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Rachel

Age at interview: 24
Age at diagnosis: 15
Brief Outline: Rachel was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when she was 17. Through outpatient counselling, her mother's continued support and her own coping strategies she is now doing well. Rachel says her biggest battle now is with self confidence.
Background: Rachel is 24 and an ad check monitor. She is single and lives at home with parents. White British.

More about me...

Rachel says her issues with food began when she was 17 as a way to punish herself when she felt sad or guilty. When she started college, the problem became more serious; she was going for days without food and losing a lot of weight. Rachel describes the eating disorder starting as a form of self harm. Rachel saw a nurse and her GP early on but they just brushed off her concerns.
 
Through her mum’s job in the hospital, Rachel saw a hospital counsellor and a child psychologist but they could only help her so much as they didn’t specialise in eating disorders. Rachel’s weight dropped to a dangerously low level; her body was starving and organs were shutting down. She was told she needed to be hospitalised immediately but there were no hospital beds available. Instead, Rachel had to stay on bed rest at home and be looked after by her mother 24/7.  Rachel describes this period of time as awful – she felt like being punished for a crime she hadn’t committed and like she lost all control over her life. Rachel says it was thanks to her mother that she survived and says that “without her I wouldn’t be here”. Unfortunately, her college was not being supportive, putting more pressure on her despite her doing extra work at home and getting excellent grades. Rachel went on to pass all her A-levels.
 
When Rachel transferred to adult services at 18 things improved. She said she did a lot of thinking and listed everything she wanted to do in life and decided to “choose life over anorexia”. Recovery hasn’t been easy though. Rachel describes her relationship to food now as “mostly healthy” and she still struggles with self confidence and self harm. She still lives with physical complications caused by anorexia. She has Osteopenia, her bones are weak and she has regular backache. She has endured nerve damage affecting her sense of touch.
 
Rachel does a lot of voluntary work with Beat (Beat Eating Disorders) and My Personal Best website who she helped set up. She says she is “not a recovered anorexic, I am just me”.
 
 
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Rachel made herself a compliments book to record compliments from people. She reads it when...

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I came up with the idea of a compliments book whilst on holiday in Rome with my mam last year. I had been receiving lots of compliments from men every day and our last night two boys even gave me roses in the restaurant because they thought I was beautiful. Since I think I am ugly, it was a lovely self-esteem boost for me and I decided I would write compliments down. I write them on one page and on the other I put a nice picture of myself. I read it when I am feeling down. It does help but at the same time I have managed to fill two whole books and yet still I am not happy with who I am.
 
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Rachel volunteered with My Personal Best website and Body Gossip to support and inspire others.

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I’m a full time volunteer for My Personal Best and I helped set up the website. I am also the co-manager of the Twitter account where I regularly tweet motivational quotes. Whilst I was in Australia I kept a blog on the website, to show people the positive things you can do. I also sent in photos of Australia for their Flickr account. I have given one presentation for MPB at a conference in Brighton and I wrote a monologue about my anorexia for the MPB event in conjunction with Body Gossip.
 
The site encourages young people to be positive and to actively work at goals. It is not just for people with eating disorders but all mental health illnesses. You can record your daily goals on the planner - it’s one of the only places where you can be praised for managing a successful trip to a supermarket!
 
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Rachel felt that anorexia was her best friend and the one thing she was good at.

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Anorexia nervosa to me was my way of control, my best friend, the one thing I was good at and the way I dealt with my problems. The unit did take my anorexia away from me. They stopped my life and forced me to eat 3 meals a day, two snacks and three ensures straight away. My life was controlled by other people and the one thing that was keeping me going was taken away. 
 
What do you mean by saying that anorexia was “the one thing I was good at”?
 
At school, I struggled to fit in and it was the same at college. Although I was very academic and got very high grades, I never felt they were good enough for my parents, especially my Dad. I was on the hockey team at school but more for fun than anything else. Although I had my own hobbies, to me, I never felt like any of them was good enough. Instead I excelled at anorexia, something none of my friends could do, considering they couldn’t even last a day on a diet. I guess at the time anorexia gave me an identity and something to be ‘proud’ of.
 
 
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Rachel battled self-harm for years. She described it as a form of 'release' and an expression of...

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I began self-harming when I was 15 as a way of punishment too and a way out from the person I was. Self-harming is still a problem for me – I have been battling it for nine years and I am not sure I will ever be able to stop. Self-harming is a release to me and because I hate myself so much it is a way of hurting and justifying the hatred I have for myself. I have never received specific help for my self-harm; my therapist at the adult unit knew about it and tried to get me to use different things to cope with these feelings – like wearing an elastic band on my wrist or distracting myself until the feelings of wanting to self-harm had gone away. I have tried all of these and more. Nothing works for me. It is also the one thing I have left to cope with my feelings and I told my therapist I did not want to stop it. I have been to hospital for self-harm before as well but they did not understand at all – they just looked at me like I was stupid. 
 
 
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Rachel described how difficult it was for her parents to learn to trust her.

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I think my mam finds it difficult to let me make my own decisions and mistakes and not knowing everything about me anymore. Ironically my dad understands a lot more now; he reads articles on eating disorders all the time and is even giving advice to a colleague at work whose daughter’s friend is ill. My mam says she’s finding it hard to come to terms with the fact everything is okay now and she regularly gets upset or angry with me. There is hardly any trust between me and my parents, regarding food. I returned from Australia healthy, yet I am constantly questioned if I have eaten that day or shouted at if I go out with no tea even though I will eat something when I come back in! It frustrates me because I am 24 now.

 
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Rachel said her college was 'hopeless'. Despite promising flexibility, teachers complained if she...

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College was fine as far as the work was – like most anorexics I am a perfectionist and when I was trapped in anorexia, I would do homework set that day on my breaks at college to be the best I could be and also to avoid my friends.
 
As I got iller the work load got stressful but college was hopeless – they had said they would take the pressure off me but then started complaining when I hadn’t handed one essay in after a particularly hard weekend for me. 
 
My tutor had called me in for a meeting as a friend had gone to her concerned about me. All they did was give me information about Beat but because I was in denial about my anorexia I never used it. Other lecturers tried to make me eat lunch or informed other lecturers that I wouldn’t be paying attention in classes as I hadn’t eaten!
 
When I was at the unit, I was only allowed to go to one lesson a week, only increasing the number of lessons I went to if my weight went up. Originally college said they would give me a home tutor but when I started going to three lessons a week they said I didn’t need it any more, even though I was still missing nine lessons!
 
I kept to the college timetable at home; did extra work and was getting excellent grades but they still complained about me not being there. They told me off for not going to English Literature even though I was further on in the set book than everyone else and I literally couldn’t go to lessons as they were over lunchtime or a time when I was supposed to have an Ensure.
 
In March – two months before my A-Levels began – they called my Mam in for a meeting to say I had missed too much college and would fail my A-Levels. They advised me to take a gap year. My Mam disagreed as she knew I was working hard and that getting into University was my motivation to eat. So she told me to stuff the unit and college; how I would go to as many lessons as possible – I started going to 10 out of 12; revised as much as I could and ended up with 3 C’s! 
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