Guest contributor Kate Le Page, author of Goodbye Ana, shares her experience of recovery from anorexia nervosa.
I’m Kate, 31, and relieved to be able to say that today I am in recovery from anorexia. Recovery to me has been a long, painful process involving therapy, hospitalisations and learning to change my anorexic thoughts and behaviour patterns, primarily through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Cognitive Analytical Therapy.
The first time I’d heard the word ‘anorexia’ I was fourteen and watching a documentary about a treatment programme. Back then I had no idea how much this disease would impact and seek to take my life away. I clearly remember looking at those skeletal in-patients and thinking that I was different to them and that I could be both thin and in control.
At school I would hide in the library to avoid having to sit with my peers in the dining area for lunch. I felt so isolated and disgusted at my body that the very thought of having to eat in front of people made me extremely anxious. During my final year I developed a severe bout of glandular fever. My appetite went from very little to completely disappearing, and my energy levels crashed. While several of my friends also suffered from the same virus, they quickly recovered; I was unable to shake it off and remained unwell for over a year. At my worst I was sleeping over 16 hours each day and unable to get out of bed.
By the time I was at university my eating was totally out of control, and a pattern of starving, bingeing, over-exercising, diet pills and self-harm became deeply ingrained. Despite my housemate telling me that she feared that I would not wake up one morning, I still didn’t feel ‘sick’ enough to warrant the diagnosis of anorexia — in fact I felt totally invincible and in control of my life. The reality, of course, was that with every pound I lost more than the weight and had begun to suffer black-outs as a result. My mind was racing most of the time, and I threw myself into my degree, believing that if I achieved more I would somehow feel OK again.
Following graduation in 2001, I decided I could no longer exist enslaved to the disease, and the time had arrived to seek out more intensive treatment. Up until this point I had seen numerous doctors, attended support groups and out-patient care at Ipswich Hospital. Multiple medications had been prescribed to no avail, some of which had actually caused me to lose more weight! I knew that if I did not get help soon, anorexia would achieve her ultimate goal…another wasted life.
In October 2002, I entered the Eating Disorders Unit at Marchwood Priory Hospital. Nothing could have prepared me for the mentally, emotionally and physically challenging work that lay ahead. Eating 3,000 calories a day and having limited exercise at times felt unbearable, and were it not for the tremendous support from doctors, therapists, nurses and most significantly other in-patients, it would have been virtually impossible.
The most humiliating part of treatment was being weighed in my underwear twice a week and having to request my bathroom door be unlocked at the nursing station. Some groups I gained huge benefits from, such as CBT, and I had a fantastic therapist who enabled me to understand the illness and recovery process. However, despite writing my ‘Step 1’ and trying to convince everyone I was ‘in recovery’, I had secretly been bingeing on my visits home as a means to reach target and be discharged more quickly.
My therapist and the EDU manager both tried to convince me that I needed to stay longer, but just before Christmas my Consultant agreed to my discharge. I returned home physically stronger, but mentally I was still very low. Within four months I was readmitted to the EDU, and this time I gave it everything I could, as I knew that life on the outside with anorexia was sheer hell.
The second admission was much harder than the first, as I had to learn to be honest about my feelings and work through some traumatic experiences. However, I made some very close friends, and we spent much time laughing, crying and singing together! I found that through experiencing the changes necessary for recovery with those close to me I gained strength and received a new perspective on the whole process.
By summer 2003 I was ready to return home and had an excellent care team in place. For the following two years, I regularly saw my GP, dietician, therapist and eating disorder Consultant and attended weekly OA groups. A further key part of my recovery involved being ‘discipled’ (mentored) by a lovely, supportive woman from my church. Today, this continues, and I have found my faith and my ‘Church on the Rock’ family to be a significant factor in maintaining recovery.
The past six years have seen me experience wonderful times of freedom from anorexia as well as periods of desperation and relapse. I see recovery as something I choose daily, following my menu plan, sticking to my exercise contract, taking my medication and continuing working with my Cognitive Analytical therapist. Today, I read as much as I can about CBT and CAT approaches to recovery and have recently put together a book of poetry about my journey, entitled Goodbye Ana: Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa, which also includes information about what has helped me to remain well.
The main aim for writing the book is simply to educate and support those impacted by this parasitic disease. Chipmunka Publishing, who have kindly worked with me to create my book, specialise in promoting mental health awareness. My heart is to see the stigma and sense of taboo surrounding eating disorders, as well as mental illness in general, be eroded through sharing my story.
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