‘Don’t give up, you are not alone and there is help available’

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For years Carla’s life was ‘ruled’ by Anorexia and she was close to death when she finally ‘took that first step’ and sought help.

She credits the Derry Well Woman Centre with saving her life through its counselling and support.

Carla’s relationship with food became difficult when she was a teenager but it took years for her to be diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

“As a teenager I noticed my body changing and I didn’t want that to happen. My weight loss became very noticeable and my mother took me to the doctors. They had absolutely no idea what was wrong with me and didn’t even mention the possibility of an eating disorder.”

Carla said she was ‘very manipulative’ with food while she lived at home and would find the best way ‘to make food disappear without it going into her mouth’.

She struggled with food on and off throughout her teens until she left home and got married at 21.

“My marriage was a very negative relationship and I began drinking and fell into addiction. I took that to the absolute extreme. A lot of it was to do with my realtionship with food. When I was drinking I didn’t eat and when I stopped drinking I immediately noticed myself putting on weight.”

Carla’s marriage ended after eight years, but her addiction to alcohol lasted much longer.

Her underlying eating disorder went unnoticed and ‘no one really knew how I was living’.

“Alcohol was the thing that everyone saw. I was struck off from most doctors’ surgeries in the city because I was out to kill muself and there was nothing they could do for me.”
Carla eventually beat her addiction to alcohol when she was in her mid 30s, however her eating disorder ‘came back with a vengence.’

“Nobody really knew how I was living. I wasn’t eating and taking huge amount of laxatives. It was a very sad and lonely time because no one understood.

“I didn’t really understand it either. I just didn’t want to get fat and it became an obsession.”

Carla began being hospitalised for malnutrition and ‘ended up at deaths door.’

“I became very unwell and at one point I was sectioned in Gransha Hospital. I was getting no better and it was decided I would be sent to London for treatment.”

“It was a nine months programme and I just couldn’t do it. It was so far away from home and I couldn’t do exactly what they asking me to do, which was to eat a tremendous amount of food while being watched eating it.”

Carla returned home and remained ‘very crafty’ about food and her eating disorder remained ‘all consuming.’

“The eating disorder had an horrendous impact on my family. They were arguing among themselves about the best thing to do and my mother just couldn’t handle it. If I knew they were coming to visit me, I would cook food and dump the lot of it, while they would think that I had eaten it. I fooled people and I just couldn’t help myself.”

It was during one of her admissions to Gransha that Carla became aware of the Derry Well Woman and contacted them when she got out of hospital.

“Anorexia was ruling my life and I didn’t want to be the way I was, but I didn’t know how not to be that way. I really thought I am going to die because no one understood,” she said.

Carla attended counselling and support groups at Derry Well Woman and credits them for saving her life.

“For the first time I have a sense that I wasn’t being judged. They brought in different professionals to speak to us and it was actually when a yoga teacher attended that I got interested in yoga and I began to look at my body a different way.”

“I was no longer alone. and Derry Well Woman completely changed my life. In the support group there was a message of hope and we were there for each other,” she said.

Carla attended the support group for the next 12 years and during that time she saw two women die as a result of their eating disorder.

“That doesn’t have to happen. I want other people experiencing this to know you are not alone. There is help out there.

“Making that first contact is a massive step but don’t give up. Contact Derry Well Woman as it is a great starting point,” she added.

Carla says although she will always be ‘food aware’, she now leads a very ‘fulfilled and normal life’ but ‘it took me almost to my death before I took that first step to get help.’

For more information about the eating disorders support available at Derry Well Woman contact 02871360777.

*Carla is not her real name in this feature.