A-Z

Laura

Age at interview: 18
Age at diagnosis: 18
Brief Outline: Diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 18, it took Laura two and a half years to get specialist help. Through psychotherapy, her own hard work and support from family and friends, she is now working towards recovery
Background: Laura is 20 and studying to be a teacher. She is single and lives in halls of residence. White British.

More about me...

Laura was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when she was 18. She describes a complicated relationship to food already from a young age; being fussy and going through phases of not eating particular foods. At college, Laura started eating less and less and exercising more. She was at a dance college, and on top of the dancing classes, training in the gym a lot.
 
Things escalated quickly and Laura’s friends and tutors soon noticed something was wrong. At first, Laura was hesitant about seeing a GP due to her bad experiences in the past. When she finally picked up the courage to see a GP her concerns were dismissed. After several more appointments with different GPs, and six months later, Laura was finally referred to a specialist unit but who wouldn’t accept her as she didn’t fit their weight criteria. It was finally 2.5 years after her first contact with a doctor that she started seeing a psychologist for weekly sessions. Laura wishes she would’ve seen someone much earlier on as she believes things would not have gotten as bad as they did. She feels that many eating disorder services are too weight oriented and not always addressing the underlying issues. Setting strict entry criteria to services that are purely weight based can be dangerous as she sometimes felt the only way to get help was to loose weight.
 
Laura found the psychotherapy helpful but when she moved away to go to University she had to stop. The town where Laura now lives has no services or support groups for people with eating disorders, except for inpatient care for those dangerously underweight. She has been working with B-eat to set up a peer support group for young people in her area. 
 
Laura says that although she is not fully recovered yet, she at “a point I never thought I would get to”. University life has been hard, especially with no specialist support, and she still struggles with food shopping, cooking and body image. She is supported by a community mental health nurse and she has a network of friends who also offer their help. Laura says her life is so much better than it used to be, and her improved health has opened up many new opportunities for her. 
 
 

Laura’s first experiences with a GP weren’t encouraging because her GP lacked understanding of...

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So I went to speak to one of my tutors who I was quite close to and she kind of, it took a few months I think for her to actually get me to go to the GP, but she kept encouraging me to go. And I think it was just, no I think it was about three or four months after I first went to my tutor that I actually finally went to the GP. But then the first few times weren’t any good anyway so.
 
Why do you think that? Do you think they lacked understanding, awareness, or…?
 
Yeah. I think they just didn’t get it. They just kind of thought, I don’t think they thought it was as bad as it was. I think, but then I think that, and then I blame myself for that because I didn’t go to them when I was at a lower weight, I’d gone to them after I’d put on a bit of weight so I think it didn’t seem as much of a problem because I wasn’t, I might have been a little bit underweight, but I wasn’t like a majorly so it didn’t seem like it was a big problem. So yeah, but I think it was a lack of understanding.
 
And was it a big thing for you to do to go for the first couple of times?
 
Yeah.
 
Do you remember how you felt about it?
 
Terrified. I was really scared to go to my GP because I think partly because I didn’t, part of me still didn’t want to admit it and I didn’t want to get better, but partly because I didn’t want to go and then be made, be patronised because it was such a big deal for me to be going. I didn’t want to feel like it was a waste of time. As much as I did want to get better, I didn’t want to go and then end up feeling even worse.
 
 

When Laura was ill, the pro-ED websites seemed to make sense to her. Later she realised how...

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At the time I think I was just naive and didn’t really know but that I think, I can definitely say that that kept me as bad as I got. I don’t think I’d have been, I think I learnt quite a lot from it, which isn’t good but at the time I didn’t realise this. So, and I started counting calories, I’m like, my whole life I’ve never, before that I’d never known calories, or I didn’t even know what my weight was really before, but kind of I started counting calories and I knew all the calories in everything, and I started only having kind of a certain amount of calories and then it gradually cut down. And I wouldn’t allow myself to go over that amount.
 
So originally I just kind of joined the community, and just read other people’s posts, and, to start off with it wasn’t really something that I was that kind of into. But as it went by it became something like a daily, I had to go on it every day, and I was kind of set up my own journal and looking back at it now I don’t know why I did it, but on my journal was kind of me saying my weights and what I’d eaten and posting pictures of before and after, and because I wanted to be thinner and I wanted people to say whether I looked thin enough, or kind of, because that’s a big thing, that people comment and say that you’re looking good or kind of encouraging to stay ill, which is really wrong, but at the time it was the only place that I could kind of talk how I actually was.. Because no-one else understood, like around me at college they all just kind of kept telling me to eat and they didn’t really know what was going on. But on the websites I could actually say how I was, how I was feeling and I could see that other people were feeling the same.
 
So to me it felt like a nice helpful environment at the time. But I know that it wasn’t, now. Because it was really unhelpful really. Because I think without them, although I wouldn’t have had kind of the understanding of other people, I wouldn’t have learnt as many tips and tricks as I did, and I probably, if I didn’t have, if I hadn’t come across them then I probably would’ve spoken to people sooner. Yeah.
 
Why do you think that is? That you would have spoken to people sooner?
 
I don’t know. I think it wouldn’t have been, I wouldn’t have felt like it was such a big secret. Whereas with like the pro-ana websites, a lot of it is kind of hiding and kind of you learn how to hide stuff. How to hide behaviours and your physical looking and, so I think if I hadn’t learnt all those things and I hadn’t been caught up with being ill and trying to stay ill, then I might have listened to other people. Whereas I felt like the people who I became friends with on the websites were the people to listen to because it made more sense to me at the time.
 
 

At first, Laura felt that recovery was scary because she had to relearn what normal was.

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Yeah it is really hard. Because when you’re totally consumed you feel like getting better would make things worse and maybe at the start of recovery it will feel scary and completely out of control and like it’s a lot safer to stay eating disordered and it does feel, yeah you do feel safer to start off with when things are changing, but as the changes kind of are put in place and you get used to them and you kind of make the first few steps, it does get easier. ‘Cos I know when you first start recovery it’s very hard because you have to completely change everything that is your normality. And you have to kind of relearn what is good and kind of normal in healthy terms rather than normal in your kind of world.
 
And although it’s horrible and scary in the short term, in the long term it’s a lot better. And it opens up more doors to you than staying eating disordered and staying kind of ill.
 
 

Laura became aware of her body and weight only after she had developed an eating disorder.

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How much do you think originally restricting food and exercising was to do with body-image and wanting to lose weight? Or how much of the issues that you’re dealing with at the moment are to do with body-image or body? 
 
I think originally it wasn’t something that was a big thing, but as I started losing weight I became more aware because beforehand I’d, I’d never really known what my weight was and I didn’t really care, and like everything like that. But as soon, yeah when things developed I did become more aware and more conscious of my body and that is a big thing now, I am very kind of self-conscious with my body-image and how I seem to myself and to others.
 
 

Laura was supported by her university’s learning support team. Not having a predictable routine...

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Because I’m on like a professional course I have to see Occupational Health and be cleared by them. So I could, they could quite easily ask me to leave because of everything that’s gone on since being at Uni, but they’re quite supportive because of how my marks had been before Christmas, because I was getting Firsts and stuff. And it’s only since kind of Christmas that things have gone a bit more downhill.
 
But like my Tutors who are really helpful have put stuff in place like sorted out extensions and I like have sessions with the learning support team to try and keep up with my work. Because I don’t do very well with not having a routine, so when I have like not very many lectures and it’s really difficult for me to not struggle. Because it just gives me too much time to think about things, and I’m not very good at structuring my time. So they kind of try and help me create some sort of structure.
 
 

Laura encouraged parents to talk to their children if they were worried. Young people might find...

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I think for parents it can be really difficult, because you don’t always, I know I’ve come across parents before when like, when I’ve done stuff for B-eat we’ve, I’ve spoken to some parents and they worry about saying the wrong thing. But I think when you’re kind of suspecting that your child’s got an eating disorder rather than just sitting back and not really saying anything, I think you do, as much as you might cause conflict by approaching them, your child, I think that kind of saying that you’ve noticed that something is going on and that you’re there to talk to and as much as at the time they probably won’t accept it.
 
Because I know I wouldn’t have, but I think if that had been said to me it would have been a lot easier for me to go to them for help because I wouldn’t have felt like I was bringing it up completely from the beginning. Because I would know that they kind of knew, whereas if you don’t say anything and you don’t make any comments and, then if like your child does get to a point where they want to admit that there’s a problem it’s a bigger deal because they, even though the parents might have actually realised, they just might not have said anything. But because like the child might not have, might not realise that their parents have realised. It makes it feel like they’re bringing it up completely from the beginning, so it’s a bigger deal. 
 
But I think if parents kind of say and like do notice and do kind of say the things that they’re noticing, and just generally making their child aware that they are noticing changes, I think it does make it easier in the long run, even if it makes it a bit more tense at the time. Because they will be angry and probably in denial and they’ll probably say stuff that they wouldn’t usually say, but then that’s like the eating disorder speaking because yeah. I think a lot of the time you have to be aware that it’s not them just being horrible and just wanting to argue with the parents. A lot of it is because they’re struggling so much that it is something that’s consuming them and causing them to be as maybe hostile as they are, or as secretive.
 
 

It can be hard to let go of the eating disorder and accepting help can feel difficult. Laura said...

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Do you think it’s difficult to believe when you are really ill that it actually is better?
 
Yeah it is really hard. Because when you’re totally consumed you feel like getting better would make things worse and maybe at the start of recovery it will feel scary and completely out of control and like it’s a lot safer to stay eating disordered and it does feel, yeah you do feel safer to start off with when things are changing, but as the changes kind of are put in place and you get used to them and you kind of make the first few steps, it does get easier. ‘Cos I know when you first start recovery it’s very hard because you’re having to completely change everything that is your normality. And you’re having to kind of relearn what is good and kind of normal in healthy terms rather than normal in your kind of world.
 
And although it’s horrible and scary in the short term, in the long term it’s a lot better. And it opens up more doors to you than staying eating disordered and staying kind of ill.
 
 
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Keep going back till a doctor listens to you. Laura said not all doctors understand eating...

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And if it doesn’t work the first time then just go back, just keep going until they actually listen to you. Because sometimes it does take a while because they don’t, not all GPs, well not many GPs do have a great understanding, so they might not realise what is actually going on and they might just think it’s a phase, but it’s not.

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