As founding member of fightED, Debbie Howard represents the charity from a unique position. Having once suffered from an eating disorder, but now recovered and working as a psychotherapist.
I developed anorexia at 12 years old, and suffered with it until my early twenties. It was the most difficult and awful time of my life.
Eating disorders have the highest death rate of all the psychiatric illnesses, and affect 1 in 10 people in the UK. Sadly it is still an illness shrouded in shame, and grossly misunderstood.
So many people say that eating disorder sufferers choose to do this to themselves, or put it down to vanity. But these people are clearly ignorant about this devastating illness.
Your mind is taken over by the most punishing and nasty dictator, who continually puts you down, and dictates your every thought, feeling and behaviour. It tells you that you are not good enough at anything you do, and that you don’t deserve anything you have. It makes you hate yourself, despise yourself, and it makes you feel worthless and useless.
Every time you look in the mirror all you can hear is that voice telling you how disgusting and how fat you are.
You spend hours weighing yourself, pulling bits of fat and planning how to get rid of it, always believing the voice that is telling you that if you just lose another few pounds, you will be happy. But of course, you lose those pounds, and the elusive happiness never appears.
At some level you know that what you are doing is wrong, but the voice is so powerful that it always wins.
If you are wondering how no one knew or why no one did anything, it’s because eating disorders are very secretive illnesses. You become a professional at lying and deceiving people, continually coming up with more and more elaborate ways to hide the fact you haven’t eaten. I managed to hide my illness from my parents for many years.
We tried treatment several times, but the support and understanding from health professionals in Northern Ireland was not there. It was only the life-saving care I received in London that helped me to recover.
Unfortunately there has not been much improvement in terms of treatments since I was ill. Services have increased, however our sickest and most vulnerable are still being sent to London for treatment.
We set up fightED to provide carers courses for those who have a loved one with an eating disorder.
Recovery is a long and painful process, and it is vital that sufferers have a strong support system. Although they may be receiving some treatment, they will spend the majority of their time at home with their parents/carers, so it makes so much sense to educate and empower the carers by teaching them how to best support their loved one and promote recovery. The course teaches parents the tools they need to improve daily life within their family, reducing conflicts, stress and tensions, and well as promoting recovery.