S1 Ep7: Millie Thomas
Millie Thomas battled with anorexia for 15 years. It took over her life and food restrictions and excessive exercise regimes became her norm.
Having been recovered for three years, Millie is now a passionate eating disorder recovery coach who is using her lived experience to change the lives of people living with eating disorders and is also setting out to dispel some common myths and misinformation that surrounds the mental illness.
I first met Millie when writing a feature story about endED and the work of Mark and Gayle Forbes to build Australia’s first residential treatment facility for eating disorders here on the Sunshine Coast. Millie truly is an inspiration and has already helped hundreds of people with her ability to relate whole-heartedly to the journey they are navigating.
You can watch my chat with Millie on the video link above, or read on for the full transcript.
Roxanne – Hello, everyone, thank you again for joining us for another edition of the Phoenix Phenomenon, where I have a chat to some amazing people in our community who are doing wonderful things for others, sharing hope and inspiration. So my name’s Roxanne McCarty-O’Kane, I probably should mention that as well. Here with me today, I have Millie Thomas, who is the endED ambassador, mentor, and marketing coordinator for the organization, which helps people of all ages and backgrounds with their eating disorder journeys. So thank you so much, Millie, for joining me today. She’s a very busy lady, so I really appreciate your time.
Millie – Oh, thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Roxanne – Excellent. So another thing I probably should mention about Millie, and one thing that makes her a bit more unique as a mentor and assistant for all these people who are going through eating disorders, is that she has quite a lived experience herself, so we would like to touch on that with you today, Millie, if that’s okay.
Millie – Oh, absolutely.
Roxanne – Excellent, that’s great. So I guess we’ll start with that, because obviously it was your lived experience that inspired you and led you into your work with people through endED, so we’ll go the chronological route if that’s okay. So tell us about your lived experience, and your journey with an eating disorder. I believe it actually started manifesting for you when you were 12.
Millie – Yeah, it did. So, when I was 12, I started at an all girls private school, and I just felt a lot of pressure, and the eating disorder sort of crept up on me without me realizing it, I think. I was vulnerable, and also we talk about the fact that eating disorders are genetic, that the genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger. So for me, I was already, my personality traits already predisposed me having an eating disorder. I’ve very Type A, high achiever, tendencies towards being a little bit OCD and perfectionistic. And so when I was sort of thrown into this sort of situation with lots of girls, and comparisons, and things like that, that’s when the eating disorder really took hold for me. So, I started at that school at year seven, and by year eight, I was diagnosed with anorexia and taken out of school. And from there, really, I got, the treatment was to put on weight.
Roxanne – Hmm. I hear that a lot, yeah.
Millie – Put her back into school and she’ll be fine. And that’s what happened. They got my weight back up and I was put back into school. And, but the thing is, you can gain weight, but unless you deal with the mental stuff, the mental stuff is still there. Physically, yes, you can operate, and yes, you can live, but I like to call it existing rather than living, because you’re not fully living. And I continued through my entire school years physically being okay, but I was existing. I wasn’t fully participating in life. I was, you know, I’d go to birthday parties and all those sort of things, but I would never eat. I would get a drink, and I would, I was always on guard, and kind of worried about how I was going to look and things like that. And yes, I traveled, but I look back at all these amazing places that I went to, and I was never fully immersed in the culture, or certainly wasn’t partaking in the food or anything like that, because I was just too deep in my eating disorder. Everything revolved around restriction of calories, and getting in as much exercise as I possibly could.
Millie – So for me, when I, I got through school, I passed with flying colors. I got scholarships, I went straight to university and started my business degree. And incredibly, even though I was running on empty literally, I managed to top the business school and everything, meanwhile, my mental health, as well as my physical health, was declining, and I sort of, my weight would drop and that would become the new normal.
Roxanne – Mm-hmm.
Millie – And then it would drop a little bit again, then that was the new normal. And, you know, I was very good at putting on a face of life’s amazing, and I’m coping, and it’s all fine. Whereas, A, my body was disintegrating, and B, I was miserable, because I felt literally like I was living a lie, because I wasn’t happy. I was achieving, I had a job and all of that kind of thing, but I wasn’t truly happy, and I knew I wasn’t being true to myself. So I guess I managed, I coped. I was, at that time, seeing a treatment team with a dietician, and a psychologist, until one day when they brought me and my parents into a meeting, and basically said that I was the most severe enduring case of anorexia they’d ever seen, and that I wouldn’t survive. And that my parents should put me into palliative care. And I vividly remember sitting there thinking, okay, well if they’ve given up on me, these so-called professionals who know what they’re doing, and know what they’re talking about, well then there’s no hope. Why should I keep trying? And I think up until that point, even though I hadn’t been succeeding in beating my eating disorder, I had been trying. And at that point, when they just sort of basically said there’s no hope, that was when things went from bad to worse for me, and I really, yeah, hit rock, rock bottom.
And my weight dropped again and it really did get to the point where I was very, very severely ill. And I, because I knew that probably if I engaged with a treatment team again, they would send me to hospital, I kind of refused to go to appointments and see people. Until one day I had to go to my GP for another reason, and I remember walking into his office, and this is the GP that I’ve had since I was a child, and he just looked and me and he said, “I have no idea how you walked in here. “I don’t know how you’re managing to live this way. “You’re so ill.” And he gave me about a week, maybe two, to live. And at that point, he said to me, “You need to make the decision whether “you want to live or you want to die.” And look, I’ve never been suicidal, I love life, and I’ve never really been depressed. But I didn’t, I couldn’t see myself continuing living this life, I felt that it was, I’d been struggling for 15 years at that point, and I felt that if in 15 years, I hadn’t found a treatment that worked, that I just, I was steeped. I couldn’t face the idea of waking up again, and doing it all again. Operating on completely nothing, and running for hours on end on my stress fractures that were just sending searing pain all over my body, and my heart feeling like it was literally just beating out of my chest, and just almost feeling delirious half the time, because you’re just so far gone.
Roxanne – Hmm.
Millie – And so I made that decision that I would rather die, and obviously, my parents found that quite a hard decision to comprehend. And my mom was actually going to– and she said to me, “Why don’t you come with me, “you know it’s your happy place.” And I said, well there’s no point, mom, I’m gonna die. And she said, “Well, you might as well die “in your happy place.” So we went to the Sunshine Coast with the perspective, we’ve got to find somebody who, I’d like to try one last sort of treatment, so to speak, therapy, whatever you wanna call it. And we found this woman who specializes in hypnotherapy. And we saw her, we ended up staying for six months. And that’s eventually what turned my life around and got me well. So that’s kind of a very, very quick, brief chronological sort of summary. But please feel free to ask any questions you like about any part of it. I’m very much an open book because I think we need to, we need to talk about this stuff more, because it enables other people to speak up and not feel so alone.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. So I guess what I would like to touch on with you is that there’s a huge misconception, like you said earlier on in your piece, that if you’re underweight you just put weight back on, and life goes back to normal. But there is really, I guess, a misconception that eating disorders are, that people don’t understand that they are quite mental, mental based, a mental illness, that there is so much going on in your mind that the rest of it kind of doesn’t make as much logical sense as it would. So I wanted to get, yeah, what you experienced in the mental space while you were going through this journey.
Millie – Yeah, look, we talk about this as being a biological mental illness, because it is. There’s, you know, both things come into play. I think for me, it’s really hard to explain. I don’t think anyone can either, and I either probably can’t accurately describe to someone what it’s like to live in that eating disorder mentality until you’ve lived it yourself. And I think that’s the beauty of using lived experience in a clinical context, because you can really interact and connect with somebody who’s suffering on a level that most people can’t. But look, it doesn’t matter what anybody says to you in terms of, you’re underweight, or no you’re not going to get fat, or all of these concerns that you have. It’s like someone, there was a great analogy that I heard the other day which was, it’s like someone telling you that there’s a chair in the room, and you see it as being green, and that person’s saying, well the chair is red, and you see the chair as being green. No, the chair is red. And that’s like, you’re seeing yourself in the mirror, and you’re seeing that reflection of yourself, no, it’s not an accurate reflection, but how do you not believe it? How can you, how can you fathom how, I just thought everyone was lying to me.
Roxanne – Mm-hmm.
Millie – Because I see everything else in the world correctly. You know, I can see that there’s a couch over there, and there’s a bird in a tree, or whatever it is, and so why can’t I see bodies correctly? You know, and I wouldn’t see myself in comparison to other people correctly either. I was very, very concerned with comparing myself to everybody else. So I would always see myself as a lot larger than anybody else. So it wasn’t only myself that I didn’t see in perspective, but I didn’t see other people in perspective as well. And I think, it was really, really interesting, actually, once, even after I’d sort of regained weight, and I felt completely well and recovered, after having treatment in the Sunshine Coast, I was looking back at old photos, and I saw a photo of me back when I was still sick. And I looked at it and I thought, okay, now I see what people were looking at. I see why they were concerned, like I was quite thin. And then six months after that, I was looking through photos for something else, and I saw that photo again. And I just burst into tears, I completely lost it. Because it’s like my brain had finally caught up, and it had actually taken a while for me to get completely back into perspective, and I saw just how frail I’d been. So I think what I’ve learned through this differently is just how powerful the brain can be in terms of convincing you of things, and there’s no rationality to it. So often to parents saying to me, but I don’t, how is that, it doesn’t make sense. No, it doesn’t make sense. Don’t try and rationalize it. Anorexia, Bulimia, they don’t make sense. But it’s so, like I remember doing certain behaviors that were just completely off the wall. Like if I had seen someone doing that, I’d be like what, when I wasn’t in a eating sort of mindset, I’d be like, what are they doing? For example, running up and down the stairs 56 times, because that’s the amount of times you had to do it, or whatever. And so there really isn’t any rationality. You’re completely consumed by this thing that is telling you that this is what you should do. And it’s really interesting because some people say it is a voice. For me, it wasn’t really a voice, it was more a compulsion, an urge, that I needed to do that. And sometimes I’d sit there and try and rationalize with myself and say, no, I’m not gonna go and do that. I shouldn’t be exercising or no, I’m not gonna throw that food away, I should be eating it. But sometimes I could sit there and go through that for hours and hours, and just get to the point where it was too much, and I couldn’t bear the thought of doing it, and how I was gonna feel afterward, so I just went along with the eating disorder.
Roxanne – Hmm, hmm.
Millie – So it’s yeah, it’s an absolute minefield, it’s sort of like, it’s almost, one of the analogies I use often, it’s like a mirror maze, you just don’t know, you don’t know what’s, there’s all these trap doors, and you’re just not quite sure, it’s almost like shifting sands as well, because you think you’re, I’m into being really sort of adamant about tackling one aspect of the eating disorder, or a particular behavior that was really ingrained in me. And I would nail that, and then all of a sudden I’d already moved on to something different, so it shifts, and changes, and morphs, which makes recovery all the more complicated.
Roxanne – Yeah, and do you think that’s why we see a lot of people that go through eating disorders have like, that their recovery periods are in the 10, 12, 15 year mark, because they have to work through so much to come out the other side?
Millie – Absolutely, like I think, everybody is unique and individual in that considering the duration of my eating disorder, it was quite remarkable that it only took me six months to recover. Generally, given statistics and things like that, it would take longer. But I think everybody’s different, and I also think they, the space that you’re in in terms of how, whether you’ve truly accepted what the eating disorder has done to your life, and whether you’re actually ready to change. It’s a big factor in how long it’s going to take you. You know, I really jumped in, boots and all, and told myself that this was my final chance, I was gonna give it everything that I’ve got, and I owed it to myself to give myself a chance to see what life was like. Because at the end of the day, I’d been 12 when I first got sick. So you don’t really, you’re not living as an adult, you’re a child. So I wanted to know what it was like to truly live as an adult. And I think sometimes when people go into recovery, they might think they’re ready, but they’re not completely ready to really confront and get out everything that they need to in order to truly get well. And I think it also, there’s a lot of different factors in it, whether somebody’s experienced significant trauma, what their support system is like. I was very, very lucky to have incredibly supportive family and friends around me. Now if somebody doesn’t have that, then it does make recovery harder. And also, whether those family and friends appear to do their best to try and understand what’s going on for that person, and try and be as compassionate and empathetic as they can. I think compassion, and empathy, and just radical acceptance of what’s going on, the power of that can’t be underestimated. As well as love, as well as that completely, unfaltering, unwavering love. Because you feel hopeless, and you feel unlovable, and you feel like, there’s this intense self-hatred. So to have outside people just holding that hope for you, and that love, and just believing that you will get through it is an incredibly powerful thing.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. Oh my gosh, I’m like welling up, that’s amazing. So, and I guess for you, being, have you been endED for three years now?
Millie – Yeah, gosh, I think it’ll be two and a half, honestly, don’t have that figure, it’s been a bit too busy for me to think about it.
Roxanne – That’s all right. Yeah, so at least a couple of years now. So what, I guess looking back at, you mentioned you have an incredibly supportive family and friends network behind you. Quite often you hear with people that go through eating disorders, that they tend to ostracize, they ostracize themselves, they push their loved ones away. Now, looking back, how amazing is it, or how does it make you feel to know that you know your parents didn’t give up, they were always there, and they were always working with you to find a solution?
Millie – It’s, yeah, it’s pretty incredible. I feel very, very, very blessed, and I don’t say that lightly. I think I was incredibly lucky. There were some very, very dark times, and there were some instances where at the time, it was like a breaking point. My mom had nervous breakdowns through the process. And I vividly remember there was this one point where my brother just turned to me one night and he said, “You’re ruining our entire family. “You’re gonna give mom cancer. “Mom and dad are gonna end up divorced “and it’s all because of you.” And I’d been sick since he was, there’s four years between us so pretty much his entire childhood, nearly, was my being sick. And even then, I remember him saying that to me, and it was like I just didn’t, and I love him, had a very, very close relationship with him, and I do now. But it just didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me. I was so consumed with my eating disorder that it was like, okay whatever. I still wanna be skinny. I still wanna restrict. I still wanna do this. And I think, but when I look back, the lying, and the manipulation, and I mean I can’t believe just how overwrought with these behaviors, that was so not me. And I think, that’s one of the things my mom said to me, she said, “I knew that wasn’t you. “I knew that wasn’t the essence of your being.” So that kind of was something she used to help her. She knew it wasn’t me. She knew that somewhere along the line I was gonna come back into inhabiting my body. But it was really, really tough. And I think it’s a testament to my mom and dad, and my brother, and my friends, that they didn’t just give up. I think there were definite points where, because I was so obsessed with my restriction and my exercise, that it basically took over my entire, all of my day. So I didn’t want to interact with anybody. And also, I think there’s that feeling of you put yourself out there, and you interact with people, and you see people, then they might say things to you, and they might force you to face things that you’re not ready to face. And I think social connection and not isolating yourself is a really, really helpful thing in recovery. And I definitely see that a lot with the support groups that I run. Often, girls can really have had really, really tough weeks, and just to come together and share in a non-judgemental, compassionate environment, how they’re going, and to have some laughs. It doesn’t need to be huge, deep therapy sessions or anything like that. Just to connect with people where they feel they can be themselves, and they feel that they can truly let out what’s happening to them, and they can be understood.
Roxanne – Hmm, absolutely. And coming back to what you said about, you’d mentioned your mom describing it as you not being in your body, and you eventually wanting to bring you back in. That is kind of the basis of what Mark and Gayle Forbes talk about, they are the founders of endED. I think, I was having a chat with Mark, probably a while ago now, but he was describing how, the idea of ED, the ED, the eating disorder, actually taking over. And I guess, can you recall the driver’s seat analogy, ’cause I think that was really cool.
Millie – Yes.
Roxanne – I’d love for our listeners to hear that one.
Millie – Okay so look, I think yes, it very much is like another being, it very much felt to me, when I look back on it, like being possessed, and I don’t say that lightly, it really does. But, and mom used to say to me, it was like this mask just came over me. She just knew the eating disorder was in the room, and it was like there was no point in talking to me, no point in trying to make me eat, no point in trying to make me stop running up and down, or whatever, because the eating disorder was in full control. And she said she could just see it in my eyes. One thing that I do, that I had learned through training under Caroline Costin, and I do think that it’s quite a powerful thing, is that it’s good not to completely separate the person from the eating disorder, because some people do find that they’re quite possessive of their eating disorder, and so in recovery, it’s good not to say, right, we’re gonna get rid of your eating disorder. It’s more about inside of you, you’ve got the eating disorder self, and the healthy self. And in recovery, the goal is to strengthen that healthy self to the point where it can take care of your eating disorder self, and the two can sort of live in harmony. Because ultimately, that eating disorder is a part of you. It is manifested inside of you, but you can get to a point where it no longer dictates your life or is even a part of your life. But the driving seat analogy, it is a great one. It’s basically saying, you get in the car, and you’ve got the eating disorder in the driver’s seat, basically. Driving along, it’s got full control. In recovery, it’s like right, well, at first you’re in the boot, trapped in the boot. And then you kind of get towards the passenger, sitting in the back seat. And then you kind of get into the passenger seat. And eventually, you can take the wheel from anorexia, or you can use the analogy the other way around, the anorexia being there and then you kind of let this person start driving you. And I think, as silly as it sounds, it is, it happens so fast, and it’s so easy for it just to let it kind of do it. It’s not a conscious decision. Like I didn’t realize, or I didn’t think, all right, well I’m gonna let this take hold and see what happens. It wasn’t like that, it was like I just decided I wanted to lose a little bit of weight, and I just wanted to fit in a little bit more. And then all of a sudden, you’re just down this rabbit hole.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. And so I guess for you, having gone through that process yourself, how do find that this has helped you with connecting with other young people, actually people of all ages, that’s another misconception too, isn’t it, that it’s young women. There’s women, or people of all genders, sorry, men and women, who have late onset eating disorders, we’re talking 40s, 50s, 60s they’re then starting to manifest in them. So how have you been finding that your lived experience is really helping to reach through and connect with the people that you work with?
Millie – Yeah, look, just on the age thing, absolutely, it’s a huge misconception, and I think I’d really hope that that’s one of sort of the myths that we can help dispel, so to speak. My youngest client is eight, and my oldest client is 65. So it just goes to show, eating disorders don’t discriminate. And I think there are still some very harmful stigmas and misconceptions out there that just continue to perpetuate that myth of an eating disorder being, and what an eating disorder looks like as well. It’s like, it’s not somebody, generally somebody goes, right, okay someone’s got an eating disorder, right, they must be skinny. It’s like probably 75% of my clients you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking at them that they had an issue with their weight. So I think there’s a lot of work to be done in that space. But, now I’ve forgotten the other part of your question.
Roxanne – That’s all right, just how you’re able to use your experience to connect, yeah.
Millie – Yeah, so basically I find it really, really, really powerful, and I think, because when my clients are talking to me, I can practically almost finish their sentences, because I know what their eating disorder is telling them, it told me that too. Yes, every eating disorder is individual, and it tailors itself to that particular person, but there are so many commonalities in terms of the vulnerabilities that it plays on, and the insecurities. I think something that I’ve found quite incredible is that the level of trust that my clients have in me, because they feel that I know, I’ve been there. And something I always say to my clients in my initial consultations is that I will never lie to you, I will never even just tell little white lies or fabricate anything, because that was something I was so worried about when I was recovering. I felt like every clinician was sort of out to get me. I felt like they were trying to play little tricks on me, and it was all about making me gain weight, and that I’d end up feeling uncomfortable with myself. And so my clients know that I’ve got no ulterior motives. I’ve got no reason to lie to them or make them do anything. And at the end of the day, I can’t make them do anything. I can’t force them to eat, I can’t force them to stop exercising. I can’t force them to fall in love with their bodies. But I can give them tools, and skills, and knowledge, coping mechanisms and all of that, and my own stories and things that worked for me. And it’s their decision whether they would like to engage in those, and whether that works for them or not. But I think just, they know that they can talk to me openly and honestly without needing to censor themselves or feel silly for being so upset about something that other people might not understand. And they can ring me up and be balling their eyes out about having to take morning tea, and I’m not gonna blink an eyelid. I totally remember like it was yesterday, that intense fear of having to eat something. It’s like, I said to someone the other day who didn’t have much of an understanding of eating disorders. I said, it’s like sitting someone down who’s got a fear of spiders, and sitting them down with a live plate of spiders, and saying right, put your hand in there, and I’m gonna tip them all over you, and stuff like that. And some people might say, that’s a bit extreme. It’s not. That’s the level of intense fear and anxiety, and literal just terror, and you not only have to face that once a day, for most people in recovery you’re facing it six times a day. And I think, that’s another thing, with, say for example, alcohol, by and large, you can actually avoid alcohol. People don’t drink alcohol, generally, people don’t drink alcohol six times a day, right? So, you can’t avoid food. It’s there, and it has to be eaten multiple times a day. And so it’s that constant having to face that fear. And I think, yeah, I think the level of strength and courage that it takes is vastly underestimated by the general population that haven’t experienced an eating disorder before.
Roxanne – Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think for you, moving into this space, obviously you’ve really thrived as a mentor, and an ambassador for endED, your passion is palpable really, it’s really incredible. But when making that decision, were you ever worried about triggers and things for you, and how you would deal with that? Or did you feel that your mindset was already so solidified that you had left it all behind and it wasn’t going to be an issue?
Millie – Yeah, so really interesting, ’cause I didn’t, if someone had said to me, you will recover and you will work in this space, I would’ve looked at them like they were just, you know, like absolutely no way, if I ever recover, which I didn’t believe I ever would, there’s no way I would want anything to do with anything with eating disorders. And I remember taking some time away in the states when I first recovered, just to kind of find myself and decide what I wanted to do. And I vividly remember being in a park in Los Angeles, and seeing a mother pushing her daughter on a swing, and saying to her, “You’ve gotten too fat, “you’re too heavy, I can’t push you anymore.”
Roxanne – Oh goodness.
Millie – And my heart just, I almost wanted to cry, I just thought, that could be the beginning of the end for that little girl in terms of having issues. She could’ve been only five or six.
Roxanne – Wow.
Millie – And that to me was, people had been saying to me, “I think you should write about your experience. “You should share it.” And I hadn’t up to that point. And that night, I woke up at about 2:00am thinking about this incident that I’d seen in the park, and I just wrote, I started writing about my experience, and writing about, and I just felt so passionate about it. I just felt like, I feel like this is what I need to do. And I look back and I thank God I was quite naive, because I left LA, I went back to Auckland, gave myself 24 hours to pack up my entire life, I decided I was moving to my happy place, Sunshine Coast, and I was going to change the eating disorder world somehow. I knew nobody, I didn’t know how I was gonna do it. But I just believed that that was, I just felt like I’d found my calling. And I still do, I still very much do feel like this is my passion. And I, look, I definitely did end up with some trepidation in terms of being really careful to, not be on guard, but just check in with myself.
Roxanne – Yeah, be mindful.
Millie – Is this affecting me? And it’s really interesting because it’s actually done the opposite in terms of it’s just made me even more happy, and more sure of how far I’ve come in my recovery, and how incredible life is on the outside. You know, when you’re dealing with people every day, it just reminds you of those, the depths that you went to yourself. I can instantly transport myself back there, even though I’ve been recovered now for three years. But I, but my life is so far removed from that. I can’t, I can 100% say that I would never go back there. And I think, I don’t know, I just sort of feel that I’ve got such a belief in a lived experience helping in that context as part of a multidisciplinary team, and I’ve seen it work so incredibly well on some of the residential facilities in the states, and now since I’ve trained under Caroline Costin and am a recovery coach, I just feel even more strong and sure that I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life. Yes, there are a whole lot of other side things I do that I wanna keep continuing to do, which keep me inspired and prevent me from getting too, I guess, bogged down in dealing with people’s issues every day. But definitely the recovery coaching, and being at that grassroots frontline level will always be part of what I do.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. And so you mentioned you came to your happy place with no connections whatsoever. How is it that you managed to connect up with Mark and Gayle?
Millie – So that was actually through a mutual friend. They hooked me up by email to Mark, and yeah, I just sort of said, look, this is my dream, this is what I wanna do. And at that point they had sort of thought about endED and were running parents groups and support groups out of their home. And I decided, sorry, we sort of sat down together, and I just sort of decided what I’d like to do, and they said, “Fantastic, “let’s make this thing really work.” And I can’t remember how long after that it was that Mark sort of, and Gayle, threw themselves into it full time as well. So I think it’s, I feel incredibly, incredibly lucky to have connected with them, and to be involved with two people who are just as passionate as I am about creating change, and who have had lived experience in the carers perspective as well. I feel like our collective lived experience and the different realms is incredibly, incredibly powerful. And I think, I’ve worked in a lot of other different business worlds, and how we work together as a team, and that intense drive and passion, even though we’re working seven days a week. We don’t stop because we know it’s the right thing to do, and we know this is what we wanna create. And we literally do feel like we’re realizing a dream, a collective dream. And I think that it’s an incredible thing to be part of. So even on the days when I just wanna tear my hair out, I just really need a break, I just take a deep breath and go, yeah but wow, look at what we’re creating. And I do feel like we’re creating real change, and that is an amazing feeling.
Roxanne – Hmm, absolutely. And I’d just like to let everyone know that it’s not only the one on one and the face to face, the sessions with the carers, and the people themselves, but endED teamed up with Butterfly Foundation to create the endED Butterfly House, so that will be the country’s first residential treatment facility for people that are battling with eating disorders. So, you guys have, obviously that passion has been taken to all levels. You’ve received some government funding, and that’s going to start coming out of the ground here on the Sunshine Coast next year. So, I mean, that’s an incredible feat for any team to undertake, let alone such a small and passionate group of people.
Millie – Yeah, look, the residential is, as you say, it’s a realization of a collective dream, and I think, look, it is so, so needed. We’re 35 years behind the USA in terms of what we offer, in terms of eating disorder treatment, which I think is an absolute travesty. But there is so much evidence to suggest that the clinical model that we’re still pumping out through our hospital systems doesn’t work. It’s the same system that didn’t work when I was 12, and it still doesn’t work now. The system of, right, get their weight up, and then put them out into the community. And mentally, it’s just a disaster. And I see it on a daily basis when I’m working with clients that are in the hospital system. So what we’re creating in Mooloolah Valley, it’s incredible. I, it’s a beautiful property, it’s 25 acres. And the minute you drive down that driveway, it literally just has a healing feel about it. And we’re gonna have beautiful animals, we’re going to have equine therapy, we’re going to have art therapy, we’re going to, as well as the traditional therapies like CBT and DBT, and those sort of things. But we’re very much, we believe in the value of the holistic thing, and I even took a group of girls out yesterday, and we now have a little piglet, Hope, and we’ve got sheep, Bo and Peep. We are getting baby peacocks in a couple of days, which is very, very exciting.
Roxanne – Oh wow!
Millie – Yes. And it’s just that, someone just turned to me and said, “Wow, I can imagine getting well here.”
Roxanne – Hmm.
Millie – So it’s very, very exciting. And I, another thing that I’m very passionate about intertwining into all of this is the neuroscience aspect of it all. Because I think that that’s an incredibly powerful thing to go alongside things like CBT or DBT, or equine therapy.
Roxanne – Sorry, can I just ask, for those who don’t know, what is CBT, and is it DBT, what they are?
Millie – So CBT is cognitive behavioral therapy, so it’s a type of therapy, and DBT is dialectical behavioral therapy. So different versions, there’s also CBTE, there’s lots of different variations on different sort of therapies, but often in a traditional sense of what they’ve used.
Roxanne – Right.
Millie – In treatment for eating disorders. What was I saying? So the neuroscience, I’m obviously a big believer in that, because no one ever said to me, until I started seeing someone here on the Sunshine Coast, well you can change your brain, it’s just neural pathways. And I think empowering people to realize that, enabling people to realize that is incredibly empowering, that’s what I mean to say. Like, yes, it’s tough, the NLP and hypnotherapy that I did was literally the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life, because you have to work so hard at changing those ingrained thought patterns. But you can do it, it is possible. I’m living proof to that. And I think if we can start to demystify, I think there’s still this idea that neuroscience is complicated and scary, and it’s not. It’s an incredible, incredible thing. And here on the coast with the Thompson Neuroscience Institute, Professor Jim Magopolis is doing some incredible, incredible things. And so my ideal is that we tap into that, and we use that as part of the residential. Because it is incredibly, incredibly powerful stuff. And yeah, so that’s something else that I very much want to advocate for.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. And I remember, I don’t know if it was yourself or Mark saying, but you know, the importance of having a residential facility where people can go and literally stay, is that when you are working through an eating disorder, it’s with you 24/7. And at the moment, the treatment options are not 24/7. And having a place where you can go and just dedicate that time to healing and to recovering that is an all encompassing, holistic, 24/7 journey, isn’t it?
Millie – Yeah, absolutely, and I think, you know, eating disorders are 24/7, they never give up, they never relent. And so when people say to me also, what are your hours? It’s like, well I don’t have hours, because eating disorders don’t have hours in terms of a coaching perspective. But having that all encompassing residential thing is crucial because otherwise you’re in an environment which isn’t, say in a hospital, or even in a private clinic, it’s not a home. So when you come out into the community and you have to try and live like a normal person, it’s really, really difficult. It’s all these things that you have to try and learn how to do again. Basically you have to learn how to live again when you’re in recovery. So to be in a setting of a home where you are able to use a kitchen, and learn how to be okay with touching food again, and learning how to cook meals, and being able to portion things out without it being in a clinical environment. It’s huge, because then, I mean, there’s always going to be, when you step down from a residential, having been in a residential treatment setting, into your normal home environment, of course it’s going to be still difficult and confronting in different ways. But it’s much, much easier, smoother transitioning from a residential to home than it is to hospital to home. So yeah, I really, I’ve seen it, when I’ve been in the states I’ve seen the incredible results that I’ve had clients go through, some of the Monte Nido Clinics. And it’s miles, miles different to them going from hospital to home.
Roxanne – Hmm.
Millie – It really sets them up well to have a really good chance at sustaining and maintaining that recovery.
Roxanne – Wonderful. This is so exciting, I can’t believe this is actually happening.
Millie – Yeah, it’s pretty exciting! We’re excited, yes.
Roxanne – Yeah, wonderful. So obviously that’s gonna be a major project for you in 2019, but was there anything else that I guess, that you’re working towards either on a personal level or professional level next year?
Millie – Yeah, look, I was in New Zealand recently speaking at some, they do some Eating Disorder Hope Nights over there. And it was a beautiful evening full of different elements. We had somebody who’d recovered who sang a song about her recovery. We had someone do a dance interpretation. And I spoke, and I would really like to do a couple of those next year here on the Coast. I also, like I mentioned before, I’m quite passionate about doing more in the neuroscience area, because I do feel that we’re sort of leading the way on the Sunshine Coast, not only in terms of eating disorders, but that neuroscience aspect of it. And my other passion project for next year is to speak in schools and help them develop more awareness and understanding of eating disorders, and how they can help if they start to see signs. Because I do believe that prevention and early detection is key. And so I’m looking at sort of different, different, different avenues of how the best way to pursue that is. So there’s lots of exciting, exciting things ahead.
Roxanne – Yeah, absolutely. And if I can, sorry, I’m getting croaky. If I can put you on the spot, what advice would you give to people who may have some concerns about a loved one, a family member or a dear friend who might be showing some warning signs, or what are some of the warning signs that people can, I guess just take notice of?
Milie – I think, look, there are numerous different warning signs, I think. I think it’s difficult to sort of pin point. Look, there are traditional, classic warning signs, the restriction of food, avoiding food, excessive exercising, becoming particularly, I guess general changes in behavior around food. Dramatic weight loss, things like that. But also things like isolating themselves, not, if they’re a particularly bubble, bright person not quite being that bubbly, bright person. Because I think it can just be those sort of nuances, those slight, slight changes that can be the beginnings of something. In terms of approaching people about it, I think the best thing that you can possibly do is be really, just be very open. And don’t make them feel like they’re being attacked or set upon. Just make them very, very aware that you’re there to talk to. And absolutely tell them your concerns, but just in a very non-judgemental, I’m here to help and I would like to help and support you through this. Probably what you’re going to get it, “I haven’t got a problem. “No, no, no, no.”
Roxanne – Yeah, ’cause you won’t be able to break through that on your first encounter.
Millie – Absolutely not, but what that hopefully will do is it will make them think, and possibly, maybe they haven’t been thinking that there’s anything of concern in their behavior. And it will also just make them realize, okay, there’s someone there so I could reach out to that person if need be. And I think also, educate yourself about eating disorders so that you’ve got an understanding of what might be going on for that person. And I guess I come back to this sort of that compassion, and that non-judgment. Because I think if you can come from a place of not judging, but still providing that compassion, and that empathy, and that love, and just holding that space of like, okay, I can see that there might be a bit of a problem here, how can I help you get through this? Just, I think the key is just don’t come across as confronting and like, right, well I’m gonna take you to the doctor, and this is what we’re going to do, and let them sort of guide the process a little bit. And obviously, I mean if someone is in a particularly severe condition, and they are so consumed by the eating disorder to the point where they actually do need to be forced to go to the doctor, that’s different. But there are so many different scenarios.
Roxanne – Yeah, yeah, but if we’re talking like early detection and prevention.
Millie – Yeah, absolutely, and I think the other key thing is that we need to be on the outside, we need to be really, really mindful of the language that we use, and how we talk about bodies. Not only our own bodies, but the bodies of other people. And again, coming from a place of non-judgment with that because, especially children, they pick up on that, they pick up on that if we are fat shaming someone. And people say, I wouldn’t fat shame someone, but fat shaming can just be a slight comment, or a look, or a whatever. And I think it’s really difficult, because as women we all have days where we don’t feel on top of the world, and we don’t feel amazing about ourselves. But it’s really ensuring that you don’t allow that language of oh, I hate my stomach, or this, that, the other, around vulnerable young people who may then develop insecurities about themselves. And I think there’s something beautiful about children who completely just are so carefree, and they haven’t, they’re not concerned about what they look like or anything like that. And I think it’s a beautiful thing, and something that we need to make sure remains for as long as possible. So yeah, being careful about the language that you use, and just also, complimenting, it’s really interesting when you start to, when you do sort of think about it and become aware of what you say to someone when you first meet them. It’s usually, oh, you look amazing, or it’s generally something to do with looks. And it’s only about six months ago that I read something online and I thought, that’s really interesting. And so it’s a really good sort of tool to come up with other ideas of things that you can say to somebody rather than it being based around their looks. There are so many people, and you hear it all the time, oh my goodness, you’ve lost so much weight! And that is a compliment, that is ingrained in our society that it’s a compliment. And I think there are so many other things about yeah, about people, other than how they look. That’s another thing that I guess if we can, it really needs to be a cultural shift in the way that we talk. And that’s another big issue. Maybe I should put that on my 2019 list.
Roxanne – Oh dear, getting long already.
Millie – In my spare time.
Roxanne -Wonderful, that’s great. And I just wanted to check, we’ve covered so much in this conversation already, but if there’s anything else, any other parting words, or advice, or any other messages that you wanted to put out there to the world.
Millie – No, look, I just think one of my big things is that we need to talk about these things more. So if there’s anybody out there who’s struggling with reaching out, or feels that they need support or help, please, please reach out to me. I’m more than happy to help in any way I can, and I, certainly if there’s somebody out there who’s had a lived experience and has recovered, and feels like maybe I do wanna speak about my story and use that to help others, please get in touch because there’s nothing more powerful than someone who’s been through it, helping others, or just telling their stories so other people don’t feel so alone. There’s strength in numbers.
Roxanne – Absolutely, that’s beautiful. All right, so I will pop on some details below, not only for endED and a way to get in touch with Millie, but also for some other services throughout Australia that can help all those who are going through an eating disorder to reach out and get some assistance there. So thank you so, so much for your time, Millie, it was an awesome conversation.
Millie – Thank you, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to chat to you.
Roxanne – Wonderful, thank you, and yes, so for those of you who are watching, we will be bringing you a few more interviews in this first season here, so if you wanna keep following along, make sure that you like and subscribe. And we’ll absolutely be digging up some more amazing people like Millie to share their stories and to inspire you to make some changes, and give you some hope in your own lives. So thank you so, so much, Millie, for your time, it was really wonderful.
Millie – My pleasure, thank you.