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"Motherhood was the big event that moved my recovery on to another level" - Natalie's story

This is a special year for me; I turned 39. I know that might sound a bit odd, but it is an age that my Dad, Michael, didn't get to see and my Aunt Pamela didn't live past. I was only young when they died and whilst I got the sense it wasn’t right that my Grandparents were still living and they were not, I didn’t really grasp how young they were when they lost their fights with cancer. That is until I have reached the same age and I feel like I have only really started to live with any degree of freedom.

You see, 25 years ago I started down the path of restricting food and I have been living alongside an eating disorder ever since. It is only finally in the last few years that I have felt it take a consistent back seat and I am mentally stronger than I have ever been.

So, what changed I hear you ask?

The truth is I had some miracle children. My periods stopped at the age of 14. I never thought I would be a mother, and in all honestly I wasn’t sure I wanted to be. As someone who used food and exercise as her way to control things the thought of having to make choices for the health of a baby whilst watching my body grow was something that deep down was scary to think about. But I pushed forward, and we went through IVF. I’d convinced myself that it was unlikely to be successful, so it wasn’t too heartbreaking when we had failures on the first few attempts but then we got a positive test. I know this is certainly not the experience everyone has so if you are going or have gone through IVF then my heart goes out to you. Much to my astonishment the amazing act of growing another human gradually healed me, deep within. It was this act that helped me learn to love my body and whilst being a mother has its challenges as well, it has taught me to let go of control of the small things. I am truly blessed to have children.

I feel so passionate about changing the rhetoric about mental health. I have hidden my story because I was scared that people would treat me differently both in the workplace and outside of it. But I know that hearing others speak out is a step that needs to be taken. We need to get to the place where moments of mental ill health are treated the same as physical ill health. People can and do heal if they are given the tools and support they need. I have had several stages where I have been very mentally unwell and have at times needed to be hospitalised. To get better I have benefitted from a fair degree of therapy and in more recent times I have been proactive in seeking therapy before a relapse takes hold.

I think the comparisons to physical illness is particularly helpful when thinking about mental illness given it still has a lot of stigmas attached. Let’s compare it to say cancer which might involve some hospitalisation to remove a cancerous lump, and then there are regular sessions of chemotherapy to keep the illness at bay. That may mean at some stage the cancer is in remission and life returns to normal even if there can be lasting impacts that leave their mark. Just like with cancer there can be situations where the illness returns, and the treatment is needed again. This is exactly the journey I have trodden with my anorexia. I also think we can compare managing a long-term mental illness to long-term physical conditions like arthritis where certain triggers can lead to flare ups which are more painful. I know the signs that maybe my mental wellness is slipping and unhelpful eating habits creep in. I also know that looking after myself will mean I can get back on track.

I hope this is helpful to other mothers, whether it is those who have had to live alongside an eating disorder or those who love someone who is on the journey and are trying to support them. I personally found it challenging after having my first child that there was a lack of resources or support for parents with an eating disorder which did lead to a relapse because my routine was thrown out of kilter and typically when setting up new eating habits my eating disorder will lead me to edge on the side of less food. Thankfully, I recognised I’d started some unhealthy patterns, and a short bout of therapy got me back on track.

I also hope this gives optimism to anyone that doesn’t know whether they can make it through to living a normal life again. I have been there and despite the feelings of desperation there is a way to recover. Whilst I found that motherhood was the big event that moved my recovery on to another level, I know that won't be the case for everyone and I believe recovery is an individual experience.

A few final thoughts from me for those suffering and seeking a way out. I found that the answer for me was to make small steps, as small or as big as I felt I could do at each particular time. Don’t worry about the end goal because it may seem impossible but making a small change to your eating habits might seem more achievable and once some momentum is built up it is wonderful to look back at how much progress has been made.

A quote that means a lot to me, so much so that I had written in bold on my kitchen wall, is “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end” which I found out more recently was from the late John Lennon.

Contributed by Natalie

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.

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