Anna’s story

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“Anorexia was a big part of my life for nearly 10 years.”

I got ill around the age of 16. So, when I moved out of the family home and up to London, I went straight into a hospital. It was a building block – it didn’t completely work – but it was a start. I also had a few issues with drugs and alcohol at the time… trying to cope with the anorexia.

Things then went downhill when I got my own flat. Having my own place meant I could do exactly what I wanted and it could go completely unnoticed.

“I didn’t want to go back home again though, as that’s where my problems started.”

I’m trying to think what happened. I made enquiries myself… I knew things had gone downhill, so I got in touch with the Bethlem and saw a social worker for a few outpatient appointments. Motivational Enhancement Therapy sessions brought lots to the surface, but I probably wasn’t ready at the time and my weight dropped further.

Actually, I wasn’t at my lowest point at that stage, but I agreed to an admission for a few months to focus on my weight. Then I joined the day-patient’s service and was back in the community again.

“I was struggling on my own though.”

I went downhill again, quite a lot, so the second time around I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. It was a relief in a way – the decision had been made for me – but it was a tough time. I was high on the outside when I wasn’t eating, and of course I didn’t want to lose that high when I started eating and putting on weight.

At that stage, if you’d given me an inch I’d have taken a mile. I was in a bad headspace and had already made a few suicide attempts, so the Bethlem was the safest place for me. You know with kids and boundaries? They make out they don’t like them, but they do need them. I needed strict guidelines… you then know what’s expected of you.

I was there for a year this time and did lots of psychotherapy. When I came out, I was in contact with day-patients… my weight was still a little low, but steady.

“I’d really had enough of feeling ill.”

Eight months later, I went back to the Bethlem voluntarily. I did more CBT, which focused on challenging the kinds of beliefs I had about myself. I also agreed to some work with my family. I knew this part was going to be the hardest to deal with, but it was the thing I needed to work on.

Being around my family – and my early experiences with them – was affecting how I viewed myself. I’m not saying that all of this was down to them, but I do think the experiences had a role to play in me staying ill. I remember one psychologist saying that I was like a square peg trying to fit a round hole in my family. And that’s really how I felt.

“The family work was going to happen – with or without me.”

I did feel a bit trapped into the family work at the start – the idea of sitting in a counselling room with them felt like hell – but in my heart I knew I had to do it… and I’m so pleased I did.

Staff at the Bethlem knew the relationship with my family was a difficult one, so it was introduced gradually. We started with me and my dad; then with my sister; then we had a three-day family session. The days were really intense and lots of stuff came to the surface, but it could all be expressed in a contained environment – it was clear that all hell wasn’t going to break loose.

Lots of change came from doing this family work. And there really is no way I would have done it off my own back.

The staff at the Bethlem really got to know me well and knew a way to work with me and my family. It was tough at the time, but it worked. I’ll probably never be as I was before I became ill… but we all have our own idiosyncrasies, don’t we. It’s OK.

Now I’ve got a really different structure to my life and have had a job for nearly two years. Work is one of the things that really helped me to take a big leap forward – I don’t even remember when food stopped being my primary impulse.

“I know the decision to ask for help is hard, because your biggest fear is to put on weight, lose control and get fat.”

With anorexia though, there’s nothing to lose. In my case, the further downhill I went, the more trapped I realised I was getting. And that’s when the benefits of help really start to outweigh the negatives.

I’ve had a mixed relationship with the Bethlem really. I really struggled being there at times, but it was the safest place for me to be. They always work towards you coming in voluntarily, which means you’ve got more of a choice.

I owe a lot of gratitude to the place. I may have given up on myself at times, but they never did.

“It’s taken a long time, but now I’m very removed from being ill.”

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