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Rob

Age at interview: 17
Age at diagnosis: 14
Brief Outline: Rob was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when he was 14. After a few months' stay in hospital, and with the help of his counsellor and support from his parents, he is now recovering.
Background: Rob is 17 and a student at a music college. He is single and lives at home. White British.

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Rob was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when he was 14. He’d always been quiet and gentle in nature and felt out of place in the competitive unaccepting environment of his secondary school. He’d also experienced depression and low mood for a long time. He felt school placed a lot of pressure on him to do well and he felt increasingly different to the others. Rob started isolating himself and he was also self-harming. His tendency to control extended to eating less and exercising more, which lead to “a self-enforcing spiral”. He describes how he was trying to deal with “super critical, negative and relentlessly horrible series of intrusive thoughts”.
 
His mum took him to the GP and Rob was eventually admitted to a hospital ward and later on transferred onto an adolescent psychiatric unit. Rob describes the unit as very supportive and he had a very good therapeutic relationship with his counsellor. Rob says the unit offered him a fresh environment to tackle his problems. After discharge, Rob found going back to school for GCSEs too hard as it was all intertwined with him getting ill. He’d always loved writing and, before he turned 16, managed to get a place at an Open University Course on fiction writing. After completion, he signed up for a music college and says it has “bizarrely” all worked out really well despite how hard it is once you fall out of the standard educational path. He says he can now see a way forward.
 
Rob does volunteering work for mental health charities and is a B-eat ambassador. He says he is still battling with negative thinking and a low self-esteem. He says he would’ve never have believed that he could come this far and although the eating disorder is still a part of him, it doesn’t dominate his life in any way. He talks openly about his experiences and says he’s come to accept that “I am who I am and I am important, with or without the eating disorder”.
 
 

Rob felt increasingly different in a school environment that wasn’t accepting or open. He...

Rob felt increasingly different in a school environment that wasn’t accepting or open. He...

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I was naturally quite quiet, not really that competitive or like into kind of, I don’t know, not that bothered about kind of keeping up appearances, so to speak, with in that kind of environment and it was very, very competitive kind, there’s a lot of, it, well, there’s a lot of kind of macho behaviour from the boys, lots of kind of put downs and fights and so on and so forth. It was that kind of kind of environment of it wasn’t very accepting or open I don’t think. 
 
I think around that time, I guess people meant, you know, personalities developed in different stages and I found myself increasingly, even though it had always been slightly a factor, but I found myself increasingly feeling different to my peers. Very, very much like alternative outlook and priorities and I didn’t you I found a lot of the things going on almost, and I don’t mean this in like a snobbish kinds of way, but it seemed quite trivial, you know. It didn’t really seem to just kind of schoolyard politics. It just it seemed kind of pointless and I found it very difficult to kind of to get involved with that and so I tended to isolate myself more and more. I think I kind of began to sort of self harm more than I had as a kind of a coping mechanism to try and, because of all this guilt that I had and because I always had fairly low self-esteem. To it was a way of kind of dealing with that.
 
 

As Rob’s eating problem became more intense; he wasn’t eating or sleeping, he was self-harming...

As Rob’s eating problem became more intense; he wasn’t eating or sleeping, he was self-harming...

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And then I moved up into to Year Ten and it became, it was getting steadily worse. I think it’s one of those things that it’s kind of a spiral sort of just kind of self-reinforcing and I wasn’t I wasn’t eating. I was hurting myself. I was isolating myself. All of which made me feel more lonely, isolated and kind of different and then, you know, inferior so which led to this certain kind of behaviour more and more.
 
And if you’re not eating properly or sleeping properly, which I wasn’t at that point, then it’s difficult to think reason, reasonably anyway and with the whole kind of depression aspect as well it all became this one big thing. I began to become quite physically unwell. I mean I was never there was never any intervention by anyone at school. I mean I think people knew something was wrong. I think since talking to some of my friends, who were obviously were there at the moment, they knew I was depressed. They didn’t know that I had an eating disorder because I don’t think any of us knew anything about eating disorders really. It wasn’t something that was ever been discussed.
 
And so, initially, I went to see a GP well, my mum took me to a GP because my circulation was really poor so I had like very kind of, I would completely lose all feeling in my hands and my fingers would go sort of blue and, you know, and the same with my sort of feet. You know, it was all quite because of how I wasn’t eating blood wasn’t getting round and so on. 
 
 

Rob described the mixed emotions about diagnosis. It proved that he wasn’t “intrinsically broken”...

Rob described the mixed emotions about diagnosis. It proved that he wasn’t “intrinsically broken”...

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I think also my dad did know he had had identified, although I didn’t know this at the time, that I had anorexia by, he went on the Beat website and there was a list of signs and symptoms most of which I was feeling at that point I think.
 
So I think that it was definitely a kind of mixed emotions really in that in that sense because it was it was actually positive for me to have something to be able to give a name because it was something that it meant that I wasn’t like intrinsically broken, you know, I wasn’t kind of wrong as a person. There were other people had been through similar experiences and that by extension there was something that somebody could do to help the situation. You know, I could work at it but at, you know, on the other hand, there was this this kind of illness that I didn’t know very much about and it’s very kind of was very serious diagnosis. But obviously, I knew that I had had a very difficult relationship with food at that point, and not just food but everything else by extension in in my life. So I knew that there was something although I wouldn’t have previously identified it as anorexia.
 

Letting go of the eating disorder was “liberating”. Rob realised everything he had missed out on...

Letting go of the eating disorder was “liberating”. Rob realised everything he had missed out on...

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I mean to be to be brutally honest with you, I don’t think, I couldn’t have I couldn’t have seen myself surviving it really ‘cos I couldn’t actually see, I couldn’t project myself forward and see a place, it, you know, past it. It was this, it just blocks off everything. There’s no future. 
 
It grounds you in the present so I couldn’t I couldn’t really foresee a future where I’d got to this point. I mean I’ve achieved things and can now do things that I would never have considered, you know, a couple of years back that I would be able to do. Which is in turn inspiring that I would be able to get to, you know, this place, hopefully, where I can look back and say, you know, “Back then I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be able to do this.”
 

Rob compared the internal voice to “having a bully in your head”.

Rob compared the internal voice to “having a bully in your head”.

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Your internal dialogue, my own kind of internal dialogue was extremely disrupted. It was extremely complicated because I had this, people described it as like a voice, but and yeah, I think it’s definitely, I call it the voice, you know, it was like... But it was it wasn’t actually audible but it was it’s like this this kind of super critical negative, relentlessly sort of horrible series of intrusive thoughts that appear, you would kind of appear as a reaction to everything in in my head and yet I wasn’t in control of them. And they almost seemed like this external kind of, they didn’t seem like they were my thoughts even though I knew that it was part of me, it wasn’t something completely separate but it was it wasn’t like I willed them into being there. They would just occur kind of almost spontaneously as like a default reaction to any kind of difficult situation or they could just come about any reason. It would be and it would be, you know, kind of, it’s like it would be like having an abusive, like a bully inside your head really.
 
I think perhaps for me I almost internalised a lot of the things that I’d experienced at school that kind of the sort of low level sort of being picked on, put down constantly that contributed to that building up. So it was almost like I had that inside my head but I was doing it to myself but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
 
 

Rob says people didn’t take self-harm and depression seriously. He felt it was his fault and that...

Rob says people didn’t take self-harm and depression seriously. He felt it was his fault and that...

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The reason that’s relevant is because self-harm was treated as a joke. People cutting themselves, it because, it was treated, even among like that, it was, oh, you know, “emos” cut themselves, you know, “emos” are depressed and stuff. This idea of, you know, whatever it is that doesn’t, nobody’s really seemed to but... and so it was almost like, yeah, it was very as well as being secretive, it was also considered ridiculous. But I just I think there was there was a point where I was I felt so crap generally, that I was coming home and crying, you know, every day and I just felt that, and I felt that it was my fault. That it was because I was wrong and, you know, broken or whatever. And so it was just kind of a fairly spontaneous way of exercising those feelings in some ways. It didn’t help but it allowed me to cope in a in a in a negative way. It didn’t ‘cos it’d always come back worse as a result but it was like a temporary, because it does, you know, give you adrenalin or whatever and so, therefore, it would kind of have a very temporary effect of allowing you to cope. And also I guess in in some way, in some, it was almost like, for myself, it was almost proving that I don’t know, not it’s really complicated. It’s difficult to define why you’d actually do something like that.

 

It took Rob and his parents a while to find the right balance between "space and support'.

It took Rob and his parents a while to find the right balance between "space and support'.

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It took us a long while to get the balance really because at first when I came home they were suffocating really. I mean we we’re fairly close knit but they were really, really kind of like overprotective.
 
And so we had to get a balance. I totally understand that as well but it was it was, made things difficult for me and but for me, I think it was almost knowing when things were difficult and being, knowing and then making sure that that I knew they were there. But not forcing me to talk to know to confront me all the time and giving me space when I needed it. I guess in the same way, in some ways it’s like any teenager really it’s, you know, mixed combination of space and sort of support and nurturing but not so much that they dominated me and but so that they gave, they’d trust me to do things.
 
For myself but also that they’re if I needed them and vice versa, I’m there if they want to talk about something or whatever so.
 

Rob couldn't sit his GCSEs so he did an Open University course then went on to music college. He...

Rob couldn't sit his GCSEs so he did an Open University course then went on to music college. He...

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It, it’s almost like with education you’re like sort of funnelled down this route, you know this one sort of path and if and I was completely outside of that. And so there’s no there’s nobody there really trying to push me along. It was like sort of just floating [laughs]. But only it turned it turned out that that I found out about kind of another college actually. It’s like a music college and they have a course which was which, it’s kind of more academic rather than like an instrument course and I just applied for that and I thought that would be really ideal ‘cos I’m interested in music. It’s the equivalent of two A levels so it would be a good way to kind of progress, start to progress as well. So I just applied. They took me on the strength of my Open Uni qualification and the kind that I, the evidence that I had with my work that I had been doing and stuff. 
 
So I got in and that’s what I’m doing at the moment. I’m kind of there for another, until June or so and then but it it’s really good because ‘cos now I’ve got this world of opportunities that’s opened up really and I do actually have, in my mind, like a quite like, there’s a journalism course that I would be able to qualify for with, if, you know, if I pass this one. So I do actually have like this move forward and it’s and it’s all achievable and I feel a lot more lot more positive and like I have more direction than really now more than I ever have in my life even prior to being ill certainly. So that’s been tremendously positive.
 
 

Rob said you must learn to value yourself. Everyone has “things to give the world that no one...

Rob said you must learn to value yourself. Everyone has “things to give the world that no one...

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I think the most, I guess the most kind of important practical thing I would say is just talk to someone about it, you know, someone, try and find anyone that, you know, you can speak openly with because talking about it is so incredibly helpful. It really is and I know I know it can seem impossible but try to value yourself and acknowledge the positive aspects about yourself rather than dismissing them because, you know, whoever you are, you are important. You have things that you can give to the world that no one else can.
 
And that’s true, you know, and you can achieve amazing things. It’s just I guess it’s like trying to value yourself even though it can seem so against everything that you feel Just try to walk, however slow, just tiny kind of steps but to try and be proud of yourself and proud of your achievements because, you know, you are important and unique and special and, you know, there’s people who love you for who you are, I guess. Well, definitely and yeah. I don’t know but that’s essentially it.
 
Would you say that your life is better than what it was at fourteen?
 
Oh, most definitely, yeah. Incomparably better really. 
 
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