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.