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Maria

Age at interview: 18
Brief Outline: Maria has experienced anorexia nervosa since early teens. For years, she convinced herself and her family that she didn't have an eating disorder and has mainly overcome her problems on her own.
Background: Maria is 18 and a Sixth Form student. She lives at home with her parents. White British.

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Maria first experienced problems with eating when she was about 14/15. Soon she became so underweight her parents took her to the GP. The GP referred her to a paediatrician and she was hospitalised.  At this point, Maria didn’t want to admit or believe she had a problem. Maria describes how she also convinced her family that she did not have an eating disorder. They worried enormously about her weight loss and thought that health professionals were overlooking this so often acted on Maria’s wishes by removing her from the healthcare system. Maria is still unsure if her family is fully aware that she had anorexia because although they are close, they never talk about it.
 
As the eating disorder progressed Maria became very insular. She describes how she did not feel or show any emotions and was utterly focused on not eating. In addition to weight loss, her lips became black, skin dry and pale from the cold, her eyes yellow and hair falling out and she was very susceptible to colds and coughs.
 
Maria was then admitted to an eating disorder unit although she still didn’t accept anything was wrong. Eventually, she persuaded her parents to remove her from the unit and went home. She describes how she, “learnt to play the game” as she kept herself just well enough to stay out of hospital and knew what to say the psychiatrics to make them believe she was fine.
 
While ill Maria was warned against going to school, however Maria worried about her GCSEs and continued to attend, to the detriment of her recovery. Maria was taken back to the hospital, and eventually made the first steps to getting better. Maria describes how she used her illness to gain weight, and explains how because she was an expert in losing weight, she was also an expert in gaining weight. Despite putting on weight, Maria says none of the underlying psychological issues were addressed.
 
It was very difficult for Maria to begin eating again as she felt a sense of loss. Gradually she realised she did in fact have an eating disorder. Maria says she had to get to know herself again as she didn’t feel like the same person as when she was ill.
 
Maria has had a difficult journey and would not recommend to anyone. However, she is proud to have come through it and recognises she would not be the person she is today without such challenging experiences. She feels annoyed that health professionals did not take more action to treat her. Maria is now an ambassador for Beat (Beating Eating Disorders).
 
 

Maria thinks eating disorders often develop in teenage years because it's a time when people can...

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Maria thinks eating disorders often develop in teenage years because it's a time when people can...

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I’m not quite sure if like experts would say this, but I think a lot of it is kind of bad fortune and timing in that bad things might happen at a time when you’re feeling quite vulnerable. And they come to, collide together. I suppose that’s why so few, few people have it because it’s a matter of bad things colliding at the wrong time. That’s why it’s normally only teenagers because they’re quite hard years, aren’t they?
 
So a lot of it’s that, so if it does happen to someone then it’s not, it’s not necessarily their fault. It’s not something they’ve done wrong; it is just a matter of these things coming together at the wrong time. So it’s so unfortunate. And it’s really sad, but it can, it’s okay, you can get better.
 
 

As a teenager, Maria had many bad experiences which made her not want to grow up. She felt that...

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As a teenager, Maria had many bad experiences which made her not want to grow up. She felt that...

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And then when I get to obviously a teenager and you start to grow and change, so I noticed, I probably over noticed that I was starting to grow and change and get bigger still so, very slim but not, you know you grow obviously, and I think that was just a reflection of how I was at the time, but everything was changing because really at that age you overreact to everything. And it was, it’s exam pressure and friends changing and everything in life and people, everyone I love are dying, and, so sort of turbulent times. And I guess that was sort of reflected in the way that I was changing physically. And I thought “Well if this is what growing up is, then I, I don’t want to change, I want to stay the same.” And so I guess I took that as a reflection through, “Okay well I’ll keep my body the same,” and obviously all very unconscious, but I’ll keep myself as the innocent little child like I am, because it’s so much nicer back there. 

 

Maria didn't have any counselling. She is better now but has always wondered whether she would've...

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Maria didn't have any counselling. She is better now but has always wondered whether she would've...

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I kind of always wondered if I had had therapy and counselling what, what would I have uncovered? Would it, I’m not, I never know whether to be, you’d think someone like me would have had mountains of therapy. But I haven’t. And so you think I was very interested about it. I think is it really, should I be sceptical, is it a load of nonsense? And do I always thought I know my own mind better than they do. But I wonder. But I think it might just be because I’ve not been able to talk to someone about it, I’ve just had to think about it a lot. And now that, since, when I was ill that was just a waste of time. But now that I’ve been better and I can see things logically, and also I’ve, you do, you do your own sort of research because that’s another thing that’s quite important to me now and in a way I kind of wish I didn’t, but I do think about kind of eating disorder things quite a lot. And I wish that I didn’t.

 

Maria has given talks about her experiences to parents and young people. She feels she can give...

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Maria has given talks about her experiences to parents and young people. She feels she can give...

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I went to speak at another sort of parent group thing at a specialist unit and again, just hearing the stories ‘cos it’s sufferers are very similar in what you go through and it’s just being able to reassure their parents that again, this is going to happen and you have to do this and I know it’s going to be hard but there is hope and you can get better. And I think just them being able to see somebody like me who is healthy again, just gives them that hope.
 
And, so yeah, just involve with so many things through Beat, which is great and I love being able, to help other people and just give them that encouragement and speak to sufferers as well and help them and I think it’s been the best thing I could ever have been involved with. It’s just been fantastic.
 
 

Gaining weight was a part of recovery for Maria. She had lost a big part of her identity and had...

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Gaining weight was a part of recovery for Maria. She had lost a big part of her identity and had...

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So yeah, I remember that day I remember sort of thinking, “So okay, right, fine I can get better then. I’ll…” and so I was still thinking of it in terms of weight, I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of anything else. So I started to up my food intake and all that kind of thing, and then I saw a dietician at the hospital regularly. And from then on I did get better physically because I became almost, I became almost as obsessed with gaining weight as I did with losing it. And with reaching the weight that I should be as I did with losing it. So it was, for everyone else it was, it was brilliant, “Great she’s better. And she’s putting weight on, that’s the end of the story.”
 
So I did get better, and I put on weight really quickly because obviously you’re very aware with having an eating disorder you’re aware of what’s your, what’s your, you’re aware of what’s going to make you gain or lose. So as long as, I could eat any amount of things as long as I decided that I could, and as long as I was controlling that I could. So I’d make, the dietician gave me a meal plan and I thought I want to gain weight fast enough so that I can stop gaining it, and so I’ll just double that, and I, I just had, I had loads and I gained the weight I needed to and I did admit that I sort of felt, felt better and felt healthy again, and looked better and that. But at the end of it I expected that when I reach this goal weight that that would be it, and everything would fall into place. So I was, the reason I was working so hard for that was because I thought that was going to be it at the end.
 
But it was better because I could be at school, I could be with my friends, and I was sort of normal again. But it, it wasn’t entirely better because I got there and thought, “So I’ve lost the sort of anorexia sort of friend if you like, and I’ve lost everything that I wanted to do and could do, and was good at, and that was part of me,” and so you feel so different, I was no longer the person I used to be before the eating disorder, I’m no longer the person I was with it, for a while I’ve been able to sort of postpone all these feelings, because I’d been focussing on gaining it, and that’s, that was my thing. Now what have I got? I’m not who I was before, I’m not who I was now, I’m just this person that I don’t know, and I’ve got to kind of get to re-know myself because obviously in the meantime, had none of this happened I’d have been going through teenage years, and growing, developing an identity, doing all these things with friends, but I thought well I’ve lost all these and I don’t know who I am anymore.
 
 

Maria had a constant 'screaming voice' inside her head. It was exhausting to have conversations...

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Maria had a constant 'screaming voice' inside her head. It was exhausting to have conversations...

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At that whole, that whole time all that was on my mind entirely was what I’m going to eat or not, exercise and everything like that. I would, I remember sitting there in lessons and just that’s all that I was thinking about. I remember like sitting there and listening but also making notes, sort of numbers and calculations, and all that sort of horrible things. It was on my mind all the time. And I think that’s also the real change that my parents noticed, and started noticing things were wrong. Because I would just sit there starting, absolutely vacantly, and say nothing at all for days, and of course whilst I was sitting there all sedately, in my mind was this angry rush of , you’ve probably heard, but you do kind of associate the illness actually as a different a voice almost. And actually you would it’s your, it’s my own voice. 
 
But yeah, thinking about it all the time, all the time and so it, inside I was sort of loud and screaming but outside I would just sit there vacantly the whole time. And I couldn’t think about anything else, I couldn’t talk about anything else. You do start to think, talking about food a lot, and you watch a lot of cookery programmes and then you read all the recipes, all that kind of obsessive stuff, which isn’t healthy.
 
And yeah when I was talking, if I’d be with my friends there’d just be, what’s really sad I’d be with my friends outside and they’re all chatting away normally, and all I would want is for them just to shut up, so I could think about what I want to think about. And not have to talk about this stuff that doesn’t matter, because obviously my, my habit is what matters, why do they not realise that? That’s what’s important. 
 
So I’d just want to, I just loved it if I were just on me own for two minute and they would just leave me alone. I could sit there and not talk, not make the effort, because that point, physically as well it was so much effort to talk to anyone and to think about anything else. But the illness was something that I knew, something that was certain. Something that I could think about, which would then, also meant that I didn’t think about any of the difficult things that I couldn’t cope with. I didn’t have to think about anything like that. 
 
 

Maria described the pain her family had to go through when she was ill. At worst, nothing they...

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Maria described the pain her family had to go through when she was ill. At worst, nothing they...

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But they could have said, “You know, eat this or I’ll shoot you.” And I would have just, had, not eaten it. And at that point I remember, I didn’t, I don’t think I regretted not having it because, which is terrible but I think I did feel bad I think seeing my family like that, I did feel really bad because it made me think of how they must be feeling, because obviously I’m their daughter and I’m killing myself. And that must have been dreadful.

 

Maria said it's possible to take control back from the eating disorder and recover.

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Maria said it's possible to take control back from the eating disorder and recover.

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And whilst it often feels like the eating disorder is in control of you, you are still a person, you are still there somewhere, and you will come out again when you get rid of it. And don’t listen to what people say when you can’t get better. Don’t listen when they say, “Once an anorexic always an anorexic.” It’s not true. That’s just rubbish.

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