Once you start to believe in yourself...

Profile of a new vegan: Helena bravely recounts her struggle with anorexia and how her compassion for animals has helped her.

when we are little, we have this unending sense of love. nothing comes close to the curiosity and compassion that fills us in the first few years of our life. i was brought up in a small, closely packed and love filled family which helped create the person i am today.

i suffered from anxiety and ocd from a very young age. due to my anxiety and nauseousness my eating started to decrease and my weight started to drop - slowly - but over 6 months it made a significant impact. and i am a firm believer that when you start dropping body mass your mind starts to deteriorate along with your body. at that time towards the end of the year, my friend started dieting and my mind just went click and i slowly started calorie counting and increasing my exercise. and i was like hell yeah this is me. i can control my appearance entirely with numbers. what even! it was like my dream had come true. after about a month my friends started to notice and my mum and dad became even more worried about me than i thought possible.

my mum took me to a dietician and then i was referred to the princess margaret hospital eating disorders program. at the time my OCD was too severe for any clinics to take me in. my initial assessment at pmh took 2 days and involved a series of medical, physical and mental assessments. i saw a doctor who looked me in the eye and told me that if i didn't make a change there was a high chance of my heart not coping. i saw a physio who told me i was doing more than 15 hours of sport a week. i saw a dietician who told me that i wasn't eating enough for my brain to barely function. i had an ecg and my heart rate was dangerously low, enough to give me a heart attack while i was sleeping. i was given a box of supplement drinks, told to drink 3-4 a day on top of what i was eating and given a time of 1 week to make a change. and i did it! i managed to stay out of hospital and i kept going for the next 6 months, seeing a therapist once a week, a psychiatrist once every two weeks, a dietician every two weeks, eating with my mum in the car at school and not doing any sport. still struggling a significant amount and a shell of my former self. and then towards the middle of the year i started struggling a lot more. refusing meals. giving in to my thoughts. becoming engulfed in the safety and quiet of anorexia. after a couple of months my doctor and care coordinator swooped in and attempted to rescue me from destroying myself once again by sending me to a day program in the hospital.

it wasn't really enough to heal my sick mind. after a couple of weeks in day program i was promptly admitted to an inpatient program at pmh, which was the most devastating, emotional and soul destroying experience. i struggled through my admission: the hand sanitizer in every corner, the nasogastric feeding, the blind weigh ins, the ward rounds, the look on my parents' face when they came to see me. trying so hard but barely listening to anyone but my eating disorder. i will keep you safe it said. i was discharged from hospital and was so scared that i got stuck in my restricting cycle again. i once again did day program and it again didn't help me. i was admitted to hospital for the second time, this time with a different idea on recovery. i wanted to give this a try. after a month of intense work with my team i was discharged from another inpatient stint and sent home, with my supplement drinks and everything.

and from there i have kind of just worked up to where i am today. at first it was the most terrifying thing i had ever done. letting go of the safety i had built myself. but as i gained weight it opened my opportunities in life. i started surfing, went back to school sport, spent more time with my friends, made memories and became more loving to myself and focusing on nourishing and helping my body.

i am here to say that it is so possible. no matter how long it takes you and no matter how hard it gets. you will come out of this being so much more courageous and beautiful than you could ever have imagined. every person reading this is so capable of taking the initiative and becoming the best person you can possibly be. with eating problems and even with veganism! no matter the setbacks, events you've put yourself through, what other people have put you through. it's not important anymore once you start to believe in yourself. and it is so possible!

and then - once i had reached a healthy weight and got my period for the first ever time - i started running and also tried veganism and i have never looked back.

veganism gave me a purpose. something to think about. something to push through the hardships for. i focused more on the love and compassion i had as a small child and less on the voices that controlled me. it helped me find myself. my inner spirit. and that is so worth everything that i have ever been through.

the concept of just saving one animal's life made me realise how much my life mattered. how that every being in this world, even me. in the depths of my despair, in my darkest moments, i mattered in this world. i could have an impact. saving one life. one innocent being made my life so much brighter. the fact that every year being vegan i could save 365 lives who wanted to be on this earth. so i took my beliefs, compassion, kindness, thoughts and inner strength to shelter within myself and made my own safety. one that didn't involve numbers: weight, calories, macros, grams. and my life is far from perfect. i still worry about little things, i still see my therapist once every couple of weeks and my doctor every month who have helped me on my journey more than words can describe and i am so endlessly grateful, i have disordered thoughts and get a bit anxious when i eat. but i remind myself that despite it all, i have the compassion and kindness inside of me which will never fade. and that i matter in this world, just like every other sentient being who is here with me on this earth.

thank you so much for reading this far! it means so much to me that even one person might have read this. it is such an amazing opportunity to be able to share my story in hope of inspiring others. you can contact me by email at helena.karagiannis@yahoo.com.au or via my second instagram account: flourishinghelena

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