Over the past year I have been in regular contact with the most amazing girl I met at a talk I gave. She had been dragged there by her mum, and sat at the front of the room looking completely terrified and angry.
I spotted her straight away, but couldn’t make eye contact because she had her head firmly cemented to the floor. Gaby reminded me so much of me when I was first diagnosed with anorexia. I didn’t want any help…but at the same time I did…if that makes any sense? I could see the anger, sadness and sheer terror in her eyes and my heart ached for her. At the end of the talk, I knew I had to say hello. She was so nervous and didn’t know what to say or do, so I just asked if I could give her a hug and my number.
That was 18 months ago now and we have remained in constant contact. I have met many people who are suffering since I founded Jiggsy – all of their stories have touched me in their own unique way, and I am in admiration to every one of them for fearlessly fighting for their freedom. Gaby’s story is unfortunately not unique, but with her permission I wanted to share it to highlight the impact that the lack of services is having on patients.
Gaby is 22 years old and is a single parent to her 5-year old, Ben. Since she was a child, Gaby has pretty much had to fend for herself. Her dad left the family home when she was 13 and despite having a sister and brother of similar age, it was Gaby who filled the role of second parent. After her mum fell into depression, Gaby struggled to keep herself focused. She never finished school and fell pregnant when she was 17. She eventually married Ben’s father and were together for 5 years before he had an affair. Her mum suffers with depression and she has only recently begun to rebuild her relationship with her dad.
Gaby has been on a waiting list to see a counsellor for almost the entire time I have known her. She recently was assigned someone and has had several sessions, but has now got a huge gap between seeing her again because of a lack of resources. She has had just one appointment with a dietician, which she said was pointless as the dietician just told her to “eat what she could.” What kind of message is that from a professional? It’s giving her eating disorder free rein to starve her.
What frustrates me the most is that Gaby really does want to get better and wants the help. Many people with eating disorders are not ready or willing to accept help, but Gaby is crying out for it. She has had several traumas in her life and finds it difficult to trust people. She told me the other day that she often speaks to her counsellor in a ‘robotic’ fashion because she doesn’t feel safe enough to ‘open up’ because she knows that there are long gaps between each meeting and will be left vulnerable like an open wound.
Gaby knows better than anyone why she has developed an eating disorder, and from listening to the difficulties she has already faced at 22 years old – it’s no surprise she developed a coping strategy. The sole reason she keeps on fighting is because of her son Ben, who she totally adores. Because Gaby left school before completing her GCSEs, she’s not been able to further her education, and is therefore limited in her opportunities to increase her income and pay for private treatment.
I am fully aware that the NHS has a limited amount of resources, but I feel so disheartened that it seems to be a ‘National Health Lottery’ for many, depending on where you live. From listening to similar stories to Gaby, it’s evident that you need to understand the system, be pushy and not take no for an answer, otherwise, you can easily slip through the net or stay at the back of the que.
Recovery from an eating disorder cannot be done in isolation and with sporadic intervention. It needs consistent care and constant challenging. I tried to get well ‘in the community’ but my eating disorder had been around too long and had become entrenched in my entire being. I am concerned that without proper intervention soon, Gaby’s eating disorder will also ‘bed’ itself in. Studies show that the earlier someone is treated the more chance they have at succeeding in recovery, so why is the system failing someone like Gaby who is reliant on benefits due to no fault of her own?
When I spoke to her last week, she told me that she wants to keep fighting so that she can go back to college, get herself an education and train to be a nutritionist to help others. In the short time I have known Gaby, she has made huge steps towards her recovery. When she texts me to tell me of a personal challenge she has overcome, I am blown away with pride. I for one, truly hope that Gaby continues to fight for herself and for Ben, and I hope more than anything that the system doesn’t continue to let her down. Gaby deserves so much more.