This is Ian’s story of supporting his partner Kel in overcoming her eating disorder. Now recovered, Beat Young Ambassador Kel is joined by Ian, a Carers’ Ambassador, in getting involved in various activities for Beat. This includes delivering their inspirational, ‘tag-team’ pro-recovery story to a variety of audiences at events throughout the country.
For me I think my journey began in my last (Kel’s first) year of university. I had a feeling for a while that something was wrong but due to my shift patterns in work I did not really notice the meals Kel was missing and many of the behaviours that she was displaying. It was Kel’s main lecturer who stated to her that she thought there was a problem, and this is what started the ball rolling on a long journey. At first Kel was reluctant to agree that there was an issue, but she then confided in the lecturer and told her what was going on. I am grateful to that person because she went above and beyond to help Kel in her recovery process.
The process started when the lecturer took Kel to see the counsellor at the university. Looking back I don’t think that at the time she was ready to change. However this counsellor did provide a place for her to be able to vent her issues and also provided some basic building blocks to aid Kel’s recovery.
Going into the next year and following the Christmas break Kel returned to university and the lecturer mentioned above was shocked at how much weight she had lost. She asked Kel if she would be willing to see her GP and even attended the appointment with her. From this appointment Kel was referred to our local eating disorders service and to a counsellor from the Primary Care Trust. Her first appointment with the ED psychiatrist did not really go how we hoped it would. Kel went downhill quickly from here the counsellor from the PCT did what she could but with a limited number of sessions it just wasn’t the long term support Kel needed.
Fast-forward another year and at another ED clinic appointment there was a discussion of Kel being taken into in-patient treatment (IP) if her weight continued to drop. What didn’t seem to make sense was that Kel hadn’t been given more support earlier. I think it was this lack of early interventions from the professionals that added to Kel’s illness and my frustration with the whole situation.
That March (close to Kel’s Birthday) the decision was made for her to go IP. A decision that Kel welcomed although she felt somewhat anxious about, mainly because up until this point her family did not know she was poorly. We did the rounds and informed them.
I took Kel to the IP Ward and I must say it was nothing like what I expected. Unfortunately it was a unit that seemed to just be stuck on to the other psychiatric services there. I had my reservations about the service but didn’t want to let this show as I thought at the time it was Kel’s only hope of recovery (unfortunately at the time we were both very caught up in what that service had informed us and did not really know of other options available). Sadly my doubts were confirmed and I took the decision to discharge Kel from the unit the next morning. My rationale for this was a belief that unfortunately the unit was not designed to manage Kel’s other mental health issues. At the time however I really had no idea what else would help, but felt that I just wanted to know Kel was somewhere safe, so she came back home with me.
What was positive, though, was that for Kel’s birthday (around 2 weeks later) we were able to go to the theatre and for a meal in Manchester. Although it was a struggle Kel managed to eat a meal (writing this puts a tear in my eyes, a tear of joy as this was the first sign of hope for the future). Kel had been told if she didn’t manage herself at home she would return to IP under a section; though I hate that this was given as a threat I think it also served as some motivation for her.
After coming home it was several weeks later that we heard from the ED service again, to be truthful I thought they had given up on us. We were asked to attend a meeting with a non clinical member of staff from the service (I think she was the business manager). In this meeting it was asked if we still wanted Kel to receive help from the service and what help we thought she required. From here she was provided with a dietician and referred to a specialist clinical psychologist for support with the other mental health issues.
I will briefly talk about the dietician first. Although it was a massive struggle to support Kel with the meal plans and increases that were put in place and it was too much too soon I feel that the information given to us became a very useful building block that we used in the future.
Then Kel saw the clinical psychologist and spent a day in the service having a full assessment. Sadly and annoyingly another road block was to hit us at this point. The psychologist ruled that Kel was holding herself in a place beyond help, the psychologist’s belief being that this was either deliberate or caused through lack of cognitive functioning needed due to starvation. When Kel heard this decision she had a complete breakdown, and unfortunately gave up. Looking back I can remember for weeks her just sat in my room not moving, the only thing she still did was her university work from home. At least she still had that to cling to. On the back of this decision the ED service withdrew most of its support and provided nothing more than a risk management approach (which seemed to basically involve ensuring Kel was still alive each month and weighing her).
At this point I decided it was time for a change in the right direction. I managed to cut back my hours at work even more and focused on trying to find Kel help and support in the private sector. We eventually managed to find a private Counsellor that would take Kel on and thankfully straight from the first appointment things looked positive. I remember her leaving the appointment gleaming with hope (something I had not seen for a long time in her illness). I took this new found positive-ness and focused her on creating our own meal plan (using the information from the dietician previously seen) to ensure that her weight would increase and therefore move her out of the area where her cognitive function could be questioned.
I would like to make people aware that during this time I too sought the support of a counsellor, and I feel that the fact both of us were having therapy helped us understand each other better and we developed a better way of communicating instead of the previous conflicts which can exist along with an eating disorder.
It was a long battle from that first counselling appointment to today but I can now say without a doubt that Kel is FULLY recovered from her eating disorder. What I mean by this is that she literally has none of the thoughts or behaviours a person suffering from an ED would have. I feel it is important to stress this fact: RECOVERY IS VERY MUCH POSSIBLE.
Upon becoming recovered Kel signed up to be a young ambassador with Beat. Due to the fact that the training for her to do this was in London (and to be honest Kel had not really done much of anything herself in the years of illness) I agreed to travel with her for the training day. I am thankful for how welcoming Beat were both to Kel and to me. I am proud of the work she has been able to undertake with Beat, she has been involved in multiple conferences, been a mentor on the live chat and email facilities, and taken part in Beat Assured to mention but a few things. Kel also got me involved with Beat as she felt that she would like to run a support group to provide something for other sufferers and carers in our area. On the back of this I heard about the Beat Carer’s Ambassadors scheme which I am now involved with.
Kel and I have given a number of what we like to call ‘tag team’ talks at various events, the focus of this being our journey to recovery, I guess most of which is now written here. We were once led to believe recovery wasn’t possible, than an ED is a life long struggle, a de-motivating message at best and one that simply isn’t true.
These talks also allowed us to show both sides of the story since it’s not only the sufferer’s life an ED affects. We have in addition been involved in Beat Pop-up Surgeries in order to provide a positive view of recovery to sufferers and carers alike. The message of these talks and Pop-up Surgeries is as ever RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE. I feel that Kel is the living proof of that.
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