Olivia Rose, why I am glad I did not give up
Today, I sat in class with Olivia Rose at grandparents’ day at her school. My story could have been so, so different.
Olivia Rose, I am glad I did not give up, that I reached out and found help to beat my illness, because I am here to enjoy you and our beautiful family…
Letter to my granddaughter Olivia Rose, age 4 days, December 27, 2009**
Sitting on the small chair beside Olivia Rose, and soaking up the joy of being with her, and surrounded as we were by a bunch of other happy six-year-olds and their proud grandparents, I gave thanks for being alive. I gave thanks that I did not give up, though I wanted to, many times, during my 44-year battle with an eating disorder. I was lucky. Lucky to meet health professionals who, at critical times during my struggle, saved me, gave me hope, guidance, and the will to believe that one day I could be free.
Free. I count myself as lucky, because many beautiful people I know have died from the same illness. Died. Unnecessarily. Because they did not meet the right health professionals who believed in them, gave the right support, the right treatment, at the right time. One death is one too many.
This is what drives me to be a passionate advocate in raising awareness of eating disorders. This is why I am proud to serve on the steering committee for the inaugural World Eating Disorders Action Day on June 2. This is why I feel deeply honoured to be a recipient of the Academy for Eating Disorder’s 2016 Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Awareness and Advocacy. An honour I share with all who have suffered and are suffering.
There is much work to be done and we are making a start. We are starting to chorus, from all parts of the world, and our song will grow louder and louder and louder. As someone who developed anorexia at age 11, and am now a grandma, World Eating Disorders Action Day is a dream come true. Acknowledgment, acceptance, awareness, ACTION. Our voice will grow louder, and louder, because one death is one too many.
Another excerpt from my letter to baby Olivia, in 2009:
…When I started my recovery journey, I had to work out what thoughts belonged to me, and what thoughts belonged to my illness. I had to be brave enough to trust the thoughts that belonged to me and push the other thoughts away. I liken this process to that of a small bird with weak wings, flying for the first time. I dropped to the ground more than a few times but amazingly, my thoughts got stronger as I persevered and gradually learnt to trust myself and others. Now that my wings and sense of self are strong I am devoted to giving hope to others. I am flying around the world with this message.
And now you are five years’ old
A year ago, I penned another letter to Olivia Rose:
May 27, 2015
Dear Olivia Rose,
Already you are five years’ old. You are a bubbly and sweet little girl who indeed does not only hop a lot, but also does cartwheels, hangs upside down over my bedside and says with glee: ‘Grandma, I absolutely love gymnastics’. When I take you to school on my weekly grandma day, you happily say ‘goodbye’ and run to join the morning line up for Prep Class. You love art, rainbows and colours, jigsaw puzzles, reading and writing; you go swimming and play golf, and oh, how you love to run. You manage admirably to define ‘you’, placed as you are, between big brother Lachlan and little sister Amelia. You understand that to do all the activities you love, to the best of your ability, that your body needs nourishment with regular, nutritious meals and snacks. You are indeed soaring like a bird through life and watching you embrace such ‘freedom to be’ makes my heart sing. I am ever grateful that I persevered in recovering from the eating disorder that developed in my brain, causing disintegration of self, when I was a little girl. It was hard work, reconnecting with my ‘self’, but nine years into recovery, relapse prevention is easy, because I have the best medicine in the world: I have you. Family love and acceptance has a special power and strength that doctors cannot prescribe.
Olivia Rose, since my previous letter, I have begun a PhD in Creative Writing related to my illness experience, and am writing several more books about eating disorders…. The reason I continue to write, and go to conferences, and advocate about eating disorders, is because we still don’t know what causes them. We need more research, and for more research, we need more funding. This is why I am sharing our story. . . .
I hope, in the lifetime of Olivia Rose, that we will know what causes an eating disorder, and that Olivia Rose and children everywhere will be able to grow up in a supportive family and social environment, with access to reliable health care.
One death is one too many.
** Alexander, J. (2009, December 27). Letter to granddaughter Olivia Rose [age 4 days]. Retrieved from http://www.debriefdaily.com/health/beat-anorexia-after-45-years/
Memoir: A Girl Called Tim — e-book.
Join me in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.