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Olivia - Interview 10

Brief Outline: Olivia, 18, is a student and does voluntary work with young people. She is in recovery from anorexia. Ethnic background: White British.
Background: See 'brief outline'.

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Olivia, 18, is a student and is in recovery from anorexia.
 
Olivia started restricting her food intake when things were difficult at home and school for her. Olivia says she felt like she didn’t fit in at school with any of her friends. Around this time she was also self-harming (this has started in Year 8 when she was being bullied) and drinking a lot of alcohol. She decided to go on a diet in the summer holidays to lose some weight before she went back to school (Year 11) because she had put on a little weight and says she wanted to look beautiful because her friends were slimmer and she didn’t feel very happy with herself. She thought that people would think she looked good and happy if she was thinner – but she says she doesn’t really understand why she would think that. Her diet soon got out of control and she quickly became ill and was diagnosed with anorexia within 4 months. Looking back, Olivia thinks the diet was a way of trying to take control of things in her life that were outside of her control.
 
Olivia had been seeing a counsellor since she was in Year 8 to help deal with her self-harming. When the counsellor found out about Olivia’s eating patterns, she referred her to a clinical psychologist who would be more qualified to deal with this. Olivia says she built up a good bond with the psychologist. Although she was given CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), meal plans from a dietitian, and the whole family were having therapy together, Olivia says it wasn’t working because she wasn’t willing to help herself at that stage. Shortly after, Olivia left school and her weight became dangerously low (5 stone). She was advised to go into hospital where she stayed for 4 days. Olivia says this was a turning point for her because she was so scared. When she was discharged from hospital, Olivia went home and her parents took control of her meals – following a strict meal plan that had been devised in hospital. Although Olivia found it hard, she was glad she was at home and not in hospital, and she got a lot of support and encouragement from her parents. Although Olivia had to take a year off college, she devised a list of goals as motivation for the following year. Olivia also keeps a diary and writes down how she feels and she finds this really helpful.
 
Olivia is now back at college and doing voluntary work with other young people. She’s looking forward to the future and has made a new list of goals.
 

Olivia explains how she limited what she ate whilst dreaming about what she could be eating.

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…I think that was the problem because I didn’t really even when I first started the diet well, it wasn’t really a diet, but when I first started restricting what I ate it, I never thought, “Right. I’ll get down to this and then, you know that’s my perfect thing.” I guess I just expected to keep losing and I’d just be happy and when I was happy I’d just stop the, stop restricting things and I guess that was the problem because I never really did have the ideal in my head. But then once I was in like the thick of the illness I used to think “Okay, so I’m like seven and a half stone and so I’ll just lose a couple of pounds.” And then I’d get there and then I’d think, “I’m still not happy yet. I’ll lose a bit more.” And then a bit more, so it’d just gradually go down.
 
Because I’d just look in the mirror and I couldn’t see weight loss and I’d just be analysing every bit of me and I thought my hips would be too big and my thighs need to go in a bit and I don’t know. Just little things like that and then I also didn’t want to give up the kind of control as well. Because when I skipped a meal or had a bit less one day it’d give me like a satisfaction that I’ve actually done something. I’ve done something I’m good at.
 
So I mean you’ve used the word diet but you made a distinction, you said it wasn’t really a diet it was restricting?
 
Because a diet is, is more like when you have three balanced meals and you lose weight in a safe way. Without kind of, without skipping meals or without, I don’t know, without over-exercising or anything like that. And but with restricting it’s like seriously restricting what you eat and. Not allowing yourself to have what you really want to have. Because I used to dream of all these like meals that I wish I could make and actually eat because at the time I would have just loved a slice of pizza. But it there was just something terrifying about it at the time and I just couldn’t face doing it. Couldn’t face eating a slice of pizza, so yeah.
 
I just used to have this stupid idea that I could only eat after six o’clock in the night so then I’d have all day to kind of exercise and then I could eat after six o’clock. But then after about a week of that it’d just be just one meal a day which would be my evening meal with my parents. And then that went on for quite a long time and then from that it was kind of eating whenever I wanted but really small quantities. So I just wasn’t eating enough. I think it’d gone down to about, no more than four hundred calories a day or something like that. 
 

Olivia explains how she feels when she looks at herself in the mirror and says she tries not to...

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It’s like with the size zero models I’ve never, I’ve never once wanted to be a size zero model. It, it’s just I don’t want to be thin and unhealthy, it’s just, yeah. ‘Cause at the time yeah, I wanted to be thin but I never did always want to look like a size zero model. You just don’t see it when you look in the mirror and. And you’re down to, you know, five stone or something you just don’t see that. You don’t see someone who’s looking really ill. You just see someone who needs to lose weight.
 
I’ve just totally stopped looking at the kind of magazines now anyway.
 
Really?
 
So, yeah. If I did pick up a magazine, I’d focus on the women and kind of not the men really. So because trying to look at I because I guess I look at yeah, I’d look at the thinness of women and think. I guess I still compare myself, which is why I try and not look at the magazines at the moment.
 

Olivia thinks she started cutting herself because she was afraid of rejection.

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I mean I started self-harming right at the beginning because of friendships and because this was back in year eight or something when it kind of all started and it was because of kind of bullying at school and because when you’re that age because you’re always falling out with friends and just having little petty arguments and things. But I mean, at the time none of that seemed like it was the cause, and because now I’m a lot older, and I’ve had chance to look back on things I realise that it’s... I think it had a lot to do with my biological dad because my mum’s married to my step-dad, and he’s kind of brought me up, but my real dad left when I was really young, so from having the chance to really think things over I think it’s because of that, because of his leaving and I have this fear of rejection. And so I think all of it kind of stems from that.
 
Okay and did people know about that..?
 
Not many people to start with and then my mum found out because she kind of noticed and that all led to me being taken to the doctor’s and then she referred me to a counsellor.
 
Obviously you were going through the bullying and stuff and then how did you all the sort of start the, the self-harming. How did it come about?
 
Because I knew that my best friend at the time had done it once, and I guess it was just I was really upset at the time and that. I don’t know. It just kind of... I just suddenly did it and it made me feel better.
 
Better in what way?
 
I guess, I guess it was like a release.
 
Okay. And so you started to see a counsellor. How old would you have been then?
 
I was about fourteen, fifteen.
 

Olivia's anorexia stopped her going to school and cut her off from her friends.

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I guess that’s just all part of the illness. I think because it just gains such a control over you and you just don’t really. Sometimes you just can’t do anything about it, it just. I find it hard to explain. But it’s like something else just totally takes over and no matter what you do or how much you want to be well it just keeps dragging you back.
 
 I guess it was like a comfort thing. Kind of when the world gets a bit scary you just kind of go back into your little shell. And I guess it kind of stops you worrying about all the other things like college and that kind of thing.
 
How does it do that? Can you explain that part of it?
 
I guess because when you’re in the illness you’re focusing on, you’re focusing on your food and your weight and just yourself and to focus on to count calories and focus on what you’re going to eat tomorrow. How you’re going to get out of going out to a, that restaurant next week or something. To focus on that is like a distraction from, from everything else that is going on. So say I have like a college exam tomorrow or something which I don’t but if I did and it’s something I’m worrying about I’d just suddenly focus on how much I was eating and it seems a lot easier to focus on that than to focus on the actual problem.
 
Let me just go back again a little bit. I mean you said that one of the things that it affected was your GCSEs?
 
Yeah, I just stopped going to school and I took a lot of time off which also caused me to detach myself from my friends as well. So I was just alone a lot of the time.
 
Did you feel like an outsider because you’d been away from school and sort of got cut off from people a bit or did, did you feel like that anyway?
 
I felt that anyway but with the anorexia I guess I just stopped thinking about school and friends anyway. I was just so focused on, on the anorexia side of things like the eating and kind of exercising as well and I just stopped caring about anything else. 
 

Olivia started self-harming in year 8. She was being of bullied at school and had problems at home.

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I mean I started self-harming in the, right at the beginning because of friendships and because this was back in year eight or something when it kind of all started and it was because of kind of bullying at school and because when you’re that age because you’re always falling out with friends and just having little petty arguments and things and. But I mean at the time none of that seemed like it was the cause and because now I’m a lot older and I’ve had chance to look back on things I realise that it’s. I think it had a lot to do with my biological dad because I’ve, my mum’s married to my step-dad. But he’s kind of brought me up, but my real dad left when I was really young, so from having the chance to really think things over I think it’s because of that, because of his leaving and I have this fear of rejection. And so I think all of it kind of stems from that.
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