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Suzanna - Interview 25

Age at interview: 26
Brief Outline: Suzanna is 26 and studies foreign languages at university. She's experienced an eating disorder and depression since about the age of 16. For Suzanna, having an excellent psychotherapist and psychiatrist, finding the right medication and keeping active have helped her to now be stable and be able to look forward to the future. (White British)
Background: See 'Brief outline'

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Suzanna is 26 and studies foreign languages at university. She says her problems with eating started around the age of 16, when she was in a highly pressurised all girls’ boarding school. She started gradually watching her eating, not eating properly and loosing weight. In Sixth Form, things started to get worse and Suzanna’s mum made her go to the GP. She was referred to a private eating disorder unit, which according to Suzanna, was again a very competitive and pressurised environment.
 
Suzanna went to college to do her A-levels and then moved to university. In her first year, Suzanna started to feel rather depressed and not wanting to leave her house for a while. She says she’s always been a perfectionist and at Uni, there was a lot of pressure to do well. The new GP who Suzanna went to see was very unhelpful and she ended up finding a private psychiatrist. She was diagnosed with bipolar II thought Suzanna says her moods are mainly the lows. She decided to take a year out of her studies to get a bit of a break.
 
When she got back, things were “brilliant” for Suzanna for a while. However, she started feeling depressed again and after she fell ill again she spent some time in both NHS-run and private hospitals. Suzanna has found the private units much more comfortable and safer environments, and the staff more respectful.
 
Finding the right medication has been a long journey for Suzanna, but she says now she’s on the right combination which has helped her be more stable and able to carry on with her course. People running her course have been very supportive and understanding of Suzanna’s situation and been very flexible when she’s not been feeling well to do some of the course work.
 
Now Suzanna says “Now I can see a future, which is a really healthy sign”. She sees both a psychotherapist and psychiatrist regularly and finds both types of treatment extremely important to maintaining her well-being and to prevent possible relapses. Suzanna says that going for a run or a walk, doing yoga and just distracting herself by reading have been really useful ways to cope. Also processing the causes of her problems has been “really important” to Suzanna, and helped her rationalise things and focus on avoiding any triggers.
 

Suzanna describes how she found out about bulimia in her boarding school.

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Suzanna describes how she found out about bulimia in her boarding school.

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I was at a highly pressurised all girls’ boarding school which had very high incidence, high incidence or rate of smoking and anorexia, bulimia and stuff like that... It was really amazing in that you made very close friends being with them all the time. Although there were quite a few troubled girls, I mean it was quite a small school. And about 4 of them, 4 of us, 5 of us had eating disorders of various, you know severity, which is quite a high proportion really if you think about it.

 

And so although I first sort of, I didn’t, how old was I… I can’t remember. 14, 15 when I first went there, we were put into an older girls house a few of us because there wasn’t enough room in our normal house, and there was pieces of paper stuck up on the loo doors in the inside saying, “If you feel that you have to be sick, please have the decency to clear up after you.” So that’s how I sort of learnt about bulimia. And anyway people in my year sort of got really thin and things like that.
 

Suzanna describes her memory loss.

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Suzanna describes her memory loss.

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It’s quite scary when you put something somewhere and then two minutes later you can’t find it. Or I know this happens to a lot of people you know all the time, but it’s, happens very frequently with me, you go into a room and you’ve forgotten what you’re going to get, you forget to phone friends, phone back friends which obviously can be worrying for them if you don’t phone them. What other things... oh yeah, forgetting what I’m saying, forget what I was saying the whole time, and having to say, “What was I saying?” Which is a bit, it’s you know not very nice. And apparently that’s due to anxiety, but yeah it’s, kind of makes you, it’s a vicious circle ‘cos it makes you anxious when you’ve forgotten something really basic, which makes you anxious which means it carries on.
 
Yeah absolutely. How long has it been going on?
 
The other type of memory loss I’ve had is, not remembering some things when I’ve been really ill which is quite helpful because the mind sort of, the mind protects you from really bad feelings you had in the past, if you know what I mean.
 

Suzanna was worried about getting into university. The university had a flexible system whereby...

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Suzanna was worried about getting into university. The university had a flexible system whereby...

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I found a very helpful careers adviser and that there were such things as special application processes for people applying from different or difficult circumstances. So I felt more confident in applying to universities in general. In the careers library I found a thing that was about universities, as in people wanting to apply for sort of people in state schools and things like that, to spend I think it was a week or ten days in the university, completely paid for. And I did the language course, and it was really interesting because you got to know the place and the people that looked after you were students, well obviously there were other people, and it was a really, really good. So I, then I applied.
 
And yeah, there were, there’s a system which is quite good where you can give more information if you’ve had a weird educational background or illness, or whatever, so I had a letter about that. Which I know is maybe making excuses and stuff but otherwise they would have found my UCAS form very confusing and things like that. You know and give me more of a chance as in for them to assess me, not, but not you know to be taking this into consideration.
 

Suzanna's teachers are really understanding and flexible when she's feeling unwell or work is...

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Suzanna's teachers are really understanding and flexible when she's feeling unwell or work is...

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I’m really lucky that I have really nice, really nice understanding teachers and my teacher, he knew quite, he obviously he let me in, and he knew all the background stuff that my school had sent, so he knew about that. And he kept me back after a lesson very early on to ask whether he could do anything in the lessons to help me with the dyslexia so that he could make things easier for me, for example, writing on a board, which I thought was very thoughtful. And when I left originally with the social anxiety thing he knew ‘cos I went to him, I had to have a letter to say that I needed the time out.

 

When I was ill my other teacher wrote to me, a couple of times, when I was in hospital, and I talked to my teacher just before I came back, and he was really nice. I've found both my teachers very understanding and helpful in general. If I've missed some work due to illness they tell me not to worry too much and to concentrate on the new work at hand and that I can catch up on the other work in the holidays.

 

Suzanna had an 'amazing' eating disorder therapist.

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Suzanna had an 'amazing' eating disorder therapist.

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My mother found an amazing eating disorder person, where I lived, actually through an article in a newspaper who was really exceptional and I saw her for quite a while, sometimes she would come to my house if I didn’t really, couldn’t go out. I realise it is very difficult for my family to cope with my illness and understand it but that they really try.
 
She was really amazing. And… yeah it was, it was sort of it was only you saw her by yourself obviously, and I much preferred that to being in a group. And she was just so, so understanding, she suffered herself as well. Yeah, and just a really nice person so. It was; I got on really well with her.
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