From a young age Charlotte had her eyes set on success and she had everything she needed to make it happen. She was driven and determined, striving for perfection in all she did. But somewhere along her road to success, those very characteristics started to provide more pain than gain.
Charlotte was a talented dancer and the more important dance became to her, the more aware she was of her body shape and size. Not long after her 15th birthday her mum was diagnosed with lung cancer and shortly after passed away. Charlotte’s loss shook her world. She was devastated and struggled to work through her grief. She wanted to make her mum proud, so poured everything into becoming a better dancer. Losing weight was the only way to achieve this, she believed, so she put her family on a healthy eating plan. However, Charlotte took it to the extreme, as a way of gaining control in her life.
At the age of 16 Charlotte was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted to a hospital eating disorder unit. She thought everyone was overreacting but when she saw the other patients and learned she would remain in hospital for 4 - 6 weeks, she began to realise the severity of her illness. She had already exposed her body to horrible damage. Her bones were developing early signs of osteoporosis (brittleness), she had lost her periods (jeopardising her ability to have children), and her heart rate was so low that she could have died from a heart attack.
Not only was her physical body suffering, her whole life was in turmoil:
"Each day was a constant struggle to restrict my eating and to exercise as much as possible. I would attempt to eat the bare minimum in front of others, hide the food or throw it away. I would exercise before and after school, often in secret, pushing myself to the limits and feeling guilty if I didn’t do enough. I was constantly hungry and exhausted. I became very cold, my hair fell out and my fingernails were blue from lack of circulation. I grew hair all over as my body was attempting to keep itself warm. The starvation severely affected my brain so I couldn’t concentrate on school or anything other than food and exercise. I became extremely moody and irritable and withdrew from people. It was awful. I was so unhappy and I hated looking at myself in mirrors. I weighed myself every day and was never happy with the number on the scales. I evaluated myself purely on my weight, shape and size and therefore always felt guilty and worthless."
Dancing teachers and friends tried to voice their concerns but she was in denial. Her family was worried but she kept assuring them that after her end-of-year dance concert she would eat more and put on weight. She wasn’t lying - she really did believe it would be that simple.
But eating properly wasn’t so simple and hospital became her home for the next five weeks. It was hard but every week became a little bit easier. A defining moment for Charlotte was seeing so many of her friends discharged, only to return weeks later. She made a decision that once she was discharged, she wasn’t coming back. She made a decision to get better. She was tired of missing out on life.
Thankfully Charlotte’s anorexia was detected quite early and she received treatment from an excellent team of medical professionals. She had wonderful support from family, friends and fellow patients but it still took a long time for her eating-disordered thoughts to fade out. This happened as more fulfilling things entered her life (friends, relationships, study, goals), and eventually they disappeared completely. The journey to complete recovery took time but Charlotte reached it. She overcame anorexia nervosa.
Charlotte finished high school and went on to study psychology at university. Now through her postgraduate degree she’s helping patients suffering from mental health issues, including eating disorders. She’s also returned to her beloved dancing. She’s no longer missing out on life, she’s embracing all it has to offer!
Research shows that early detection and treatment is the key for better outcomes and higher chances of full recovery. If you or someone you know appears to have an eating disorder, you can access information and support from the following sources:
Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders www.cedd.org.au
National Eating Disorders Collaboration www.nedc.com.au
Butterfly Foundation: www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au
Butterfly Foundation National support line: 1800 ED HOPE / 1800 33 4673
Channel 9’s ACA with Ray Martin is a moving account of Bronte’s victory over anorexia: http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/8358104/brontes-happy-ending