Real Recovery Stories

‘It’s OK not to be OK sometimes’ (Jillian Lennox)

My ongoing recovery journey has been somewhat up and down.

My irregular eating patterns began in the latter part of my teenage years with the result of being hospitalised at the age of 18 years old. At that time there was no such thing as an Eating Disorder team to offer help and support. Approaches to treatment were very different back then and much more unorthodox. I did however, manage to maintain a good level of health and recovery, that is until after the birth of my second daughter who is now 7 ½ years old.

I began to worry obsessively about my appearance and weight, and suffering from depression didn’t make things any easier. Having a beautiful new born baby girl should have made me happy, but I somewhat felt a failure and was horribly disgusted with my body. I found out a short time later that I was pregnant again with what was to be my third daughter. Well, that threw my mind and life into total turmoil. I cringed each day and felt horrible as I watched my bump grow. At a time when every mother should be ecstatic, my mood was getting worse and my depression deepened. It was taking me to a place where I felt useless, a failure and not wanting to be alive, even though I was pregnant. “I have to eat for my baby”, I kept reminding myself, as did my ever supporting husband.

I gave birth to a healthy baby girl in March 2010, but I couldn’t see a future for myself. I felt fat and ugly, living inside a body that I absolutely detested. I went back on to my anti-depressant medication that I had been taking for a few years, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything for me. I wanted to hurt myself and I did that the only way I knew how. I starved myself and exercised excessively, and the weight just dropped off. I just kept going, kept driving myself as a mother, using every opportunity to exercise. I even carried the baby in the car seat instead of using a pram. My thoughts were obsessive and very irrational, which I didn’t see at that time. People commented, talked behind my back, and with my depression so deep, paranoia took hold. But me, being me, I kept going until………..

Three months after the birth of my third child I was sectioned and taken into hospital. To be totally honest, I was extremely ill. I was in denial. I didn’t want help, I didn’t need it! Things had really spiralled out of control and my state of health and mind had hit rock bottom. I don’t remember my first few months on the psychiatric unit. I was being detained for treatment. That was my first encounter with the Eating Disorder team. “Why are they here?” resulted in “I don’t need your help, I am fine the way I am.” I wanted to stay thin. I didn’t deserve help, nor did I want it. This went on for a while, the toing and froing. I would try for a while but gave up just as quickly. I didn’t deserve to feel better.

During this time, my husband faithfully brought my kids to visit me, perhaps wanting to stir my emotions, to create a realisation that I was needed at home. It didn’t work. That heavy cloud was sitting on my shoulders and I couldn’t see a way out. I had received ECT treatment but all it did was make me forget things. Maybe that was a good thing. It was then decided that I really needed nutrition and I was sent to a hospital ward to receive NG feeding (nasal gastric). It was painful, uncomfortable and I didn’t want it there. Being as stubborn as I was, I kept pulling it out, but eventually I gave in. It was horrific lying there in bed watching all those calories going into my body and not being allowed to exercise. After a period of time I was moved back onto the psychiatric unit and put on a meal plan. This was scary but the Staff and Eating Disorder team supported me the whole way. They believed in me and held that hope that I didn’t think was possible. They encouraged, talked and helped me through the pain. I began to feel better physically but psychologically I still felt a failure, undeserving.

That was my longest spell in hospital, over a year, and coming back into the ‘real world’ was totally overwhelming. I didn’t feel human. My stubborn streak kept me going. I had missed out on the first year of my baby girls life, I had failed as a mum to my other two daughters, as a friend and as a wife to my ever supporting husband. So when things get tough, I resort back to what I know best, starving my body and exercise. This continued, whilst receiving psychotherapy.

One day I began to feel extremely tired and a dread came over me. I was pregnant again. This just couldn’t be. Due to the pregnancy my medication was changed and the therapy stopped. I was lost. I couldn’t come to terms with the imminent weight gain and a change in my body again. I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to eat. Again it got to the stage where I was sectioned, pregnant, fat and lost. What was happening to me? I remember lying on the bed on the psychiatric unit and the therapist from the Eating Disorder team telling me that I would have to go to a hospital ward again for NG feeding. I was filled with dread, but I trusted her. As I lay waiting for a bed on a ward, I felt terrible. It was at this time that I remember Imelda, the Eating Disorder team leader Imelda bringing my leopard print furry housecoat to me and wrapping it over me. This was something I had in hospital to remind me of home, a comforter. I didn’t feel judged, I just felt that they were willing me on for mine and the baby’s sake. It was hard lying on a ward with others around you whispering, pointing, and judging. Well that’s what I thought was going on. Once stabilised, I was sent back to the psychiatric unit and was discharged soon after, when I proved that I could maintain a meal plan.

I struggled, but later that year a baby boy was born. The support I received after the birth from all involved in my treatment was fantastic. The eating disorder team continued supporting me and encouraging me. To be totally honest, if it wasn’t for them intervening, I may never have had a son.

I continued receiving support in the community, trying to rebuild my life, trying to believe that I deserved to be well, that I didn’t constantly need to punish myself, my body. My last admission was nearly three years ago, again for NG feeding. When I look back, I realise now why this was my immediate method of treatment. It seemed to speed up my recovery.

In February 2015, the Eating Disorder Team ran a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). This to me was the true beginning of my recovery journey. I became more involved in classes like creative writing, reading groups; things that I actually enjoyed doing. I then started attending the StampEd support group. On the first night, my anxiety levels were quite high, but the positivity and support in the room was electric. Here I was, able to talk openly and honestly with others who understood how I had been feeling.

I am now working as a Peer Recovery trainer for the Northern Region recovery college in the NHSCT. I never believed that I would work again, that I would be facilitating classes for different mental health issues. It’s tough finding a balance and quite often and I sometimes tend to go towards my old coping mechanisms to feel in control. With my WRAP® I am able to try and build new Wellness Tools. This doesn’t make the thoughts of not eating and over exercising disappear. It means finding a new way to cope with those thoughts and not acting out on them. The best news is that I am now planning discharge from the Eating Disorder team, a change that I never thought would be possible

Hope is real and recovery is a journey that is ongoing and when I have a relapse I realise that “It is OK not to be OK” sometimes.

Sabrina's Story

A young Co Antrim woman who describes her suffering with anorexia as “a slow suicide” says local services saved her life.


Sabrina Hunter is now recovering from a 15-year battle with the eating disorder, a struggle which she admits has dominated her life. The illness took hold when, aged just 14, she decided to quit chocolate and sweets for Lent – then she began to avoid meals. She said: “I never admitted that I was skipping meals until such times as I was so malnourished and mum realised I hadn’t eaten in two or three weeks.”

At her lowest point Sabrina was eating just two bites of food a day and her weight dropped to around five stone. “I was just at rock bottom, maybe a bit lower,” she added.

“I continued to eat but all the emotion, the depression in my life was unbelievable and I never saw the light at the end of the tunnel. “In my darkest moments I wouldn’t have went out of the house, I would have gone to the shops and I was happier being asleep than I was awake.

“At that stage I was terrified of living and terrified of dying.”

Sabrina says she owes her life to an eating disorder team based in Antrim. It is one of four across Northern Ireland dedicated to those with severe strains of illness. Just three years ago most sufferers in the region had to travel to Britain or the Republic for specialist treatment but the figure has now been reduced by 91%. The teams responsible are now pushing for more government funding to make sure they are able to build upon that work.

“With our proven reduction in in-patient beds being in place, the thing we haven’t been able to do as much of in our treatment programme would include going to shops with patients to let them handle food,” said Imelda McLeod, of the Northern Trust’s Adult Eating Disorder Team.

“A lot of patients are literally phobic about handling food, they eat out of cartons, almost like they are pretending to themselves not to be eating, so we need to try and bring back a little bit of the pleasure in food.” The eating disorder experts say they are keen that more people suffering in silence are able to break that silence. Sabrina says that has been a healing part of her journey to overcome anorexia.

She said: “It was somewhere within me, that determination and that fight was somewhere within me, with the support from my family and friends.”

My Recovery Story by M. Owens

I am a runner both literally and figuratively! My instinct is to run away from and definitely not in forward motion towards something, especially the unknown. However, there came a point though when I could not continue to deny that I had a problem, I hit what marathon runners refer to as the Wall. I stopped dead. I couldn’t think straight, stop crying, my body was shaking (apparently for a few months before I had even noticed) and that one time when I plucked up the courage to look at my face in the mirror I could see that I was sick.

I knew deep down I had lost control and finally my ears were open to the words of my friends encouraging me to get help. You see, my running shoes fit my feet like a glove, they are programmed to take me to the hiding place I feel most comfortable in – my eating disorder; the place deep within myself where I can continue to avoid and deny the truths, that I am too terrified to face. That day I resolved to take them off, well, not off completely, I made the first step towards loosening the laces so that one day they will come off all together.

Treatment has been emotional, difficult, and funny at times but worth it. During my first session I was told about the StampED support group and how they met once a month and that I should try it. I nodded at my therapist but in my head I could hear my eating disorder telling me I didn’t need it, sure you don’t even have a problem. When you are used to being fiercely independent and constantly achieving it is difficult to admit that you can’t do life on your own. I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t terrified going to my first meeting; the idea had thrown my anxiety into overdrive. I was shaking so much that I looked like a walking pogo stick coming through the door; I think I made all the tables in the room shake that night! I was also ready to run back out the door; however, the friend who brought me that night would not let me. For that I will be forever grateful.

I found in StampED a place where I felt understood where I was encouraged and could laugh. It has been a safe place to ask questions and at times just listen. Recovery is not straight forward; it is quite often two steps forward and one backwards and I definitely have not reached the end of it. On those backward steps the friends I have made through going to the group remind me of the progress I have made that quite often I am blinded to and they have cheered me on to continue. An eating disorder tells you that you are okay on your own, and that your life is all about you but that is a lie. Support is not a one way street, in giving support to others I have seen that we are not been created to live in isolation.

Sometimes the idea of doing something new and especially change can be overwhelming, it can seem insurmountable, like trying to change the direction of the ocean. What we fail to see is that many small drops of rain create a ripple and that ripple sets in motion a change of direction, small to begin with until it gathers momentum. It starts with putting one step over the door and following it with another, entering a room filled with people who know and care. Someone once told me that a ‘ship is safe in harbour but that is not what ships were made for.’ Now I can see how true those words are.

Mel Owens

My Recovery Story – Missy G

From the age of 14 years old my Eating Disorder had ravaged my personality, destroyed my life and sabotaged my happiness, and it gradually came to dominate everything in my life. I lived through many years of hell. I probably wanted to look as sick as I felt inside. I felt so hopeless and so desperate, I just didn’t care about getting help, honestly I didn’t want the help, I was too far down that road to ever come back again. I thought this was the way it was going to be for the rest of my life, or whatever life I had left. I didn’t care because I didn’t feel anything, there was nothing inside me, with the starvation and constant purging, everything shut down, my organs were beginning to fail, but this was not enough for me to seek help, I didn’t want the help.

Anytime stress or feelings I couldn’t deal with, I turned immediately to food. Food was my escape, my comfort, my medicine. Bulimia was really like my best friend because of my feelings inside. Every day I woke up hating myself more and more, convinced I was a weak person, unable to control a disease that ruled every minute of my day, I didn’t want to exist anymore. My life consisted of hospitals, appointments, medication, getting my bloods done, and laying in my bed, in a dirty dressing gown not existing at all. In 2009, it all got too much, I wanted out, out of this life, I was tired of suffering

I SIV (self-induced vomiting) from 5-10 times a day, my face was swollen, my hair was falling out, my skin was awful, as I said earlier, my organs where failing I was too ashamed to see my family and my friends, and me having an Eating Disorder ruined some relationships, as I was too unwell to fight for it. I suffered from my Eating Disorder for 18 years and never did I think that one day I would be free from living like a prisoner in my own body. In 2009 my employment was terminated on the grounds of ill-health, I was too unwell to work, and from 2009-2012 I had 31 hospital admissions (I Know, scary) I was told on my last hospital admission that if I didn’t stop what I was doing, I was going to kill myself (even that wasn’t enough to scare me)

In 2012 my family and GP intervened and an emergency referral was made to the Eating Disorder Team and that was the end of my old journey and the beginning of a new journey. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done, which was battle and fight to beat my Eating Disorder with the help of my therapist, she believed in me even at times when I didn’t, and told me I would make a full recovery, my initial reaction was, I laughed as if to say “Yeh right”

But she was right, I am now 3 years in full recovery, and working full-time in the mental health sector, I have my life and my family and friends, more importantly, they have me back, one that they thought they had lost long ago to this illness.

Everything that I have been through, especially the past 7 years, has been the most influential experience that I could have gone through. The process of my recovery enabled me to let go of my false sense of and need for control . I have learned how to love myself and how to live again. I feel empowered in a way that I never thought was possible. I have taken responsibility for my own happiness and future, as I have let go of all of the elements that are beyond my control.

The reason why I wanted to share my story is because I feel strongly for those who are going through what I went through, I am convinced that however dark their reality may seem, there is light so brilliant at the end of the tunnel, that the darkness (with the right help) will soon fade away”

“you can’t predict the future nor can you undo the past, mistakes were made which formed regrets and turned into experiences. Its only after being through the storm that we can truly appreciate the sunshine”

I want to act as a positive role model, and provide hope, support and inspiration to those who are currently struggling with food and eating issues. I wanted to show with this, that recovery is possible, you can leave this all behind you, you just have to want it and at the right time. This journey has taught me so many invaluable lessons and I am confident I was given this experience to make me stronger, which it has and nothing will stop me now from reaching the stars J

Missy G