Sixteen months ago Rebekah McAlinden told of her first-hand struggles getting access to the necessary treatment and support for her eating disorder while living in the Illawarra. Since then her battle has taken a nose dive and she was dangerously close to death. Today, she is on the road to recovery.
Twenty-four-year-old Rebekah McAlinden was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2009. She finished her HSC in 2010, started her Bachelor of Journalism/Creative Arts degree at the University of Wollongong in 2011 and then needed to drop out to focus on recovery. She reached a place where she seriously considered herself “recovered” in 2012 and was doing well for a year and a half, maintaining her weight and not engaging in any eating disordered behaviours, nor avoiding any foods.
In 2012 she began studying again at Mary Andrews College, a bible college in Sydney. She is two-thirds through an Advanced Diploma of Theology but relapsed in October 2012. Rebekah continues to fight and has full confidence she will again overcome her illness. She has been a voice for other people in the Illawarra who desperately need better access to treatment.
She shares with the Mercury her latest journey.
July 2015, I discharged from a hospital where I had been receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa. I believed this to be my last admission and left determined to stay on track and refrain from restricting food and over-exercising.
I left with follow up appointments with my treatment team, a meal plan and a willingness to do what was necessary for my recovery. For four months, I followed my meal plan and exercise guidelines – it was the longest I had managed to stay well without an inpatient or outpatient program.
But then things started to slip. Exercise doubled, then tripled. I barely ate. My dietitian suggested another hospital admission to stop the spiral but I ignored her. I wanted to keep losing weight. I eventually stopped seeing my dietitian but continued to see a GP. I laughed when she told me I was going to end up in hospital.
Christmas Eve 2015, a friend messaged me about a friend of ours who had suffered from epilepsy. That day she had a bad seizure and died. The next day I increased my exercise by an hour.
At her funeral, I saw friends I hadn’t seen for a long time. I was unwell. They knew. My old school teachers knew. After the funeral we stood outside as doves were released into the sky. One of the teachers hugged me before I left and asked that the next funeral she attend not be mine.
I wrote a list of what my funeral was to be like; the songs and bible readings, who should preach. I wrote down that I wanted sunflowers and yellow gerberas. I didn’t want to die but I had accepted I would. I had never felt so exhausted in my life. I couldn’t stand in the shower. If I wasn’t exercising, I was sleeping. I couldn’t see I was unwell, but I felt I was dying. I knew I was.
Every day was the same: breakfast at 4am, exercise before sunrise, appointments, exercise, coffee, exercise, vegetables, exercise and sleep. My GP was becoming increasingly desperate for me to go into hospital; I was becoming increasingly determined to stay out.
Eventually, my weight dropped into a range it had never been and my GP did what I had considered an empty threat: she scheduled me. I ran away. I stayed with my parents that weekend, and the schedule was dropped. I promised to go back into hospital, not for me but for those who I love.
Eight months have passed. I recently came out of hospital; a small booster to keep me on track. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m a lot better than I was 12 months ago. I’ve just submitted two essays for college, meaning I’ve completed the first subject I’ve attempted since 2012.
I had full cream milk in my coffee today. I started day program at the eating disorders clinic because DAMN IT, I want recovery. It might take months or years, but I’ll get there – and you will too.