‘Embedded deep within the soul
Is the story of our suffering
One of conflict, confusion
And maybe even doubt
Lined with fear and misinterpretation
This is the story that holds the keys
That when discovered and turned
Will transform the owner
To live, to thrive
In peace, in joy
In freedom from the pain
That once threatened’
Copyright: JL Keez: September 2nd 2021
A once strong and vibrant athlete, who sang to crowds of thousands, diminished into a barely-there rendition of her former self at the young age of fifteen. For nine years no one asked the ‘why’. Doctors missed the queues, obvious in their appearance. The starving, the binging, the days of bloating, excessive exercising, the tears, the cries for help – all hidden behind a smile of “Hello”.
At twenty-four, a caring work colleague insisted I accompany her to her doctors. The words ‘eating disorder’, expressly, ‘anorexia nervosa’, was shared. I identified. Tremendous fear turned into denial, running away and wanting to hide. The referral to a psychiatrist resulted in, “Put on weight and all will be forgiven.” Weekly weighings delivered a challenge only known by me. In the absence of any other assistance, the weight gradually, reluctantly, restored.
However, anorexia nervosa was now replaced with chronic fatigue, migraines, OCD, depersonalisation, and eventually, suicidal depression. I had not healed, nor recovered. I was immersed in a life of sheer debilitation. Two pregnancies thought to hold the key to chemical rebalancing, saw me spiral deeper into anxiety and all of those associated illnesses. The only way out it seemed, was to leave…tempting as this was, the pull of joy experienced as a mother kept me going.
A chance connection with a psychologist at thirty-seven – a woman who had walked my path before me – was the one who, at last, provided sense, provided my ‘why’. True recovery finally emerged.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses disguised behind a wall of fear where the owner succumbs to the dialogue of the story running daily through their thoughts. I had restored the weight – well, the bullying to do so produced a greater fear than not following through. What I had not done, was bring understanding, or recognition, that I was dealing with a mental illness, solid in its grip. Why an eating disorder was the case was never explored. Why me and not my siblings were not explored. Why the development of additional debilitating illnesses was not explored. In fact, exploration of my life was never put on the agenda.
And yet, exploration of the story was exactly where I needed to be taken so I could give meaning as to, “Why this is my life”.
In meeting this wonderful woman who practised Reality Therapy underpinned by Choice Theory, I was given a framework to utilise, and eventually, a new foundation upon which to rebuild my life. This framework took me on a journey through my story. I was able to identify events that had impacted my view of the world and how it apparently worked. The ideas taught through the family culture weighed heavily. I discovered my perceptions were vastly flawed. As the pathway to healing took hold I discovered elements of a story unknown, locked away.
The struggle to recover, damning in its content, was joined with an unwavering determination to succeed.
Instead of having lived a life built upon a solid understanding, I had been gradually slipping into an abyss defined and lined by tremendous fears – each of which I had unwittingly handed my life over to. Anorexia nervosa was the end result of disconnecting from myself and the beginning of existing only.
So what was the breakthrough? I was gently guided to explore each of the bodies systems available to us all – the inbuilt systems which hold the keys, which when turned, explain the ‘why’. I explored my:
- Physical symptoms
I examined my:
- Needs – love and belonging, fun, freedom, survival, power (ie being empowered)
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I DISSECTED THE RELATIONSHIPS I WAS CURRENTLY IN OR HAD BEEN IN – INCLUDING THE ONE WITH MYSELF.
What a revelation!
Hidden within my story were all the clues, all the keys. I was living according to the voices of so many others. I had become lost and twisted within the fears associated with each. I had become a walking time bomb, exploding at 15. My story made sense of the suffering, the conflict, confusion and doubt. The misinterpretation had become my guide, impacting every decision made and lived.
A life lived through strong family control, sexual abuse, bullying at school, exclusion, isolation, rejection and several changes of address had taken its toll. Perfectionism was an attempt to be loved and liked. Creating an image thought to be necessary for acceptance gave way to a mental illness fierce in its undertaking. Constantly looking over my shoulder, monitoring my behaviour for correctness, ensuring there were no gaps for criticism, playing the game of being the chameleon, became clues for recovery once explored.
But enough of me … what do I wish for you, the reader, to take from my words? The following:
- Anorexia nervosa impacts 1 in 25 Australians
- 64% daughters, wives, sisters
- Estimated 360,131 males
- 1 death every hour – this is a serious mental illness
- Open discussion and willingness to explore one’s life
- Identifying timeline events which saw the eating disorder take hold
- Reframing contributing events, replacing each with a more peaceful outcome
- Closely examining each of the given areas suggested above and being fully prepared to rearrange each to align with YOU; to redefine your life to reflect YOU
- Assessing patterns and threads ie recurring elements in ones life
- Sourcing someone willing to unlock your puzzle pieces with you, working with each to their end
- Surrounding yourself with a support group filled with those willing to see YOU emerge – not their idea of YOU – the real YOU, whatever that may look like
- Walking away from stand over control
- Honesty, determination, application, strength. trust, being brave
- Acceptance of self
Recovery also includes:
- Nutritional support – gradual and without pressure
- Exercise – appropriate and timely in its introduction
And finally, recovery involves:
- Letting go of the old to welcome the new!
- Giving yourself permission to be YOU
- Being excited about becoming YOU
Oh! And by the way, recovery is not about failure, it is about taking wisdom from this difficult guest, mental illness/eating disorder, learning from its presence, growing and developing a strength you never knew you had!
Within the bodies, systems lie all the information required to understand, give meaning to, and turn what is a debilitating mental illness, into your greatest triumph. Explore the systems available, hold each clue, each key, in your hand, apply YOU to each scenario. Emerge renewed, transformed, ready to live, to thrive, in peace, in joy, free from the pain which once threatened to take your life. One last ‘thing’ – eventually, give thanks to the illness – for, in the end, it gave you… YOU!
Survivor of a nine-year struggle with Anorexia Nervosa, and many years enduring associated illnesses, JL Keez dedicates her life to empowering those impacted by eating disorders and related debilitating conditions. A Reality Therapy Certified Counsellor, Speaker, and Teacher, JL Keez’s detailed insights are powerfully portrayed in her memoir, “Anorexia Unlocked: Understanding Your Story Through Mine”. Her passionate delivery on the topic, “How We Relate… Impacts”, for The Reality Therapy Institute Australia demonstrated her strength as an inspirational voice within her subject area.
JL Keez educates sufferers of eating disorders, and the associated illnesses, through educational programs, inspirational speaking, and books. Each medium shared is authentic, honest, highly informative and extremely relatable.