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Katie

Age at interview: 21
Age at diagnosis: 13
Brief Outline: Katie was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 13. She was an outpatient at an eating disorders unit for four years and with the help of a great therapist is now in recovery. For years, she couldn't believe that 'life without this is better than with it'.
Background: Katie is 21 and works as a research assistant. She is single and lives in a shared house. White British.

More about me...

Katie started losing weight around the age of 12. She had experienced a lot of bereavement and illness in her family and she says her dieting went unnoticed as there was so much going on around her. First she just wanted to be healthier but gradually lost more and more weight. After a school skiing trip her school contacted her mum who took Katie to the GP.
 
Katie saw a couple of different GPs and was eventually referred to a paediatrician and a psychiatrist. At the age of 13 she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Katie says she didn’t believe the diagnosis for a while but wasn’t too bothered about it as she felt “emotionally numb” about her life at the time. She describes feeling tired and angry all the time, feeling sick and achy and having headaches daily. Her periods also stopped. Taking part in a clinical trial, Katie was assigned to an outpatient programme at a specialised eating disorder unit. Katie was an outpatient for a few years and had a great therapist who played a major part in her getting better. Katie has developed osteopenia and is on calcium supplements and she was also diagnosed with depression and put on medication.
 
Going to university was another turning point in Katie’s life. Moving away from home and starting life somewhere new broke “a lot of bad habits and routines”. Living with other people and seeing what, how and how much they ate helped Katie gain a sense of balance. Katie says she missed out on a lot when she was growing up. As she was ill for most of her teenage years she says she “didn’t know how to be a teenager”. At university, her social life and moods improved and she made good friendships.
 
Now Katie has a fulltime job in research. She also volunteers with a lot of charities working with young people. For Katie, recovery means being able to control thoughts around food and eating. Katie describes how difficult it was for her to let go of an eating disorder after it had been a major part of her life for so long. She experienced a sense of grief over it. Now she says that she’s learnt to “believe that life without this is better than life with it”.
 
 
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For a long time, Katie didn't realise anything was wrong. She thought that losing weight and...

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I just started, I think exercise was my main like good thing that I needed to control the most and so I think that kind of went on for a year and I started exercising more and just eating less and then it kind of just spiralled out of control. 
 
I’d say it was gradual until probably gradual for about half year and then just like things just started getting a bit much like I started my period and school was just getting more like going on a bit and I just felt like things were losing control a bit and then throughout the summer I just, school holidays from school I just lost loads of weight and just carried on and then that’s when my mum said I needed to go and get help.
 
I don’t even know what it was like. I just thought it was normal. I’ve heard that teenagers are moody. I just thought maybe that’s what it was. I was, “Oh, no.” But like I just, yeah, I don’t think I really, I was just so like became so engrossed in myself I didn’t really think about it very much. I just thought it was quite normal and. It was normal that people didn’t have lunch or something and all the other girls at school were like, I’m sure they didn’t have lunch.
 
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When her mum challenged Katie about her behaviour, she felt both relieved and angry. Exercising...

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I went on the school ski trip and in Feb, I think it was February or something. No, I’d been away skiing with the family for a week and then I went on the school ski trip. And then it was after I got back from that that my mum challenged me about things. And the school apparently had been in contact with her as well. And then I felt a bit of relief that some you know, but also angry as well because I didn’t really think, I don’t know it was like half of me felt relieved because I was tired and it’s really time-consuming to you know, be having to exercise all the time and check things all time and, and do stuff. But then the other part of me felt quite angry because I still didn’t think I was that thin. And I thought, “Well they’re just jealous and they’re just trying to, you know, make me fat and I don’t want to be.”

 
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Katie's dog really helped her. He was always happy and Katie didn't have to worry about upsetting...

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We had the dog which I got, when did I get the dog… I got him I think after about a year of seeing, of going to outpatient treatment because I managed to persuade my parents that it would be a really good idea. And he did really help me, he was, he is, and like having, having the dog it was because I already had a cat but I’d always wanted a dog. And we got him as a puppy and that was, he was really good. And like even now, still, because you have all these well at the time there’s like all these people who are making, well not, not intentionally making me feel guilty but, you know, I felt guilty that I was upsetting them but he was always happy and, you know, waggy tail and, so he was great and he was a good help.
 
 
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Going away to university helped Katie break old eating habits. It helped her to see what was...

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I think going to University broke a lot of my habits and, although I probably developed new ones and, you know, routines that I’d gotten into and I suppose that probably helped in a way, you know, because you can quite, I mean, because it was a different environment as well. It was an environment what wasn’t associated with eating disorder, because it was like I hadn’t had one and that. You know, it hadn’t started in that environment. And also because a lot of the, just seeing how, because in our family you don’t, it had always been kind of quite focused on, well not on losing weight but, you know, being healthy stuff and my mum worrying about her blood pressure because, you know, so being careful about that and stuff. Whereas going to, and I hadn’t had a brother or anything so going to University and seeing how boys ate, and how much, how much, you know, other people ate and drank and still looked, you know, normal size and, and shape and, and stuff. 
 
So, I mean, I think that helped and like now where I live, I live with three boys and they, right, yeah, just see how much they eat, put away [laughs] I think it is quite, quite helpful just to see that and even like now when I go back to my house I find it harder than I do here because just because it’s the environment in which it all took place. And like as I was saying my sister’s trying to lose weight and stuff.
 
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Katie felt irritable and angry a lot of time but also fragile and would cry every day.

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Quite angry. Well, no, angry but at the same time also very fragile. So I would cry very easily, and cry practically every day. Yeah, or if somebody said something I would cry and like over noises, like every noise seemed to be louder to me. 
 
So I would think people were being really noisy all the time, I just liked to be quiet which doesn’t help because my cousin has Asperger’s syndrome so he’s not aware of like social you know, how to modulate your voice. I mean he just shouts all the time so, you know, I’d get quite annoyed because they came to stay with us sometimes. And anxious about that. And, yeah, I was a complete clean freak. Just, everywhere had to be really tidy and I would get quite cross you know, if I’d just tidied and then somebody came and made a mess and yeah, so I was angry and irritable but at the same time I could easily take the other way and be like really upset and, you know delicate.
 
Do you remember what the anger was about or directed at?
 
Just everybody else [laughs]. People wanting me to try and put on weight, people were challenging what I was doing and not just letting me get on with it. People for being noisy and messy. And just basically everything [laughs].
 
 
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Katie became 'good' at ignoring her symptoms.

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The thing is, I got quite good at ignoring physical symptoms. When I initially was losing weight, like if, I remember I got quite used to ignoring because if you ignore it for long enough then it just stops and passes. You feel sick quite a lot of the time. I used to get headaches like a lot. I still get headaches now, I get migraines sometimes but I used, I used to have a headache practically every day. But like I say, you just get, I just got used to kind of ignoring things. I didn’t really want to think about what the pain was.
 
 
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Katie didn't really like the taste of alcohol but the main reason she didn't drink much was...

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I was on fluoxetine as well which, I mean, you, I think you probably can drink a bit when you’re on it but it’s probably not a great idea to drink loads. And then obviously initially there were the calories in alcohol and stuff and so I suppose that perhaps played a role as well. But just also I don’t really like the taste of alcohol that much because I remember my friend my male friend took me out for a drink and I thought, and he was a bit older than me so I thought, “Oh well, you know, I should try and look mature,” but I didn’t actually like the taste at all, like any time I’ve had alcohol I don’t like the taste of it. And also, yeah, I think that I’ve probably I have wrecked my body enough without wrecking my liver as well.

 

'Trust the people around you because they love you.' Katie said you don't need the eating...

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Trust the people around you [laughs] because, yeah, they’re probably doing things for your best interest and that, you know, there’s so much more to life than calories and food and things and, like, it’s upsetting because you see, like so, so many people and so such lovely people and they’ve so much to give and just a waste you know. And just to try and fight and be strong and, you know, remember who you actually are and that you have lots of good friends and you don’t need the, you know, the eating disorder is, you know, people love you and whatever without it so.
 
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