Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producers: Stephen Rice and Kirsty Thomson
Anorexia is the cruellest of diseases. It tends to claim our young, our best and our brightest - in fact, the very people most likely to succeed in life.
That's certainly the case with Amy Uebergang.
Amy is a fiercely intelligent girl, perfectly aware that her mind is playing tricks on her but powerless to do anything about it.
She's shown incredible courage in allowing us into her life. So have her parents, Michael and Christine. Watching this family struggle is confronting viewing. But it will help us all understand.
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AMY UEBERGANG: Mum! Take control or this will get worse!
LIZ HAYES: The cries of a young woman whose body and mind have been ravaged by anorexia.
AMY UEBERGANG: I don't want to break down now, seriously, can you not see this?
LIZ HAYES: The torment and torture of a mental illness...
AMY UEBERGANG: I know, I'm the wrong and bad person, I know.
LIZ HAYES: ,,and a family in crisis.
AMY UEBERGANG: I hate you all. Once tea is over, they leave straight away.
LIZ HAYES: For the past 6.5 years, 23-year-old Amy Uebergang has been in the grip of anorexia. When you look in that mirror, what do you see?
AMY UEBERGANG: I don't see much. I...I don't see a problem. A lot of the time when I look in the mirror I just see flesh. I see that I'm not doing it right, that I'm not what I'm supposed to be.
LIZ HAYES: And what is that?
AMY UEBERGANG: Well, I've been diagnosed with anorexia and people say I look a certain way, that I do look sick. For most of the part I just... I see what it tells me to see, which is something rather grotesque and big or, if anything, normal.
LIZ HAYES: You know this is a mental illness don't you?
AMY UEBERGANG: Why have you changed it, mum? I wasn't going to do this, I was going to cope!
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: You will cope.
AMY UEBERGANG: I was going to cope tonight!
LIZ HAYES: It is a mental illness that carries with it confronting physical symptoms and leaves Amy confused and conflicted. And frustrations that often boil over uncontrollably. Explain to me what you're feeling when I see your behaviour change. You become more aggressive, more disruptive.
AMY UEBERGANG: I'm feeling something really intense. Just kind of comes over you like a wave and it overwhelms you. At the same time, some small part of you knows what's going on and it's like standing there watching it and you're feeling frustration that you can't control it, that you can't stop it, that you're acting that way and then you know that soon there's going to be remorse or regret or shame or embarrassment or something to follow but it still won't change your behaviour at the time.
LIZ HAYES: Do you get scared?
AMY UEBERGANG: Very, very much.
LIZ HAYES: And what scares you?
AMY UEBERGANG: I've actually been afraid, a lot of the consequences of them. Mainly the reactions from my parents. Will they stop loving me? Will they stop caring? Will they hit me back? Will they tell me off? Will they walk away? Will they wash their hands of me? Have I pushed them over the limit this time? Mum!
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: What are you pointing to?
AMY UEBERGANG: I will headbutt you.
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: Which one?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: We tried everything that we could at our resources, at wits end you know, and all I can say is that every day was a living hell and it has been from the moment the thing took a a grip of her.
AMY UEBERGANG: Mum, I am broken! I am hurting!
LIZ HAYES: Amy's parents, Michael and Christine Uebergang have tried everything.
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: I can recall one occasion where I was stamping my feet just pleading and crying and just pouring out my heart to, you know, what will it take to get you to eat? You're starving to death, you need to sit, come on.
LIZ HAYES: But after so many years watching their daughter fade away, they're now at breaking point.
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: It's falling apart, so that's the reality. We are blessed to have such beautiful children, every one of them and we're living by a thread of love.
LIZ HAYES: So everybody is impacted upon?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: Tormented by it, um and...
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: I don't think anybody wants to be there, Michael.
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: I don't want to be, sure Christine doesn't, the children don't. Do they love Amy? Yes. Do we? Yes. If you take a thick rope and peel off the the finest fibre you can, that's what we're hanging on.
LIZ HAYES: Amy was raised in a normal suburban home in Ipswich, in Queensland. She was a bright, sensitive child and a high achiever.
AMY UEBERGANG: Highly strung. Anyone that grew up with me would describe me that way I think, as being quite an intense person. Need for perfectionism, control in my life.
LIZ HAYES: So even from a little girl or a young girl, you needed to have everything right.
AMY UEBERGANG: Yeah, I was always comparing myself, always a feeling that something's not right, just trying, trying to perfect, trying to meet expectations
LIZ HAYES: And has that changed, that person? Are you still that same person?
AMY UEBERGANG: Yeah, I still think I'm that inadequate failure.
LIZ HAYES: Do you see that? Do you think that's what you are? AI'm really not much at the moment. Really not much of a person at the moment. Just to feel like just an empty shell.
LIZ HAYES: When did anorexia rear its ugly head in Amy's life?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: 17. At the age at... the seeds were there at the end of high school and during those last years.
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: Well the first time I knew was she had a skin problem, so I took her to a doctor who was recommended to me and while we were in the waiting room, she said she hadn't menstruated for three months I think it was and the bombshell hit me.
LIZ HAYES: You knew then?
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: Straightaway.
AMY UEBERGANG: So it doesn't matter even if they all are good I've still got to pick one and then how do you pick one because you've got to make a choice.
LIZ HAYES: Amy's illness is complicated by the fact that she also suffers Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Every meal, every mouthful is planned at least a week ahead, every piece of food weighed, examined and often rejected.
AMY UEBERGANG: They won't see what I see right now, Dad, do they?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: No, if you're worried about this there may be a brown crack inside the flesh
RENAE BEAUMONT: She has an obsessive compulsive personality style. Every part of her life has these routines and rituals that dictate them and eating is just one example of that.
LIZ HAYES: Psychologist Renae Beaumont has been treating Amy for four years.
AMY UEBERGANG: So? Just because it's on the list and we always have it doesn't mean it's not a problem.
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: Ok, you finished? Go through the last two things.
RENAE BEAUMONT: The issues that Amy faces go far beyond food. Food is one example of how she tries to restore control in her life and how she has tried to create an identity for herself.
AMY UEBERGANG: Every calorie there has to be a certain amount of concentration appreciation of it, otherwise it's just...
LIZ HAYES: Amy and her parents have all had counselling, but now this illness is proving to be devastating for everyone.
AMY UEBERGANG: Are you defeated?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: No, I'm not.
LIZ HAYES: Is the family is breaking down?
RENAE BEAUMONT: Yeah, I mean I think it's been gradually happening for a long time in terms of this has a massive impact on her parent's relationship. Given where her disorders at, at the moment, she's also trying to control what her siblings eat, so her family is resorting to having to hide food for them to get adequate nutrition each day because Amy's so distressed by foods that taste good but that the rules in her head won't let her eat, so...
AMY UEBERGANG: So she's controlling the house?
RENAE BEAUMONT: Absolutely, yeah.
AMY UEBERGANG: Mum why does your f-----g tea look so good? Why does your tea look so f-----g good? (UNINTELLIABLE MUTTERED CONVERSATION)
LIZ HAYES: Life for everyone in the Uebergang household has changed. Michael and Christine no longer have full-time jobs and the rest of the family do their best to understand Amy's illness. Do you feel isolated?
AMY UEBERGANG: I am. It...anorexia doesn't allow for friends. It doesn't allow for freedom, it doesn't allow for anything that may be enjoyable. Let me walk on the other side because if they're filming me and they're seeing my gut hanging out... ..I don't even know what I look like.
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: You don't have a gut to hang out.
AMY UEBERGANG: I'm wearing a tight shirt which I don't usually do.
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: Amy, there's no gut there, I wish there was.
LIZ HAYES: Of all the topics Amy is happy to discuss, food proves to be the most sensitive and difficult. Can I ask what you do eat?
AMY UEBERGANG: I should have been prepared for that question shouldn't I? I feel a lot, I feel... I feel it's a lot, so much that I feel I can't say.
LIZ HAYES: But she has scores of diaries listing the food she eats. How far in advance do you plan?
AMY UEBERGANG: At present what I do is write up a weekly plan, in advance for that, for the coming week and that, yeah, it details everything that I'm going to have or that I can have for that week.
LIZ HAYES: And you're deciding in advance what you want to eat, the types of food you want and what, what...is that right?
AMY UEBERGANG: The decisions are based on rules in my head. It's not, it's not a choice, it's based...there's like systems and rules in my head that I cannot even begin to comprehend breaking.
LIZ HAYES: Makes it really impossible for you to make a decision?
AMY UEBERGANG: Yeah. I'm yeah that's what I find myself in all the time, impossible, the situation where I can find nothing that meets all the rules and therefore I'm left with no option, I can't have anything.
LIZ HAYES: Do you get hungry?
AMY UEBERGANG: That's a... um...yeah I do. That's a really big thing to admit, but also it's hard to answer because I don't... ..my bodily cues, I don't have any awareness of them, I think. Like it's, I don't trust myself.
LIZ HAYES: Amy is an intelligent young woman with a clear understanding of her own illness. It's easy to forget that a wrong word can send her crashing down. You know ah, this will sound silly, but when I look at this that's more food than I expected to be honest. Is that a good sign?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: Be honest.
AMY UEBERGANG: I'm not going there.
LIZ HAYES: Have I...
AMY UEBERGANG: You've upset me, yes.
LIZ HAYES: Because it's...I've mentioned the amount of food? What I'd considered a positive sign was for Amy an insult, a suggestion she was eating too much. I guess I was encouraged to see the the amount of food that was there.
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: Yep.
LIZ HAYES: But that was the wrong thing, that was not the perception that Amy got?
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: No. To be surprised that she's eating anything at all, regardless of quantity is to imply that she's a fat pig. And that's how anorexia interprets everything and you can put any good construction that you want on it, anorexia will always have a thought to contradict that.
AMY UEBERGANG: I hate yous being a part of everything, you make it so hard on me.
LIZ HAYES: Amy has been in and out of hospitals for years. There has been no cure, and now her situation has become desperate.
AMY UEBERGANG: Don't treat me nicely!
CHRISTINE UEBERGANG: I will.
AMY UEBERGANG: Don't!
MICHAEL UEBERGANG: You cannot, I cannot describe the suffering that she's going through. I cannot imagine that anybody ever can. I just have the deepest admiration for her clinging to life.
LIZ HAYES: It is profoundly distressing to see a once-vibrant young woman fall into the grip of an illness that is sapping away her life. It has not been easy for Amy to tell her story. But she's now back in full-time treatment, working at regaining the life she so richly deserves. Do you want this illness to go away? Do you want it to be gone?
AMY UEBERGANG: Yep, I want it. I want the magic pill. I want someone to ride in on their white horse and just take it away. But I know that's not realistic and I'm going to have to work for it. I'm going to have to work for my freedom. I'm going to have to work for my recovery and I'm willing to do that. I know I've got to do that.