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Holly’s story: case study with a Bolster service user

What has this year been like for you?

It’s been a tricky year for everyone. It’s changed a lot of my habits in general. I’ve got two children and they’ve been off school, and we haven’t been able to go out to the park and the places we would usually go. So that’s been very different. It’s changed the way we operate as a family, the way we spend our time, and our habits and routines.

For me, Covid and lockdown has had an impact on my mental health. I tend to need a little bit of alone time and reflection time, which I haven’t really had. My husband and I are both working from home, and my children were at home for a long time as well, so it’s been hard for me to take that time away on my own. Life is always busy because we’re all here and busier than normal. I’ve missed having that time to myself to catch up on housework and things, which has been affecting my mental health.

Being in a routine before the pandemic meant that I had a bit more structure, but then that was removed. I found things harder in terms of eating and trying to keep a routine. There were times when I was thinking, “have I lost the plot?”. I questioned, “why do I think some of these things? Why do I feel some of these ways?”. It was really difficult for me because I felt like my behaviour was bizarre, I felt like I was the only person who felt some of those things. That was tricky in terms of my mental health.

How did you find out about Beat?

I’ve known about Beat for quite a while. I researched some of the support groups a few years ago, but I didn’t venture into joining any because I had in my head that this was for teenagers, and maybe it wasn’t for me. I was worried that joining one of the groups might make me feel even more isolated if everyone else was 18 and I was the only 30-something. I also remember the timings of the groups didn’t quite fit my lifestyle; it was around 7pm, and to me that’s the time when I’m putting the kids to bed.

In terms of how I found the Bolster programme, I was chatting to a friend who had experienced similar issues. She said that she’d found out about this online programme that Beat was running. We were out for a walk at the time and when I got home, I literally applied instantly. It sounded like what I needed.

What kind of support did you get from Bolster?

First of all, I was given access to all the worksheets. Those were really helpful. There were so many different topics that I felt like if there was anything that I wasn’t sure about, or wanted to check out, or if I had a particular need to read up on, then all that information was available to me from the start.

Then I had my weekly coaching sessions, and they were really helpful. We would talk through the worksheets and how I was feeling. Sometimes we wouldn’t even talk about the worksheets, sometimes I would just say, “I’m concerned because I’ve done xyz” or “I feel xyz”. That approach really worked for me. Having that set time that I had to buy out from my busy schedule was really helpful because I felt like if I’d have just been sent the sheets, I would’ve done it, but it would’ve taken me a lot longer to do it because I wasn’t necessarily buying out that time. My coach gave me different ideas for activities and things I spoke about that weren’t on the worksheets. 

What difference has the Bolster programme made for you?

A massive difference. Certainly, when I was reading some of the worksheets and I would see certain things described, and my coach would talk to me about them, I’d be like, “oh, this isn’t just me, this is happening to so many people that it’s been written about and shared, it’s a really common feeling”. That in itself for me was ground-breaking. All those feelings I’d been having had been validated. I just felt like I wasn’t on my own anymore with it, which was really big for me. It really made a difference.

The regular eating patterns that I was trying to develop were really supported by my coach. She helped me to focus on a lot of the positive things that I could do. Rather than saying, “you’ve only done regular eating 3 days out of 7”, she’d say, “look, you’ve managed to do this for 3 days out of 7, that’s a really big deal for you”. Having commendation for things I was doing well, even though I felt like sometimes I was really struggling, keeping that focus on the positives was really helpful.

One thing I really struggle with, and I think a lot of people who’ve had an eating disorder struggle with, is self-perception. For me, when people meet me, I worry that what they see is my size, not who I am more widely. My coach really helped me to put that into perspective and think about the things about myself that aren’t size-related. That people look at me and they see my children or my house, me being a caring parent or me caring for my own parents. That made a big difference to me as well. It gave me the confidence to do things like go litter picking with my daughter around our village, which I would have felt really anxious about before.

How are you feeling about your recovery now?

I feel positive about it. I feel like I’m still working on it, it’s still an ongoing thing for me. I suppose the thing that I struggle with is that I know for my health, I need to lose weight, but I’m still concerned about having to do that at some point. I worry that those old habits will creep back in. I know where those habits stem from — it was me losing weight before. My anxiety is around trying to lose weight again. If I was to lose weight, then my mental health in itself would be better, but at the same time I’m trying to protect my mental health by trying to do that in a sensible way. I feel like my recovery is going well, though I always have that thought in my head about potentially another up-hill battle.

I’m still trying as best as I can to maintain the regular eating patterns. I still take time out of my schedule to review the worksheets I was provided with. When I was having meetings with my coach, I made notes about what she’d said that I found helpful, so I can look back on them if I’m struggling with anything. That’s made a massive difference to me.

One of the things that I’ve always done for years is buy slimming magazines. I was trying to stop that and step away from that whole “diet culture”. I unfollowed loads of people on Instagram because I found it so difficult and kind of toxic to see those things pushed in my face all the time. My coach was really supportive about that and I’ve still managed to keep doing that. We were having a clear out of some old junk around the house and I found quite a few magazines that I’d never opened – they were still sealed in their packets. And, I thought they’re in my house, I’ve already spent the money on them…but I remembered the conversation I’d had with my coach about how opening those magazines would not do me any good. That’s really stayed with me.

Knowing that I am more than just my appearance and my weight has stuck with me as well. It’s given me confidence to do new things with my children and try out new experiences. I crawl into my daughter’s tent outside, even though it’s the tiniest tent in the world — I’m thinking, what does it matter if it bulges in a certain way? Does that really matter? It’s given me a new lease of life to have the confidence to do the things that I was apprehensive about before because I felt like all people would see, even my kids, was my size. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone and being the mum that I want to be, rather than the mum that doesn’t do things because I’m so conscious about how people might perceive me.

Contributed by Holly and featured in Beat's 2020-2021 Impact report