Melanie’s story

Case study - Belinda's story

“Anorexic… me? No way.”

Thin, yes. But anorexic, never. I was a dancer.

With hindsight, I think I’d been ill for a long time, but at the time I wouldn’t be told. I ducked, dived and lied…anything to keep out of hospital. Admitting something was wrong would be admitting failure and I didn’t want that. I wanted to be perfect.

My first contact with services was when I was 16. The problems started long before then, but I quickly learnt to hide and cover up the illness I refused to be associated with. This went on for years. I ran from services, never really committing, but I grew tired and was struggling to cover things up. A friend took me to outpatients in October, and that November I had an emergency admission.

“It all seemed so drastic – so extreme and unnecessary.”

I still didn’t want to give in… didn’t want to admit anything. I thought I could persuade everyone – the doctors, nurses, my family and friends – that I didn’t have a problem. I certainly didn’t need to be locked away.

 It wasn’t working though and I lacked the energy to fight. I agreed to a voluntary admission because a section was the only alternative. My new plan: I’d put on weight and leave a.s.a.p. I was still in control.

“I wasn’t sick like the others.”

The first couple of months felt like a daze. I wondered ‘why am I here?’ I’d been holding down a good job in the City before, travelling into London every day. I felt lucky in comparison to the others and didn’t feel I had the characteristics of someone I’d associate with an eating disorder.

I hated it. I hated the system. I hated that I had no control. I felt the whole unit – the staff, the other patients, the rules – were against me. I resented being kept there. I resented being trapped with no space to breathe. And this resentment pushed me into trying to break and dodge the rules. It was a long time before I realised I needed to put something into the programme myself.

“They work damn hard to get people out of their traps, but it takes time to build up trust.”

As soon as I changed my approach, the staff gave me the support back ten times over. The combination of people there is really helpful. There’s someone to talk to anytime day or night if you need it.

It was a good while before l started to talk about things that weren’t just all rosy though. I’ve always been social, but didn’t speak about anything too deep. One nurse kept prodding. She was the worst… the strictest… I used to avoid her. She didn’t stop, so I started with one or two things from under the exterior. Actually, I trusted and respected her and some difficult things started coming out. That’s when I felt others started understanding where I was coming from.

I was also speaking to a psychologist on a regular basis, which was really useful. I hadn’t spoken to someone regularly like that before. I was developing self-awareness, understanding and skills to equip myself with healthier ways to cope.

“We were all going through our own journeys.”

Talking was starting to help, but I was emotional and upset and couldn’t see why. I was always busy before, so I never had free time like I did there. I had nothing and that was hard to cope with.

Art was suggested as part of the occupational therapy programme. At first I thought the idea was patronising, but then started to enjoy it. It kept me grounded and away from the compulsion to exercise. It gave me a purpose and I started to feel more like a person than an illness in other peoples’ eyes.

“The friends I made there got me through.”

I think I just wanted to make others better at first, but I started focusing on myself and it got to the point where I was extremely vulnerable.

It was horrendous opening up actually. I was speaking about things I never wanted to address. I’d shoved these things in the deepest closet, right at the back. Before, when I was upset, I didn’t eat so I could control the situation. It’s raining going through your own experiences, but if I hadn’t my problems would have remained. I built up a good relationship with the others and still meet up with them today.

“I have a different philosophy now.”

Since leaving, I’ve been working as an intern at Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, which I love. I have a boyfriend; I’ve been on several holidays; I’m doing an art A-Level this year, and have applied to university. I’ve changed my priorities a lot. I had a very rigid career path before, driven by money, success and prestige. I was doing well on paper, but life’s too short for all of that.

I’ll always be me: someone who’s passionate, energetic and not happy just doing a nine-to-five job. But I’m more laid back now. I don’t need such a structure or plan. I’m focused, but it’s channelled in a different direction.

“Without the admission, I’d still be running down that same road.”

I didn’t always agree with the people there – so much felt unfair and there was so much I couldn’t understand – but I realise now that it had to happen. I could have died and the service gave me the courage to pull myself out. It was the catalyst to take stock, draw a line under the past and start over.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do…. it really tore me apart. But they didn’t leave me in a mess. They pulled me back together and made me stronger than ever. I had to go through that situation. I needed that group of people and was really lucky I went through it all with so much help. Amazing.

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