Our Stories; Ally Furlong
TRIGGER WARNING: Eating Disorder, OCD, Depression, Anxiety, Self-harm, Bullying
I’ve tried to think back through my life to find out how and when my thoughts became skewed and negative towards myself. It’s a hard process, sifting through the pain and self hatred. There’s times now that I wonder if it was even real. It all seems so out of character for me now but it just reassures me that it’s possible to fight through quite a lot. I am proud to say that I survived my worst and it’s possible for anyone out there struggling to do the same. My recovery journey is far from over and it will continue to be a life long process but I can truly say this is the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life, both mentally and physically.
Choosing a starting point is a tough one. I have struggled my entire life, I cannot remember a specific cause but I know it spans as far back as early childhood. Some of the most prominent memories I have are of being ridiculed and verbally abused for my weight. I can’t remember the exact moment that food became a comfort for me but it did and led to weight gain, extreme at many times. Which, naturally and sadly led to more verbal abuse. I always hated school for this reason and developed anxiety mostly about being in public and around people. I learned from the influencing bullying that I was ‘wrong.’ I hated myself and my body for being this way, but still food was the comfort I turned to. I found myself constantly finding more ways that I was different and less than. I withdrew into myself and did my best to never stand out or give anyone a reason to make fun of me. But by this time I didn’t need the outside world to tell me ‘Im wrong’, ‘Im bad’, ‘Im useless’, ‘Im worthless’, ‘Im ugly’, ‘Im not good enough’, ‘I don’t deserve to be alive’, a voice now lived within me that confirmed those thoughts everyday.
As the years went on, school never got any easier and anger was building up inside me. I hated who I was, the world and everyone in it.
I found some release as I would punch and scream into pillows. I had accidentally hit myself in one of these punching rages and discovered it brought a new level of release, this is when self harm started. I had a new way of punishing my body. I would gain satisfaction from seeing bruises form on my skin and the pain that lingered as a result. It continued to progress and eventually lead to cutting. I believed I deserved it. It was my secret and no one had more power over my punishment than me. Along with the rage, depression and anxiety, I developed OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) tendencies. I had the thought that if I didn’t do everything exactly the same every day something terrible would happen. My greatest fear was the unknown. It started with small little things like getting dressed and undressed in a specific order. If I forgot the order I had to start from the beginning, I had to wake up the same time, go to bed the same time, wear the same thing everyday, with the same things in my pocket as the day before, eat the same thing from the same brand on a specific day. I would carry three bags containing all my school books back and forth everyday. It was exhausting keeping it all going but it was worth it to ensure I didn’t get hurt. I went to extreme measures to attempt to control my life and avoid anything that may cause me unexpected pain.
The OCD habits surrounding food is what led to the first real validation that my weight made me bad. I was eating one meal a week, which obviously caused a drastic weight loss for me. This is where I learned that not eating was going to give me a positive response. Due to the fact that no one knew I was starving myself and just saw a really heavy gal losing weight, the compliments started to fly in. The love and reassurance I so desperately desired. You get negative attention when you’re overweight and positive attention when you starve yourself…of course this lead to long lasting damaging beliefs. I could stop the emotional turmoil with weight loss.
Going into university and the working world I kept these strict rules and behaviours trying to keep anything bad from happening to me. But as new people, places, and activities were introduced into my life I found distractions and the rules fell away. I didn’t recognize that I was overeating and gaining weight but I did notice the stares and the laughing. That evil voice living with me was getting a lot louder again. By this time in my life exercise had replaced food restricting, but the thought process was still the same. You will be better when you lose the weight.
My life continued as a rollercoaster of weight loss and gain, mirroring my emotional ups and downs. I latched onto whatever made me feel better, it was always only temporary but it kept me going. I found a new vice in alcohol when I realized the power it had. I was well into my 20’s before I had my first drink. It gave me courage, it helped me fit in, it made me happy, it was also something I was good at and relished at impressing people with how much I could drink. Like most everything in my life it was all or nothing.
My life truly changed in 2012. I was navigating through heartbreak and the question of why am I not good enough to love? I needed to be perfect to be loved. I needed to lose weight. I was at the extremes of restricting foods and doing the maximum exercise possible, desperate to be worthy of love. These extreme measures were causing weight loss, but I was exhausted, unhappy, and still unworthy. A friend had mentioned in conversation that I could ask my doctor to refer me to someone to talk about my emotional relationship with food, exercise and weight. This led to an Eating Disorder (Ed) recovery program.
I didn’t even believe this is what I was facing because I didn’t truly understand what an eating disorder was. I wasn’t underweight! I had to loose more weight! Once, I was in therapy and heard other people talk about the thoughts they were having I knew I wasn’t alone and that perhaps I could have this disorder. Up until this point in my life I was desperate to know why - why I couldn’t be happy, why I could never be loved, why I hated myself so much? I had finally found the place that could help answer those questions. I had a full support team who understood me better than I understood myself. It wasn’t an easy process at all but I wanted to feel better more than I wanted to hold onto these rules that ran my life. I spent a year in the program facing all my demons head on and unlearning the negative self talk I had grown up with. I had to make a lot of changes in my life because I had unknowingly surrounded myself with a world that supported my Ed. I was given the help and tools, which for me included medication, I needed to pull myself away from the worst place I had ever been. I still have to challenge that negative voice, sometimes on a daily basis. I've learned that instead of hiding those thoughts in shame and judgement, to shine a spotlight on them. Opening up to friends and family for support has been the greatest means in fighting my Ed.
Working through my Ed, depression, anxiety, OCD, and perfectionism has led me to a better life. I truly love the person I am today. I have found joy in the little things again. I can appreciate myself and the people in my life. I rediscovered that I love to bake, I love to take pictures, I love to write, I love to be outside enjoying nature and I love helping others. My mental illnesses hid all these things from me with rules, shame, anxiety, and unattainable ideals. Of course I still have days where I don’t want to be around people or do anything that requires any amount of energy expenditure. I now know thats ok. Self care is so important and looks different to everyone.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t want to live any longer. I am so grateful that I fought back and am still here today. Because I fought back, I get to be an Auntie, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and now a mental health advocate. I am beyond excited that Jenn has given me this opportunity to share my journey with you. I have wanted to share for a very long time, but excuses and negative thoughts have stopped me from doing so. I feel like this is just a fraction of my journey but perhaps this will lead to me sharing more. Display Rules has created a platform to open up, discuss whats really happening and help those who need it.
I was suffering with an Eating Disorder and went undiagnosed until I was 28 years old because of the stereotypes surrounding them. I didn’t look like I had an eating disorder. Let’s continue to work to stop the stigma and open up doors for more people to come forward and see they aren’t struggling alone.