terrifying affliction. There is a way out and you will find it. Never ever give up. Never allow yourself to believe that this is all you are worth. You are worth so much more.