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Mark's story

It was strange to be asked to write an article from a carer’s perspective as I don’t really see myself as a carer. This is probably due to the stigma associated with mental illnesses. Carers, in my previous perspective, would have been for people suffering a physical illness. Looking back, after supporting and caring for a loved one with a mental illness, I have come to realise that the role of carers with people suffering from eating disorders is paramount to their recovery. Lucy often says to me “you saved my life” and although I don’t see it as this as such as I believe Lucy saved her own life, I do know that the emotional support and stability I provided her with definitely aided her recovery. I love my wife Lucy with all my heart and will do anything for her. Her battles with anorexia and bulimia don’t define her; she is Lucy, my wife, and my support that I have given to her throughout her illness has been hard, but essential to aid her recovery. I would do it all over again for her just as you would support someone with a physical illness. Unfortunately however, when diagnosed with a physical illness, the support and information surrounding it is readily available. This is not the case with mental illnesses and without Beat, I could not have provided the care needed to support Lucy through her struggles. I’m 26 and married to my wife Lucy who is also 26. Lucy has suffered from an eating disorder as well as anxiety and depression since she was 18 and we have gone through a tough few years to get to the place we are today. I wouldn’t change one bit as it has made us the couple we are today and we have grown closer and closer everyday of our relationship. 

I have known Lucy since secondary school but never fully understood the thoughts and feelings she was experiencing throughout school. Lucy was bullied at school because of her weight and didn’t feel there was anyone she could talk to about this. She was the girl who would take on everyone else’s problems and would listen to everyone that would need to talk but never had the opportunity to talk to anyone about how she was feeling.

We kept in touch when we went off to university and during our second year started going out, we started to get close and did the things couples do; going to the cinema, out for drinks, going for a meal etc but little did I know the struggle that this was for Lucy. Lucy hadn’t been able to tell me about the feelings she was having and how much she was suffering with her eating disorder so I was completely unaware that all of this was so hard. What I have realised about Lucy is that she has a very good mask that she is able to put on so no one knows what is actually going on in her mind. 

Once we had been going out a few months Lucy was able to open up to me and explain that she was suffering from an eating disorder and would make herself sick when we went out for meals and would control everything she ate. This was a complete shock to me as I hadn’t noticed anything and knew nothing about eating disorders. I had never thought about mental health issues and had never been taught anything about it so had no idea what to do, I was at a loss as to how I could help Lucy and support her to get better. 

Lucy continued to hide her illness from other people but I felt a little better that she allowed me to see the ‘real’ Lucy behind the mask. I wanted to do all I could to help Lucy but this was a struggle as I had no idea what help was available and the stigma surrounding mental illness meant it wasn’t readily talked about.  Lucy’s weight continued to decrease and she got to a weight where she needed urgent help or her life was in danger. We had some hard discussions but were able to get Lucy to her GP and find out what help was available in the area. Lucy started to see staff at the Eating Disorder Service but this was never going to be an easy ride. They concentrated on trying to get Lucy to put weight on to increase her BMI, her weight was so low that she was threatened with a stay in hospital. Lucy was very scared and I should have been able to help her but I felt helpless, I didn’t know how she was feeling, what I should say or how I could help her get better. 

I tried to read as much information that I could find on the internet and any information Lucy was given but nothing really explains the feelings you have or how to support someone you care about go through an eating disorder. I watched Lucy suffer and struggle with an illness that I couldn’t see, it was not something that the GP could provide a prescription for and this makes it all the harder to deal with. 

When you see someone you are so close with go through an eating disorder you hit a steep learning curve, you want to find out as much information as possible as quickly as you can. Unfortunately it wasn’t easy to find information and it was only through the help of charities such as Beat that helped me find out about this illness. Over the past 5 years there seems to have been a big change in the people who are willing to talk about mental illness and this is a great help for people who are suffering or who are caring for sufferers. I’m not sure if this is just because I am more aware and want to talk about it or if the stigma is beginning to be broken and society are starting to understand that people need to talk about mental illness to help everyone understand it better. 

The last 5 – 6 years have been difficult but that has not stopped Lucy and I growing closer together and working together to help Lucy control her eating disorder. Lucy is in a much better position than she was at the start of her illness and she is now able to eat with more freedom and have more enjoyment with food. I have learnt a lot about mental illness and it has made me a more understanding person who is willing to discuss mental illness and make people more aware that anyone can suffer. 

Lucy and I got married last year and are looking forward to many more happy years together, we decided after we got married to do a challenge that will help raise awareness of mental illness and raise money to support beat. We decided to take part in the London to Paris cycle in August this year and it was the best experience of our lives, we had an amazing 4 days and cycling into Paris is a memory we will keep for the rest of our lives. 

The main things I have learnt while helping Lucy come through her struggle is that an eating disorder does not define the person, they may suffer but they still are a human being who enjoys doing everything everyone else does and the less time you spend focusing on the eating disorder the less powerful it will become. It is true that everybody knows somebody and since we have started talking about mental health it is amazing how many people also suffer, it is good to talk about it and the more you do the better it is for everyone.