This is the true, unbelievable, amazing story of Abby Sterry, an amazing, beautiful and courageous young woman who, in addition to overcoming anorexia and leading a full and happy life, also had to endure the loss of her grandfather, her father going to prison and having to carry her family through it all. Abby also discusses her biggest dream, to meet and thank Ellen Degeneres, who helped her beat anorexia and see that she is a beautiful woman who can lead a full life and not have to worry about what people think about her appearance.
I am 15 years old, and for the last five or six years of my life, I have been through a lot. I was severely depressed with no help or support from the ones who I most needed it from, and I suffered with it on my own while it got progressively worse. I was bullied for two years until 2007, when I moved up to high school and the bully was kicked out of the school. By the time that happened, my self confidence was beyond low, and I really did not want to be here. It left me thinking of ways to end my life when I was about 10 or 12 years old. I tried my hardest at school to please everyone and make my family happy and proud of me. I struggled so much to concentrate and do my best because I had developed an eating disorder as a result of everything that had happened, as well as my father being put in prison for almost three years. I felt as though it was all my fault because nobody told me, and I felt alone and even more depressed about it. This definitely made me more aware of my appearance, and I was scared of being ‘fat.’
I still did not receive any much-needed support from my family, I could not talk to anyone because I did not trust anyone, and if I did tell someone what was happening and how I was feeling, they would not truly understand – and I felt even more stupid and depressed for even telling them my problems. So I carried on with school, trying my best and making everyone else happy. Nobody really knew what was going on, I guess I hid it so well from everyone because I strived to be perfect. I was such a young age, and I was struggling with school, with my own personal problems, family and friend problems and more.
I couldn’t talk to anyone, so I couldn’t let it out in any way for years. It built up with one thing after another, it didn’t affect me at the time because everything was pushed to the back of my mind. As my eating disorder became worse, everything else in my life seemed to be getting worse, too. My grandfather got really sick at the start of 2008, I think, and with all the problems that were going on, this was just another thing to cope with and stress about. I felt I had to take control of everything and make sure everybody else was okay. It was very hard, but somehow I kept going, but my school work suffered and I just could not do anything, so I started to fail in some classes I was trying so hard to get better at.
My grandfather got really ill over the year, and November came around. This was the worse month out of the whole year, which had been just as bad. I had become suicidal over that year, and I had already attempted to commit suicide two or three times earlier in the year but failed. But everything just became too much in November, and I took a number of pills, in order to never wake up again. I ended up in the hospital, which made me feel numb. My grandfather died two weeks after I was released. Things didn’t get better after that. I didn’t show my emotions after my grandfather passed away, mostly because I had to take care of everything else.
I was close to my grandfather; he taught me how to cook, and we would listen to music together. He was the figure I used to look up to and loved to talk to. He told me stories of his experiences, and in ways he inspired me to be myself whoever that maybe. Once he became ill, he was unable to cook, and I was busy with school so I was unable to see him as much. As it became worse, my mother and I were visiting him in hospital each week, but I could see he was going downhill, and I knew I didn’t want to see him any longer because I felt he wasn’t himself. He died shortly after I stopped visiting him. As I was busy with school, personal problems and looking after my grandmother, I had no time to think about his death or how it affected me. I just carried on as normal and went out of my way to please people and make people happy. It still hasn’t settled in that he is actually gone, but I think about him more and more each day.
My mother and I had to look after my grandmother, who honestly was so hard to deal with all the way from when he was sick up to the present day. So I still didn’t have any time to get over what had happened, and my depression and eating disorder just became numb as well – everything in my life became numb and worthless. I was ready to leave everything. I felt worthless and unloved, and I had tried too hard to please everyone, but it wasn’t enough. My 14th birthday came about 15 days later. I can’t even remember that day, it definitely didn’t feel like my birthday.
I think nobody should have that much responsibility with no help, and it was a very tough time for me and everybody around me. I felt personally I was the stronger figure out of my mother and grandmother, because I felt I had nothing else to live for or care about so I could deal with this. As my mother worked every day and lead a busy lifestyle, I felt I couldn’t put her through more responsibility because she had too much to deal with. Each weekend I would stay over at my grandparent’s house, and because my grandfather usually cooked and cleaned while my grandmother did whatever she wanted to do, I had to take over and make both of them relax because I knew this was the end of the road, and things would only get worse from then on. I felt it was the right decision to look after everything and make everybody else happy, because to me I did not matter, and nobody stopped to ask me if I was okay, but I preferred it that way because by then I believe people expected me to deal with everything and not moan about it.
But in December, I really thought long and hard about everything that had happened in the past three or four years and thought about how 2008 had affected me. I was depressed, suicidal, sick with an eating disorder and felt as though I was stuck in a big black hole with no escape route. But as Christmas came and went, and the New Year came along, I made a huge decision, which would change my life forever. I started to watch The Ellen Show after my mother introduced me to the show, and I was addicted after the first two seconds of watching it. I was in love with Ellen, everything about her just made me feel inspired and determined to get my life back, to stop existing and start living. Every day from that day on, I watched The Ellen Show several times a day, and each time I watched it, I became that bit more stronger and more determined to get better.
I still did not get any support for what I was going through because most people were unaware of what was happening. But I was so determined to get better that I felt I didn’t need someone to help me. The Ellen Show was enough to make me feel that much-needed determination. So I made a New Year’s resolution for 2009 that I was going to get better, I was going to change my life around for the better and finally be the person I had so long wished to be. I wanted to be happy for a change, and The Ellen Show just radiated that along with positivity and optimism. She truly changed me as a person, and I am a better person today for it.
My father got out of prison, and I have learned a lot about him since then. Before he went into prison, he tried to kidnap me and made my mother’s and my life very stressful. I cannot explain what he did, but he used me to get what he wanted, and I sort of had an epiphany not so long ago that he was not worth my time or effort. He told people behind my back that he wished he never had me, he didn’t want anything to with me and some other hurtful comments. I don’t regret anything that has happened, because it made me a lot stronger and intelligent to realize what was happening. I learned from my mistakes and made a big decision to finally cut him out of my life. He did not want me, and I did not want him, but I felt as though it was my fault and that I had not been a good enough daughter, that I had not tried hard enough. It brought me down, but with the help of my mother, I got back up and moved on.
I think my relationship with my dad greatly affected me, in a negative and positive way. It’s a complicated subject to talk about, it all felt as though it happened so fast that I had no time to think about what was happening. He made me very anxious about asking people for things. I lost all of my confidence, and I felt very intimidated around him. These days I do not talk to my father, and we have not been in contact with each other since my 16th birthday, December 13, 2010. I have refused all contact with him since, and I feel life is a lot less stressful without him. I think I will definitely be closer to my children, and I would raise them making sure they know I care about them, and I want them to trust and talk to me.
Two years ago I was depressed, sick, suicidal, stressed, doing badly in school and had so much to deal with. A lot of things went on before that time, which I found hard to cope with but just had to take it and put it in the back of my mind. I had done that for years, and it took my last suicide attempt to make me realize this isn’t the way I should be living. Before that happened, being the way I was and feeling the way I felt, it was normal, I thought everyone constantly felt like that. I just felt numb, all the other feelings had just been locked away. I couldn’t remember the last time I was truly happy, and that isn’t the way life is meant to be. I learned all that from The Ellen Show, and she transformed me into the person I am today: strong, happy, determined, optimistic, positive and appreciative of everything I have and have been through. She made me realize that I should not be worried about people accepting everything I say, as long as I am happy with myself and believe what I say, then the people who accept me then are the ones worth spending your love and compassion with. She taught me the worthiness of love and life, she made me realize and, ultimately, just saved me, as I believe if I had never found The Ellen Show at the time I did, I would not be here today. For a 15 year old to say that, it is pretty shocking, to say what I have been through.
I find it hard to talk about my past because most of it felt as though it all happened in one year, when in fact it was 15 years. So much happened it is just impossible to explain it enough so people understand it. But that isn’t the point, I am working on not trying to make everybody happy, I am trying to put myself first more, I am trying to accept myself and become the person I see myself as. The Ellen Show gave me that strength, she made me believe it all was possible and it did happen, it took a year to feel as though I was able to carry on and see the light at the end of the tunnel. I fought my eating disorder and depression by myself, I had to do it all alone but I thank everyone in my life who was there when I needed them. But my biggest thanks has to be to Ellen Degeneres and The Ellen Show.
I was told at a doctor’s appointment that I may not be able to have children because of my eating disorder, but I will only find out if I try to have a child. If I do have children, I will teach them about health and how important it is to keep yourself healthy. I would teach them that there is nothing wrong with the way they look because they were born the way they are, and they should embrace it. And if they do feel unhappy with their appearance, I would like them to talk to me so I am able to help them feel better about themselves the healthy way.
I’ve always had a handful of friends, but I never really let people get close to me. I never trusted anybody to let them get close to me. I rarely went out and rarely spent time with people. I was shy and kept to myself for years. Just recently I’ve started to hang out with friends rather than spend my time on my own.
I don’t feel I ‘became’ Anorexic, I feel as though it slowly developed inside of me. I thought it was normal to feel the way I was and do the things I was doing. Because I never told anyone, nobody said anything about it, and I carried on doing it without knowing what could potentially happen. I feel it was a build-up of stress from moving and having nobody to talk to, being bullied, low self-confidence, school, friends, family and myself. I was very anxious and paranoid, thinking people were mocking me or going to say something about my appearance. I constantly wanted to fade into the background away from society. I wanted to be left alone so I didn’t have to worry what people thought about me. All I wanted was to be happy, yet doing what I thought would make me happy actually made me feel a lot worse.
I only told one teacher about my eating habits because a friend at the time knew what I was doing and felt strongly that I needed help, and forced me to tell the teacher in order to get some help. The teacher then told a staff member, and they called my mother, which is how my mother found out about what I was doing. I used to talk to the teacher afterwards to say how I was doing, but I felt awkward being honest about what I was doing, so I used to lie and say that I was not starving myself or throwing up. The school didn’t take any action other than to give me counseling, which didn’t help me at all. I felt I was unable to talk about how I really felt, I felt stupid for people knowing because at that time I still saw myself as fat and unworthy of ‘getting help.’ I carried on doing what I was doing for another year before the school nurse got in touch with somebody else who she thought could help me, and I started to have weekly meetings with a woman called Cheryl. She helped me a lot, she came with me to doctor appointments to talk about being put on anti-depressants.
I hid a lot of what I was doing away from my family. I live with my mother, her partner and my brother, and they all work throughout the day. So I could come home after school, eat and throw up before they got back. I would leave plates with bread crumbs on to make them think I had eaten something. They were busy with their own schedules that they didn’t notice what I was doing, so I got away with it until the school informed my mother, and she started to notice the smell of vomit in my room. She spoke to me about it, but I promised her I wouldn’t do it again. I carried on doing it but I was a lot more careful about how I did it so they would stop watching my every move.
The anorexia made me not want to learn, so I gave up when the smallest thing went wrong or if I couldn’t understand something. I had no interest in school, and I just could not care. All I thought and cared about was food; what I was going to eat, what I was going to throw up, how many calories I was going to consume for each meal of the day, what exercise I was going to do later and so on. My mind was full of these thoughts, and nothing else was important to me. I wasn’t put into any special classes, I just sat at the back and doodled on a piece of paper, or listened to music.
I don’t regret anything I did, because if I hadn’t done one thing I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have come so far, and I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. I learned from my experience and now I just want to help others from not going through what I went through, because it can seriously damage your health and can even kill you.
I have a half brother and two half sisters (they have a different father than I do). None of them knew about my illness or what I was going through. My sisters didn’t live with me, so I didn’t speak to them much. My brother lived with me but we didn’t speak much either, we just got on with our own lives. Although my brother once found a photo of my leg on my computer, in which I had self-inflicted the word ‘fat’ on my thigh. He didn’t understand why I did it and asked me, but I ignored it and told him not to look through my personal stuff. I was very much in denial with everything that was happening. I didn’t want anybody to question me or catch what I was doing.
I was involved in a therapy session for a while, but it did not help me personally. Cheryl was the person who helped me the most. She was a part of the school nurse team, and I felt I could be honest with her. Over the two years we met regularly, and she helped me overcome thoughts and feelings. She helped me deal with the past and move on to the future. Apart from the meetings with Cheryl, I was alone in recovery, but I found hope and strength from Ellen DeGeneres and music. It was very hard to stay healthy and to not fall back into the cycle of starving, binging and throwing up, but I felt determined to recover and live my life. I did relapse twice throughout the recovery, but I quickly got back on the recovery path.
I remember feeling numb and almost dead, as though I had no life. I was a very negative person, anything anybody said to me I would take the wrong way, and I never believed when people would comment on my appearance saying that I had lost weight or I was thin, because it was not the person I saw in the mirror. It actually made me so paranoid that I stopped looking in mirrors. I refused to look in anything where I could see myself. I truly hated my appearance, and I was desperate to just fade away. It was hard hiding it, but I got away with it. I was so determined to hide it because I was unbelievably scared if someone found out and stopped me from doing it, even though I knew realistically nobody could stop me from doing what I was doing. It was all I cared about and all I thought I had control over, it was the only thing that mattered to me.
I actually felt better listening to other people’s problems and trying my best to help them out, because it made me feel as though I had a purpose, and I felt important. I learned a lot from situations and how people react to them, so it helped me get better at giving people advice. I actually loved it, and it felt as though it was an addiction. I was always offering people a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, and I would go online and help people out who I didn’t even know. I felt I was good at it, and it also distracted me from everything that was happening in my life. I had people telling me they were there for me, but I refused to open up to anyone because I just did not trust people, and I felt nobody would understand. I am a perfectionist, so I had to make people think I was the perfect one who knew all the right words to say, so to me opening up about my problems ruined that look and I thought to myself, “Well if I have problems, nobody would bother talking to me or listening to anything I said to help them.” I would simply tell myself nothing was wrong and that was that. I self-harmed myself by cutting my body parts with scissors or knives, and I have a few scars, which aren’t as noticeable as they once were. My worst one was on my thigh. It said “fat,” and I actually did it the night before I overdosed and was admitted into the hospital. It’s still slightly visible today, and I spent so much money on products trying to get it to fade, because I realized from doing it that it stopped me from doing activities I very much would have loved to take part in once I recovered. I couldn’t go swimming, I couldn’t wear shorts and I was extremely self conscious about it.
I took photos of the thigh ‘fat’ scar, but deleted them while I was recovering. I felt it would’ve held me back if I kept any photos of that time, so I deleted them over time, and I also deleted all “thinspiration” photos while recovering. I sort of wish I kept them but I know there would’ve been a chance I would still be sick if I didn’t.
Some of the other things I had to deal with included how I controlled and obsessed over calories. I would usually live off 0-500 calories per day, no more. It was strict, and it became the focus of everything in my life. I felt my stomach literally shrinking. It hurt but it felt good most of the time. I felt in control and as though I was getting somewhere, but in fact anorexia was in control, and I was just becoming more and more obsessed over something that nearly killed me. I went through cycles of losing a lot of weight from calorie restriction and starvation, to gaining it all from binging and purging. You think you’re losing weight, but you only lose water weight then after a period of time, your body starts to feed off your muscles first, not your fat cells, so even when you’ve lost a lot of weight you still feel fat because the fat is the only thing that is left. I also remember getting so desperate that I would bring small bags into my room, eat quickly and throw up on the spot into the bag, then hide them around my room. I also hid food and gave it away to friends at school. My mother tried to make me take food to school, but I think she knew I wasn’t eating it, so she gave up. I never ate breakfast or lunch, and I would usually eat a small, no more than 500 calorie, meal around 5-6 p.m. and either throw up or exercise afterwards.
To those suffering from anorexia and depression, it will get better. I never thought it would get better, but it got so much better once I decided to take control and get help for depression and recover from my eating disorder. I never believed anyone when they said they got over anorexia or depression, but now I am living proof that it is possible and that whatever you’re age or gender, you can get better and you can get your life back! You don’t have to be controlled by anorexia or depression. Nobody deserves to go through these hard times, but there are a lot more people than you would think that deal with these disorders, and they desperately need help before it kills them. Talk to someone, whether it’s a teacher, friend, family member, a friend online, a counselor or a therapist. You will get nowhere keeping it to yourself, you’ll only become more unhappy and unhealthy. Killing yourself over something that can get better isn’t worth it, and nobody deserves to commit suicide because there are always people out there who care about you. They want you to be honest with them, it’s just up to you whether you do so. Please get help immediately The longer you wait and put it off, the worse it gets and the harder it is to pull yourself out of that cycle, but it is possible to get better, and it’s completely worth it.
To everyone out there with an eating disorder or suffering through depression, you are born the way you are, and there is nothing wrong with that! You are beautiful and nobody should tell you any different. Nobody deserves to get bullied or become depressed. There are eight-year-old girls and boys these days starving themselves because the media is telling them they should look like a certain body type and they should weigh this much and eat this many calories. There are children who are terrified of becoming fat, when at that age they need as much nutrition as possible to be healthy. It’s scary to realize how much media controls our society, and it really affects people. It affected me to think I had to look like a certain celebrity to be loved, cared for, successful and happy. It never is that way, all the photos in the media are touched up and not real. It’s all a bunch of lies. Whether you are born big or small, tall or short, with brown, red or blonde hair, with blue, green or brown eyes DOES NOT MATTER in the slightest because this is who you are and you cannot change a lot of your appearance. You need to make the most of it! If people do not like who you are, then they aren’t worth spending any of your time worrying over. Look after yourself the right way and make health your first priority because you only have one health, and it cannot be replaced!
What is anorexia?
Anorexia is an eating disorder most commonly found in girls rather than boys that usually develops around the teenage years. Nobody knows a full cause for anorexia, but a lot of anorexics develop the disorder while under a large amount of stress/pressure. What basically happens is the person will restrict their diet drastically from the recommended 2,000 calories for a girl, and 2,500 calories for a guy, to 1,000 calories or less. A lot of anorexics will take part in ‘fasts’ where they do not eat any solids for a certain amount of time. And the majority of anorexics usually become hooked on over-exercising in order to ‘keep burning calories and fat,’ which leads to bone and health problems like osteoporosis and arthritis. People who suffer from anorexia usually become extremely secretive and can lie about a lot of things. They will wear baggy, heavy clothing to hide their fragile frames. A lot of anorexics also suffer from insomnia, so they are up all night and are constantly exhausted. The way to recover is to either seek help with a counselor or therapist, or if it gets serious to be put into an inpatient eating disorders ward at a hospital.