My plans at the start of this year were to work less, play more, stay upright (that is, don’t fall over) and stay well. My diary reveals I have ticked most of these boxes but, as always, there is room for improvement. Here are some of the things noted in my daily diary writing throughout 2023:
Daily walks by the sea with my constant companion, Maisie, top up my well-being cup. Maisie, an English Staffordshire Terrier now five years old, ensures I have regular walks during the day. I slipped over a few times in winter but did not break any bones. With Maisie as my coach, I average a certain number of steps a day. One is not supposed to care about counting steps, especially when having experienced anorexia but I am trying to keep osteoporosis at bay and the evidence of step-taking provides reassuring evidence that I have exercised for the day. Otherwise, I’m likely to sit at my computer and write all day. Besides, walking outdoors nurtures me not only physically, but also fills my well-being cup mentally and emotionally.
For a third year, I have led a creative writing group at my local Community and Learning Centre – we celebrated this year by publishing a Christmas Tales 2023 book to showcase the writers’ accomplishments. The centre manager, impressed, has persuaded the region’s municipal council to fund a life-writing project in 2024 – I will lead 10 sessions in life-writing and look forward to this, on top of my regular, fortnightly Writing Clan gatherings. Social connection is important for our health and happiness. I enjoy belonging to the local Rotary Club and have made good friends there. My longtime best friends live several hundred miles away, in my home region of Gippsland, on ‘the other side’ of ever-sprawling Melbourne. We stay in touch with a visit or two during the year, long phone calls and text messaging. I cherish my friends. They are gems and they contribute much to my wellbeing.
Family is my ‘everything’ – that is, my four children, son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren now aged 11 to 17 years. The grandchildren shine with their chosen sports – Lachlan (golf), Ashton (tennis and soccer), Olivia (netball, AFLW (Australian Football League Women’s competition), golf, horseriding), Kayla (tennis) and Amelia (AFLW, netball, horseriding). At their age, my life was consumed with anorexia nervosa so I feel especially blessed, to watch the children embracing adolescence, happy and confident, with no eating disorder in sight.
I planned to step back from involvement in the eating disorder (ED) field this year. Thoughts of taking a painting class, joining a book club, a bushwalking group or a water aerobics class have swirled in my mind. However, the illness that has shaped my life since age 11, remains largely misunderstood, and I cannot think of anything I would rather do than remain an advocate until the sun goes down. To offer encouragement to even one person who has been suffering in silence for years makes such advocacy pricelessly meaningful. The ED field is like my second family—an international family.
Besides attending to this website’s content, I am writing two more books on eating disorders – one on multi-family-therapy with Prof Ivan Eisler (London) and another on family-based treatment with Prof Daniel Le Grange (USA) – Routledge (London) will publish both books – I am the story-gatherer and the marvellous professors are the scientists. Together we intend to write books that both health professionals and families can read to gain a better understanding of eating disorders and the evidence-based treatment that can assist recovery. There is no point in scientists doing good work if their findings are not disseminated into the community where they can help mankind. This work – of interviewing families and telling their stories to illustrate the scientists’ work, is time-consuming but purposeful.
I also serve on the National Eating Disorder Collaboration in Australia – and the NEDC National Strategy Implementation Network. This strategy is a 10-year plan and I want to hang around until 2033 to see the strategy fully implemented. Our Federal Government supports this work, and the aim is to provide access to the best eating disorder treatment and care for Aussie families everywhere. How wonderful this will be.
I have given my website a new name – lifestoriesdiary.com — and my blog features a new story almost weekly, often with contributor posts from inspirational people like you. My reward comes in giving people hope and when they write to share that they feel encouraged to seek help. Just this week I received a beautiful card and message from ‘Lotta’ in Germany, and my heart sang.
I make sure to provide balance in my wellness cup, and Maisie and I had a three-day ‘escape’ to beautiful Bright in north-east Victoria in the autumn. In June I joined strangers, who quickly became friends, on an organized tour in the Top End, and in Central Australia – ticking ‘bucket list’ items like seeing Uluru. In August, I visited my youngest son and his wife on Queensland’s Gold Coast and attended one day of the ANZAED (Australian and New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders) annual conference. This was my first conference attendance since COVID and to be among 600 people was overwhelming – the noise! I hugged as many friends and colleagues as I could find, attended several of the amazing sessions on offer, and departed when I could!
I love the quiet life, at home on the Bellarine Peninsula – I’m into my sixth year here and this is where I plan to stay for as long as my health allows. I love the new library in my local town, and the medical services are excellent. Walking and writing are my mainstays and I also enjoy my flower and vegetable gardens, giving away extra produce. I’ve had a front fence erected so that Maisie has a garden and a wee patch of (artificial) lawn to sit on and watch the world pass by – she loves it, and I call it Maisie’s Meadow. I also have invested in a new kitchen– am still learning how to use the oven and my annual Christmas yo-yo bake is about to test my skills. To complete my home improvements, the living area has a new coat of paint – I’m enjoying making my small home my castle, sharing with Maisie and cats Benji and Fizzie. It’s amazing how one thing leads to another when we get involved in our local community – my kitchen makeover was carried out by a Rotarian friend who is a cabinetmaker, and the fence was built by a husband and wife team recommended by another Rotarian. A dog-walking friend who is a painter did the painting makeover. Weaving threads like this in a community helps us feel like we are connected, and we belong.
My busy children live several hours away and visit rarely – mostly in the holidays – so we stay in touch in other ways – I took my daughter, daughter-in-law and three granddaughters to see Mamma Mia on stage in Melbourne and that was a treat. We share on WhatsApp and I insert family news into the Family Diary that I keep on behalf of us all. I write in this online diary daily and add photographs, text messages and anything else that family members send through. At the year’s end, the diary will be printed (it will be huge!).
Once my diaries were private but now they are an open book for my family. I love transparency. Why? For decades my diaries were strictly for my eyes only because they harboured highly secretive eating disorder thoughts (an eating disorder loves secrets). For 44 years my healthy self was captive to the eating disorder. I had no idea who I was. My diaries documented the loss of self and, over many years, the gradual regaining of ‘me’. The diaries in turn served as a survival tool, a coping tool, a recovery tool and now, a maintenance tool.
Now, I know who I am and love being my best friend—no need for a psychiatrist, or psychologist; no need for depression, anxiety or sleep medication. My diary has recorded the reconnection with my healthy self. My inside self and outer self have become one. I no longer need to wear a mask.
This candidness is reflected in today’s diary. Today’s diary is an open book recording the beauty of living in the moment with a 100 per cent healthy self. The eating disorder has been silenced, muted, and disarmed; it cannot function when it has nowhere to hide.
If eating disorder thoughts are intruding in your life, resist the pull to keep such thoughts a secret. Push past the shame and stigma. You are not weak. You have an illness. Reach out for help today. Why? Recovery of one’s healthy self is possible at every age. This is worth fighting for.
With best wishes for a peaceful and joyous Christmas and freedom from eating disorders in 2024,