BodyMatters is pleased to introduce Eleni as our July Recovery Talk presenter
Eleni first showed symptoms of anorexia nervosa when she was 18 years old during a trip to Greece with her family. This period was particularly lonely for Eleni as she had finished high school and her family did not support her seeing her friends when this ended. Eleni remembers not purposely restricting her food intake but instead noticed positive changes in how her family would treat her. Specifically, she enjoyed that her parents were noticing her weight loss and restricting, which she associated with feeling more loved.
When Eleni returned to Australia her parents were concerned about her symptoms and took her to their family GP for assessment. This GP was someone who Eleni felt comfortable with as he had been her family’s GP for her entire life. When reflecting back to this time, Eleni says that she feels lucky to have had support from this GP who was treating her during a period where eating disorders were not widely spoken about. Although her GP was seeing her weekly, Eleni continued to lose weight. During this time, she also experienced amenorrhea for a period of five years. After unsuccessfully trying to get Eleni to gain weight, her GP said that he would need to hospitalise her for weight restoration if he did not see improvements. Eleni recalls that this was a terrifying idea for her and was a driver for her to slowly gain weight back.
Although Eleni’s weight had increased, she remembers still feeling severe anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-worth. Between 2004 – 2007 Eleni began to experience negative outcomes as a result of these strong emotions. One of those outcomes was the break-down of her marriage, which further increased her feelings of low self-esteem. This unfortunately led to a relapse and she began restricting, resulting in weight loss once again. After living with these symptoms for three weeks Eleni took herself to see her doctor for guidance, who referred her to a psychologist to treat her depression. In addition to seeing an individual psychologist, she also began seeing a counsellor with her husband to work on fixing their marriage. Eleni recalls a comment that her husband made during these sessions about being in the relationship for sex and not love. This further increased her depression and confirmed to Eleni that she was unworthy. Eleni recalls this period as an extremely low point in her life.
Things continued to get worse before they got better when she made a bad decision by committing a crime that lead to her spending 12 months in prison. Prior to entering prison, Eleni had numerous sessions with a forensic psychologist who was paramount to her recovery. This therapist worked with Eleni to increase her self-esteem and acceptance of herself. The first three weeks in prison were particularly difficult for Eleni and she recalls thinking that she could easily starve herself to death. Food in prison was very unappetising, with very little fresh food available. Additionally, although Eleni should have received regular psychological treatment when in prison, she received very little support. However, Eleni had a light bulb moment leading her down a different path. Eleni recalls sitting in her cell thinking about the work that she had done up to that point with the forensic psychologist and realised that it was too important for her to undo. She realised that the thoughts that she was experiencing were nothing to do with food and exercise, but instead about her self-worth. From there she began a powerful journey of focusing on unlearning unhelpful thought patterns and strengthening the relationship with herself.
Today Eleni feels that she has recovered from her eating disorder and has a strong sense of self-worth. In 2013 Eleni started Brazengrowth, an organisation that aims to educate and encourage people to break the stigma on mental health issues. She has written a workshop that is approved for Continuing Education by Fitness Australia, to educate exercise professionals about eating disorders. In 2016, she was awarded the Filex Inspiration award for her efforts. She delivers a VET accredited unit on working with people with mental health issues and is a presenter in various workshops on mental illness. Eleni also presented in 2017 and 2018 at the National Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference. When asked what advice she would give to anyone who may be starting or already on their recovery journey Eleni says that it is important that people currently suffering from an eating disorder begin to look at their thoughts about themselves and discover what is valuable to them. Eleni believes that eating disorders block out these ideas and that it is important to be aware that these elements are who you are and not the illness.