A range of experiences have taught Jessica one valuable lesson. That no matter where you come from, the adversities you face, or the demons that may try to hold you back, they don’t determine your ability to achieve.
A career in swimming helped Jessica recognise early on the importance in life of dedication, time management, persistence, and hard work.
“I won state and national titles from ages 13 - 15, and also had the privilege of competing at the 2012 Olympic Trials in South Australia when I was 14 years old.”
But with the pursuit of the sport she loved came the daunting pressures elite athletes experience. At 16, her swimming career ended and she developed an eating disorder, spurred by the focus on body image that athletes, particularly women, face.
“Swimming exacerbated my tendency to put extreme amounts of pressure on myself, which began to manifest across other aspects of my life including the arenas of sport, academia, social life, and body image.”
On top of her own issues, her father was confronting medical problems that at times became life threatening. It seemed that her life was at a low point, yet her focus on study and going to University remained strong.
“Despite these struggles, it was really important to me that I completed the HSC the best I could. I had my eyes on Criminology at ANU for some time and achieving the marks necessary to attend was a huge achievement for me. I chose ANU because of its ranking as one of the best universities in Australia. A bonus was that it is only a short drive from Wagga Wagga which made it easy to see my family if things went wrong with my dad’s health.”
Jessica’s fascination with criminology had existed for some time. She appreciated that criminology and sociology together helped to paint those shades of grey that exist in between other disciplines such as law, and help us to better understand the context of human behaviour.
“Criminology offers a number of different pathways. In an ideal world, I would like to end up in some sort of social work or field of research. There is so much untapped potential among disadvantaged portions of the population and they are oftentimes the ones negatively impacted by the way the [criminal justice] system is currently set up in Australia. Criminology has the capacity to direct policy in the right direction and understand crime and why it happens from a wide range of lenses to benefit those in need of support.”
The transition to University was difficult for both Jessica and her family. Her father’s condition worsened and the newfound independence and expectations that came with moving away from home created additional anxieties. There were times she found herself contemplating leaving University, feeling she was adding to the pressure on herself and her family. But a pivotal moment helped restore her determination to continue.
“I have only seen my dad upset a handful of times in my life,” Jessica recalls. “But at that point during my early university experience, he broke down and begged me to make positive changes. That was when I knew enough was enough. The picture had become far greater than just myself and it was time to take control of my mind and happiness again not just for my own sake, but also the sake of my whole family’s wellbeing.”
Jessica recognises her story is not unique, but she counts herself fortunate to have enjoyed the support of those closest to her, something not everyone is lucky enough to have.
“My biggest support and encouragement has come from my family, particularly my dad. Despite dealing with a chronic illness, my dad never complains and always encourages others to be their best no matter what. He has inspired me in so many ways and I wouldn’t have survived without him.”
Another influential figure in her journey at ANU was Associate Professor Jason Payne, a senior lecturer in criminology.
“Dr Payne has been the most influential academic during my time at university. Jason’s passion for Criminology as a worthy field of study and whole-hearted belief in his students was something that made a huge impact on my experience,” says Jessica, who after meeting Jason early in her studies, again enjoyed one of his courses in her final year.
“After this semester with him it has only further confirmed my own passion for pursuing Criminology and I can only hope that someday I will be able to inspire others the way Jason has for me during my time at ANU. Thank you Jason!”
Mental illness and specifically anorexia are often the subject of misunderstanding and stigma. The notion that those with anorexia experience weight loss by choice, that it is simply a desire to be thin, or that gaining weight back somehow solves the problem. The reality is far more complex, involving perceptions of control, self-worth and achievement.
“The lack of control one feels is won back through restricting food consumption and participating in over-exercise often causing the significant amounts of weight loss. I only liked weight loss because it meant I was good at something. Oftentimes I would see pictures of myself and hated how scary I looked. This was not enough to change my behaviour because the aspect of control over my weight was more important than anything else at the time.”
Jessica overcame these challenges, enjoying wonderful experiences and friendships while at University. She realises that issues with weight and body image will remain for the rest of her life. But she is now better equipped to deal with it than in the past, and is able to recognise and address the associate negative patterns of behaviour.
“Being at ANU helped me change that narrative where I began to define myself in ways that went beyond my physical appearance. The biggest piece of advice I would give others dealing with similar struggles is not to push those offering help away. Mental illness forces us to become isolated and prioritise the thoughts associated with the illness above everything else. Giving in to help and support was the best thing I could have ever done for myself, as the people around you oftentimes know the best ways to help.”
If anything in this article has raised issues for you, support is available:
ANU Support Line (for ANU students): 1300 050 327 or Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
The Butterfly Foundation: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/our-services/helpline/