An Auckland mother and daughter who have shared their journey with eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, have been taken by surprise at the positive response from people around New Zealand to them.
Mother, Tori, founded Fighting the Mind in February at the Starship Hospital bedside of daughter, Laura, who was battling the effects of anorexia nervosa and at risk of heart failure.
Founding Fighting the Mind was partly to help them both get through but also to share their journey to offer hope to others.
Fighting the Mind is about raising awareness, spreading hope and inspiration, offering ongoing support and aiming to end stigma associated with eating disorders.
Initially, they reached out via Facebook to their local community around Kumeu in the north-west of Auckland.
They thought it would be an opportunity to get to know others on a similar journey.
“Support grew quickly and took me by surprise,” Tori says.
Lots of families made contact, wanting to know about Tori’s and Laura’s journey.
Many had wrestled with eating disorders for 10 to 15 years before they recovered.
Tori began researching eating disorders, and within six months Fighting the Mind had gone nationwide with its own website. They also receive inquiries from people in Australia, Britain and the United States.
The women soon found out there is huge need for what they are doing.
They’ve been told there is nothing like it in New Zealand, sharing real life experiences at grassroots level. They have also been told the mother and daughter combination is probably unique on New Zealand’s Facebook.
Their focus is compassionately sharing for free what they’ve learned.
Laura says she found it awkward at first talking to older people who had spent decades fighting eating disorders.
“I tell them I don’t think about age. An eating disorder is something both can relate to and discuss,” she says.
Eating disorders don’t discriminate and neither do we.”
Tori says the pair are also campaigning for eating disorders to be recognised as a mental illness.
She says anorexia has a higher mortality rate than other mental illnesses.
They say the biggest challenge is breaking through the stigma around eating disorders.
“We want to change the way healthcare treats eating disorders and we want people to speak out about it,” Tori says.
She also says fashion shows have a lot to answer for.
Laura says she was 10 and ‘chubby’ when children at school started teasing her and calling her unkind names.
It triggered anxiety, which worsened as the years went by, progressing to self-harm and, finally, anorexia. Tori is also a survivor of severe anxiety and emotional abuse.
After Laura came home from hospital Tori gave up her work as a teacher to be her fulltime caregiver.
She has to constantly watch Laura as an eating disorder can be ‘very sneaky.’
Laura is studying NCEA Level 2 English, maths and biology at home through a school for students who have long-term illnesses.
As for being in the public eye now, she knows people are following the pair on Facebook and she also appreciates her gym’s supportive comments.
Tori believes being in the public eye has motived Laura with her recovery so much more.
“I want it to help us and help Laura not be ashamed about who she is.”
Every night Laura writes something she is grateful for.
For Tori, being in the public eye is knowing people can come to her for support whenever they need it.
The pair have been joined by several other people who have lived with mental illness or eating disorders.
The Fighting the Mind mission is to set up effective support networks throughout New Zealand and even beyond, and to create greater public awareness around the subject of eating disorders.
Laura says their greatest joy is being able to help others.
Tori adds, “Preventing families being isolated and saving lives.”
And how are they changing lives?
Tori says they’ve had some people who’ve done really well. It creates a domino effect, because they want to change another life.
We want it to become a network of people who have been through this.”
A particular frustration is the practice around counselling.
They were told Laura could not receive counselling until her weight had been restored to its original level.
The pair will be fighting to have that practice changed.
They’ve found genuine help from others more beneficial and believe New Zealand has a culture of people helping people at grassroots level.
Tori and Laura have been funding Fighting the Mind themselves but because of the organisation’s growth are making funding applications and pursuing registration as a charity.
And their advice to parents about bullying at school?
Laura says to always listen to your children and take seriously what they are saying. She says it is important for everyone to let children and teens be who they are.
Tori says it is important that children know they can talk to their parents about any bullying.
“Children also need to be told to immediately speak out to anyone around them if they are bullied,” she says.
She says parents need to work on boosting their children’s confidence to strengthen resilience.
She’s disappointed to read how some schools have responded to cases of bullying and fears reputation and money have been given priority over children’s lives.
“Children are not pawns in a money game.”
Tori says everyone needs to feel safe, loved, secure and supported.
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