A CLEO Reader Opens Up About Her Battle With Anorexia

Ed’s Note: This is a story submitted to us and was published in a previous issue of CLEO Malaysia. Names have been taken out or kept vague to protect privacy. If you have any issues or ideas you want to share with us, email us at [email protected]

The Malaysian Psychiatric Association showed that anorexia affected about 1% of the population in Malaysia.

“Everything started to snowball when I was 16. On the night of my graduation party, I should’ve been giddy with excitement and ready to celebrate, but instead, I was sobbing in front of the bedroom mirror. I was so upset with how I looked that I just couldn’t face myself. So, I decided to lose weight.

My mum got me a personal trainer, and it was working; I felt good. Then I went to college, and was auditioning to get into one of the top music programme at a local national university. It was my dream, and everyone thought I was a shoo-in, even me. And then, I didn’t get in.

To be honest, I wasn’t that upset about it at the time, but I’d never failed at anything before. I suppose I just thought to myself, “Well, I’ve failed at this one thing, and nobody’s going to like me now – I just need to be good at something else.” Weight loss became that “something else”.

I transformed my obsession with getting into this music programme to exercise and losing weight. I would only eat specific food at specific times and in specific ways. I lost a lot of weight extremely fast. And then the health complications started to kick in. The first thing I noticed was a lack of energy, then clumps of my hair started falling out and I was always really, really cold. Then my periods vanished. I was just 17.

When my heart rate dropped to 30 beats per minute (the average is 60-100), my parents took me to a cardiologist. Appointments with more specialists and doctors followed. My parents didn’t realise I was doing it on purpose and the doctors just kept sending me home.

I’d lie in bed all day because I was too fatigued and a voice in my head constantly told me how fat I was. I thought people were repulsed by me and my weight. So I kept starving myself and eventually, my GP realised how sick I truly was, and that I needed to be hospitalised.

I went to an in-patient clinic in Perth and started my treatment. My parents were extremely supportive and that was really important for my recovery. After a month in hospital, the voice in my head vanished, but I still had a lot of more work to do.

In retrospect, I realise I used to be incredibly anxious, whereas now I feel good about myself. It took years for me to get here, but once I stopped putting all my eggs in the body basket, and started focusing on other things I was good at, it really helped me through my recovery. Now I know that the more fun, passion and interaction you have, the more those negative rituals will fade away.

These days, both my parents are really vigilant about what to look out for. No one thought I was the type of girl who’d get an eating disorder. But by the time my GP suggested treatment, I’d accepted that it was out of control.

If you suspect someone has an eating disorder, just ask them how they’re doing. Instead of saying “God, you’ve lost so much weight!”, ask them how they’re feeling. It’s really important to have these conversations, and even more so to follow up. If they deny a problem at first, ask again in two weeks. That’s the only way they’ll know that, if they feel like talking, they’ve got somebody who won’t judge them.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you should know you’re not alone. This is a helpful comprehensive list of psychiatry services in Malaysia.