Suffering with an Eating Disorder as a Musician

Recently, someone I looked up to (a lot) and worked with (a lot) commented on a part of my physique. The words he used in particular were "Aesthetically Pleasing" and those words were not directed at me. Regardless of whether or not he meant it - It stirred me for awhile, making me look at myself very differently. I couldn't stop thinking about a couple of girls I was compared to. I thought twice about everything I ate. I thought maybe I didn't belong on a stage.

I felt shit.

When I was 13-15 years old, I suffered with an eating disorder. I can't say exactly what brought it on, but I had been dealing with family grief, financial problems in the family and getting over the earthquakes. It started like they all do, slowly cutting food out, doing some exercise here and there. Eventually it became weighing everything I ate, hiding scales under my bed, sneaking out at night for runs and the occasional binge/purge cycle. It was something I was in control of, and something I certainly excelled at.

This was ruining my teenage years. Everything I once enjoyed was now much harder to do so. I couldn't go out for dinner with friends, I couldn't concentrate in class, I couldn't sleep (Staying awake burns more calories), I would lie, I was losing friends, I was disappointing my family and I was completely burnt out.

One day, I sent my mother a text. I don't have it saved, but I basically told her everything I wrote above. I said absolutely everything I'd done and that I needed help. The most important thing is putting yourself first, and realising you have a problem. Whether it be depression, anxiety, an eating disorder or any mental health issue - learn to put yourself first. 

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this, let me explain how I felt:

I didn't want to get better, but I wanted to want to get better.

(Don't read that sentence too many times, It made me forget what 'Want' even sounds like)

When PMH assess their patients for possible eating disorders, they put you in one of three categories: Bulimia, Anorexia or EDNOS. The main things to look out for when it comes to Anorexic patients are

  • Being Underweight
  • Thinking they are Healthy (But obviously are not)
  • Engage in eating disorder behaviours

Someone is usually diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) because they display all symptoms of Anorexia except for being critically underweight. Bulimia is generally diagnosed if the patient shows frequent binging/purging patterns. Often, Anorexic patients are the only ones underweight. Another thing to take away from this is that you cannot always see an eating disorder. Bulimic's can sometimes even be overweight, but it still causes potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances. 

As strange as it may sound, it was hard for me to hear that I was no longer classed as anorexic. In other words - I was no longer sick enough to feel like I was in control. It was extremely hard to deal with people saying "You look healthier" as opposed to "Have you lost weight?" 

For me, my worst point was 38kgs. I am now 63kgs and the same height. At this point, I would have been diagnosed with Anorexia. Although thanks to my supportive family and strong will, I managed to gain enough weight to be diagnosed with EDNOS and placed in the outpatient ward as opposed to the inpatient ward. 

Most people overlooked how much I was struggling, along with the other 77% of girls who are unhappy with the way they look. 

Recovering is certainly the hardest part. To watch a doctor draw a plot chart of my weight every single week was quite hard. Faking gaining weight was easy, but didn't help at all. It has been around 3 years and I still struggle every. single. day. 

One of the reasons I decided to tell my story was because of the recent launch of the NZ Music Foundation's Wellbeing Service. The Wellbeing Service is an online, on the phone and in-person counselling service fully funded by the NZ Music Foundation and provided free of charge to those in the kiwi music community who cannot access the help they need due to hardship and other circumstances. 1350 Musicians in New Zealand participated in a survey led by the NZMF about depression and mental health. This survey showed that Songwriters and Composers are 2.5x more likely than the rest of the population to be diagnosed with Depression. And over a third of these people had been diagnosed with a Mental Health Disorder. 

I think it is certainly hard to look out for yourself as a Musician. Being a musician already feels vulnerable enough. Putting yourself on display, letting people judge your art form is only the start of it. But I love how New Zealand is taking that extra step to put our minds before our bodies. We don't need to glamourise the Music Industry here, as it feels like one big (or small) family.

Check out NZMF Wellbeing Service here:

I recently joined my local Volunteer Fire Brigade, this obviously pushes me to stay healthy. I also work with Children as a Singing Teacher, and it means a lot to be a role model to them. Stupid things will still send my mind swirling, which I think is a symptom I will live with for a very long time. I cannot deal with "Honest Constructive Criticism" on my body, as I don't think it's at all necessary or affects the way I live my life or pursue my dreams as a musician. If anything, the things I did to myself then were only detracting my focus from learning and writing more.